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Purpose is what you do, not what you say

So much talk in marketing circles right now is focused on the importance of brand purpose. The ability of a brand to articulate how it intends to change the world for the better. Done right, a well-defined brand purpose should unite customers and culture alike in the pursuit of that intention. It’s a statement of belief, of hope, of pursuit.

This message has come through strongly here at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando. FedEx and provided a masterclass in how to operationalize brand purpose in pursuit of maintaining a competitive edge; in creating a new category; and in building trust.

FedEx CMO, Raj Subramaniam, used his speech to explain how it has changed its brand story from focusing on the ‘how it delivers packages’ to the impact those packages have when they arrive. This subtle change in the message is supremely clever, aligned as it is to the brand platform of ‘Possibilities’.

This allows FedEx to tell stories about the experience customers have when they use the service – an experience which explains the very purpose of the company which is to connect people and possibilities around the world. This is underpinned by the brand promise that every one of its 420,000 team members “will make every FedEx experience outstanding.” Subramaniam and his team have been smart in seamlessly aligning this commercial brand purpose with the ability to make a social impact, providing emergency support to communities in times of need. carried on this theme by providing actionable advice for brands wanting to engage with customers. CMO, Vineet Mehra, outlined a simple three-step process that drove Ancestry’s success in “creating a category out of spit”. According to Mehra, the first step is to have your customer be the voice of purpose. Ancestry took a very deliberate decision not to use actors in its ads. They wanted authenticity, something that can only come from real people experiencing real emotions.

Having found the right customers to be that voice, Mehra showed how they could empower the customer journey. Using the example of a young customer from the US, Ancestry mobilized a content campaign that followed the young man to Benin to discover distant relatives. By creating emotive content in a live unedited form, Ancestry succeeded in capturing the emotion and showed its true purpose. The success of this campaign led to NBC News Anchor, Al Roker, using the Ancestry kit himself which in turn led to a 5-minute segment on prime time TV.

Mehra’s last step is to invite participation. He contends (rightly) that the story is with the customer and not with the product itself. The challenge he set his team was to find the best way for Ancestry to invite its customers into every part of the content system.

The power of these two case studies lies in the simplicity of the approach. This does not belie the sophistication of the campaign nor the effectiveness of delivery. The key learning is that brand purpose is not something that brands can pay lip service to. eBay’s North American CMO, Suzy Deering, said that every brand must understand its purpose and be able to articulate that purpose effectively and consistently. It’s about telling an authentic story, but also about connecting that story into the organization. It’s also about relevance to both customers and employees and above all, it’s about consistency.