Patagonia and Peak Purpose
A couple of interesting reads in the last couple of days lead us back once again to a favourite topic: Brand Purpose. Firstly, Richard Huntington writing for Campaign asks if we have reached ‘peak purpose’, reflecting that not all purpose-driven brands appear to be reaping the same level of commercial reward enjoyed by purpose poster child, Unilever.
Then, in the Guardian today, a meticulously researched piece on the corporate cultures and commercial outlooks of outdoor brands North Face and Patagonia. The latter a company which famously advertised an exhortation to its customer to buy less stuff.
The Guardian long read unpicks the founding stories of the two brands and investigates their workplaces and corporate cultures. It contrasts Patagonia’s insistence on maintaining private ownership with North Face’s publicly listed pressures. More than anything, it lingers on the conflicted nature of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard who says of his brand: "Patagonia will never be completely socially responsible... It will never make a totally sustainable non-damaging product. But it is committed to trying.”
Huntington’s Campaign piece worries that ‘purpose’ may be in danger of getting a bad name, that marketers who “hold a few purpose workshops and then bosh out a mood film” will land purpose with a reputation as wishy-washy marketing work - that it’s simply the business of pushing words around. Instead, he argues that defining purpose is a commercially-focussed enterprise, that purpose is an articulation of the future commercial direction of a business. And, he argues, the CMO is the person best placed to bring market opportunity together with customer needs.
Undoubtedly, purpose is effective when born at the heart of an organisational culture, and brands like Patagonia founded with a deep social purpose set a high bar here. Not just socially but commercially as well; The Guardian reports their turnover doubled in five years with sales of $800M in 2016.
Perhaps one of the problems leading us to ‘peak purpose’ though, is the tendency to assume that purpose must always equate to 'social purpose’.
If purpose is simply understood to be the ‘reason the people in the business get out of bed in the morning’ and it is a given that the driving motivation of any business is to create value for its customers, then purpose is just the way value creation travels deep into the pores of the brand and organisation. And that’s wholly a commercial objective.
We often use value pillars as illustrative of how a brand’s purpose is upheld. These are founded on an insight into the commercial opportunity a business pursues but phrased, instead, as the way it creates value for its customers. By making a commitment to how you create value as a brand you are able to inform everything from the fundamentals of customer experience (retail, interfaces, unboxing etc.) through to the kind of content you create for audiences.
Huntington closes on the argument that marketers are best placed to deliver the purpose agenda due to their “blend of commercial focus and customer understanding.” This may be true, but there is a critical distinction here in that value (and therefore purpose) is most clearly manifest in experience, not brand ‘communications’. And the latter is where most professional marketers have focussed their careers to-date.
IBM Watson creates Gaudi inspired sculpture
IBM wanted to show off their artificial intelligence capabilities at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in an interesting and engaging way. They tasked their super computer Watson to understand Antoni Gaudí’s greatest works, in order to then use this information to create a structure for the show. Watson reviewed images of Gaudí’s buildings using visual-recognition technology and then used its AlchemyLanguage software to read documents about Gaudí. The findings were then turned into a spectacular installation that hung above the brand’s booth at the show. The structure also responded to the conversation at the conference by representing real-time social analytics data via Watson’s Tone Analyzer API. As topics and emotions rose or fell in popularity, metal chains hanging from the structure reacted by rising and falling.
Chanel turn their hand to café culture
To launch the new Rouge Coco Gloss lip gloss line in Japan, Chanel have decided to open a pop-up café. The pop-up will allow visitors to trial the range before the official release, alongside a cup of coffee. There is also an interactive touchscreen wall for visitors to play with.
It is not the only fashion brand of late to have stepped into the alien world of food and drink service. Ralph Lauren have recently opened ‘Ralph's Coffee & Bar’ next door to their flagship on Regent Street, adding to existing dining destinations for the brand in Paris, Chicago and New York. What could well now be London’s preppiest bar has recreated the feel of an intimate East Coast American gentleman's club, serving light meals, barista coffee and signature cocktails.
At RPM we believe that this is just another example, within a growing trend, of luxury fashion brands moving into the world of providing luxury experiences. We are in the experience economy after all!