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The rules for your brand are changing — gauge how ready you are

It’s amazing how brands of all persuasions have responded during the pandemic. A mattress maker dedicates a portion of its production department to creating face masks to help address the need. A financial services company reworks its loan repayment terms to give suddenly-out-of-work customers a hiatus from making their monthly loan payment.

As we watch this unfold, we can’t help but feel that this will leave an indelible mark on brands. Brands from all segments are already examing what the purpose-driven pioneer brands have been building over the last decade. They are seeing the evidence of how a brand can serve the greater good and in return be rewarded by customers who want these brands to be successful.

Now industry organizations are beginning to predict that this will help reshape what we all will expect from brands. A new normal. A purpose-driven era for brands.

When we find ourselves on the other side of this pandemic, we will need to ask what lasting effect all this will have on our brands. The demand for face masks may diminish. As well as the need to accommodate the extraordinary circumstances. But those we hope to serve will be forever changed by these historic times. Our prospects’ expectations will morph, causing them to increasingly gravitate to those brands that have brought their purpose forward.

As expectations evolve, so must brands. But what does this evolution look like? Here are the four stages.

  1. People feel like you give them fair value — brands start here. Those they hope to serve evaluate the brand by the perceived value of the goods or services that they purchase. It’s a transactional relationship with the price/value being determined by the cost (price) when weighed against how the product or service operates (value). Every successful brand must be perceived as favorable from a price/value standpoint, but the smart brands know that this is just the beginning.
  2. People feel like you help them overcome a challenge or take advantage of an opportunity — in this second stage, the brand steps beyond a sole reliance on a favorable price/value perception that they have built to address the benefits of adopting the brand. In this stage, brands move beyond conveying what they do (“We’re the largest supplier in the tri-state area.”) to helping prospects see what they do for them (“You’ll never have to worry about being unable to find the part you need to finish the job on time and on budget.”) This stage marks the move toward purpose because the brand takes the focus off itself and puts it on the needs and desires of those it hopes to serve.
  3. People feel like you help them support something that is doing some good in the world — beyond the price/value and benefits lies the opportunity to serve a purpose while furthering the success of the organization. That purpose could be to improve the life of one individual or to make a difference in a community (or even the world). Starbucks is a favorite example of mine. They are not just focused on delivering a great cup of coffee (price/value). Or to give a customer a nice way to treat themselves (the benefit). They aspire to “…inspire and nurture the human spirit.” This purpose focus fuels programs and initiatives that support that purpose. Prospects embrace purpose-driven brands like these because they want to help support the good that it helps foster in the world.
  4. People feel like you help them take part in spreading that good in the world — the final stage of evolution finds brands inviting prospects in to help spread the good in the world. Even becoming part of a movement. Brands with a buy-one-give-one model provide a good illustration. These include companies like eyeglasses makers Warby Parker or the shoe company TOMS. But this isn’t limited to the buy-one-give-one model. These organizations show us that a brand can do well by inviting in all those prospects to help do good.

The world your brand lives in is changing. New expectations are arising. New standards are being established by those we hope to serve. Now is the time to take action. Use the four stages to evaluate where your brand stands. Then start to ask how your brand can move to that next stage of the evolution.

This is not something that happens overnight. It truly is an evolution. But it only begins when we make the commitment to expand our definition of how our brand serves our prospects. Not just their needs. But their desires and aspirations. Focus on that. And let the evolution begin.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Originally published at on April 23, 2020.

Written by

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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