Find your Marmite – how to make enemies and influence people


The purpose of purpose

It’s official: as brands strive for differentiation, relevance and growth, being purpose-driven is officially A Big Deal.™

Almost two-thirds of consumers around the world say that they would choose, switch or avoid brands based on where they stand on political, social or environmental issues.

Contrary to stereotypes, this isn’t driven by pesky avocado-loving Gen Z, it’s a trend across all generations.

Last year’s Edelman Earned Brand Report showed over 55s represented the largest increase on the previous year when it came to ‘buying on belief.’

In every market the report surveyed, regardless of income level or age group, ‘belief-based buyers’ were in the majority.

The inconvenient thing is though, brands themselves don’t inherently have a purpose. People behind them do.

And a purpose parachuted in from on high in a rush to embrace social causes is one that customers will see straight through.

Case in point? Mark Ritson, Marketing Week’s resident Professor of Marketing teaches MBA classes on positioning.

In one of them, he asks his students to match purpose statements to the brands that made them.

Do they know who wants to ‘inspire moments of optimism’ or ‘make today great’ or ‘get more out of today’ or ‘inspire the human spirit’ or ‘make everyday life better’.

Of course they don’t, because these purposes are all about as meaty as a Quorn nugget, and just as half-baked.

(In case you’re interested, the right answers are Coke, Kellogg’s, Barclaycard, Ikea and Starbucks).

Let’s not even get into the actively grossly offensive - and already analysed to death - missing of the purpose mark of Pepsi, Nivea and co.

Not everyone is your friend, and that’s a good thing

So as we’ve seen, ‘why-washing’ (inspired by Simon Sinek, naturally) and/or ‘woke-washing’ don’t wash.

Trying to appeal to everyone with a grandiose purpose generally means that at best you end up speaking to no-one, and at worst your brand tanks.

My strong belief is that more brands should take a scoop out of Marmite’s jar and embrace the power of polarising.

It feels like a big risk, but admitting that you won’t be loved by everyone enables you to carve a meaningful niche.

Marmite’s former quality specialist (and yes, he really did sample it all for 42 years),  St John Skelton sums up both the iconic yeasty beast’s taste and my opinion on the stance brands should take when he says...

“It’s a great smack in the teeth, and the thing is that some people don’t like a great smack in the teeth, and some of us do.”

Purpose in practice

It’s easy to view ‘purpose’ as something ephemeral, but in reality, it’s one of the most practical tool in your brand’s armoury.

A genuine brand purpose, which is fully bought into by everyone, becomes a filter which can be applied to every decision, however small.

It means that organisations can move faster with design and strategic decisions, as there is a point of reference in place to guide thinking.

From our experience, a baked-in purpose can often be the elusive missing piece that our clients are searching for, and that is holding them back from growth.

Living your brand’s truth is hard, you may lose people along the way, but ultimately the only way to win the race to a meaningful existence.

In conclusion…

Brands who are serious about reaping the benefits of a strong purpose must be honest with themselves not just about what they stand for but what they stand against.

This doesn’t have to be overcoming racism, ending poverty or eradicating transphobia. In fact, it shouldn’t be - those are gargantuan goals to take on, far beyond the scope of most brands.

I would suggest that rather than tell the world what you think it wants to hear, focus on making the right enemies and you’ll make your true friends.