Comment: The power of product purpose

Jono Holt explains why it's more important to focus on the motivation behind launching a product than just the brand identity.

Jono Holt is the founder of Otherway, a London design and advertising studio.

Giving a brand purpose has dominated the design and advertising landscapes in the past few years. In truth, it's a really good thing that businesses in nearly all categories are now committing to a reason for existing beyond just making money. These commitments to a higher purpose beyond just profit make the world a genuinely better place. 

Brands with purpose tend to create better places for employees to work in, better-quality products for people buying and, in general, a better planet for all of us to live on. They're also good for business – consumer goods giant Unilever's data suggest brands with a genuinely purposeful role in people's lives grow 69% faster than those without.

Writing a meaningful brand purpose is quite easy. It tends to involve elevating your product out of its category and giving it a far more grand reason for existence. It helps to write brand purposes in a way that sounds like they're a movie tagline – for instance, ‘Saving the world from poor quality (insert category name here)’ or ‘Changing the way the world thinks about (insert category name here)’. A clear and motivating brand purpose is super useful for a business, as it gives everyone something to believe in and get excited by. However, writing a great purpose is one thing – delivering against it is way more important.

No article about brand purpose is complete without talking about outdoor clothing brand Patagonia's original statement: ‘Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.’ It set the brand-purpose ball rolling, but what many companies since have forgotten is that the beauty of Patagonia's purpose is its commitment to its product. And that matters more now than ever before.

Today, we're all very aware of the commitments that established companies are making. Many of them relate to the sustainability impact that their actions have on both the planet and people. ‘By 2025, we'll be plastic-free… By 2027, we'll source only locally… By 2030, we'll be carbon-neutral… etc.’ They're important statements that need to be said, but they also create huge market opportunities for new brands to take advantage of.

These new ventures don't have big, legacy supply chains and old behaviors to change. They have the competitive advantage of being able to start from scratch with no historic perceptions or skeletons in the cupboard. As a result, they have the opportunity to make a commitment to the here and now, not just the future.

This presents new brands with a huge opportunity to get ahead and define a new future in the category, while larger competitors are turning their big ships around. So, if you run a small brand, think product purpose first. Do the things that the established brands wish they could do right now. Then, tell as many people as humanly possible what makes you different and better than the establishment.

So, as the climate crisis continues to escalate and our planet gets hotter and hotter, more of us are realizing that time really isn't on our side. We're not going to wait around for the established companies to achieve their purpose in 2030 – instead, we'll buy from brands that have a clear product purpose right now, which will change things for the better.

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