Trends for 2018: Purpose will morph back into positioning

A brand’s purpose should ultimately be its reason for being, so 2018 will see brands move away from ‘doing good’ for the sake of it and a return to proper positioning.

‘Purpose’ has been moving up the agenda for many a marketing department over the past few years as companies look to ‘do well by doing good’. But this year saw the beginnings of a backlash. Not around doing good necessarily, but around the misappropriation of the term ‘purpose’ when in actual fact it often comes down to positioning.

So, 2018 should be the year brands move away from doing purpose for purpose’s sake (particularly when it is simply a clumsy bolt-on) and instead focus on brand differentiation through better defined positioning.

Savvy brands are beginning to realise that purpose doesn’t have to be lofty or about pushing through a big societal change. A brand’s purpose should be rooted in the brand itself and what it stands for and what makes it different from competitors. And that, essentially, is positioning.

“Everyone is using purpose in a different way and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society,” Diageo CMO Syl Saller told Marketing Week earlier this year. “Our definition is really simple; it’s why a brand exists.”

Baileys is a prime example. Through lines such as ‘Make Women Shine’ and ‘Be a Woman for Life, Not for Applause’ the brand wanted to empower women, but it was not a message female consumers resonated with or one they associated with Baileys.

“We really believe in empowering women but people didn’t want Baileys to help them shine,” added Saller. The brand’s insight suggested women actually wanted Baileys to be about enjoyment, so its purpose now is helping consumers in ‘The Pursuit of Pleasure’.

Elsewhere, Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson lambasted Heineken for its (generally well-received) ‘Open Your World’ campaign, which brings together people with differing views on feminism, climate change and transgender rights over a beer. Although he agrees with the issues raised in the ad, he argues that the idea is not wedded to Heineken, so any other brand could pull off the same campaign with equal legitimacy.

In order for purpose to work there must be a clear line between a brand, its reason for being and how that is communicated to consumers, which is a realisation that will dawn on more marketers in the coming months.

Hide Comments4 Show Comments
  • Jonathan Cahill 12 Dec 2017 at 9:39 am

    Completely agree. Why not scrap the word “purpose” in association with a brand. It only serves to confuse. “Positioning” states exactly what’s going on, so just use that.

  • Luke Vincent 12 Dec 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I think in 2018 we will continue to see confusion between the term purpose and positioning. They are different things and they serve different roles.

    I’m working on a purpose project for a financial services company right now. They spent £2 million and 2 years with a top management consultancy to define a positioning. It is essentially correct but lacks emotion and doesn’t galvanise the workforce. We are using purpose to add depth and emotion to how the business defines itself.

    Purpose is still an emerging area, our understanding and tools are still developing. If we conflate it into positioning for ease then we lose a massive opportunity for business and society.

  • alec rattray 13 Dec 2017 at 9:43 am

    Purpose, positioning and other terms (promise/proposition) can be muddling; but it is misguided to speculate that Purpose will disappear from strategic vocabulary. A Harris Poll this week – ‘Enabling The Good Life’ – shows that 80% of Americans are loyal to brands which help them to live well – defined as balance, simplicity and meaningful connections not status and achievement. The possibilities for authentically purpose-led corporate and marketing strategies have barely been explored, as more businesses fundamentally redefine how they deliver long-term value to customers and communities

  • Jill Pringle 14 Dec 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I think purpose is a word that was hijacked to mean doing good, when really it’s a great word for bringing clarity and at the heart of a good value proposition. I’ve always found ‘what’s it’s purpose?’ to be a fantastic question to ask marketing teams – for example a good way of figuring out whether that 20th brochure, or that additional customer touch point are really necessary. Recently wrote about this:

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