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Why the Word ‘Brand’ Is Starting to Feel Cringey to Me

Malinda Sanna

As one who collects insights for a living, I always believed in the power of brands. I always have since giants like Jane Newman and Pat Fallon taught me how to build and revitalize them.

So why does the word now make me cringe?

Maybe it’s just over-use, like “narrative” and “let me build on that”.  

Also, people toss it around to reference their own identities (blurring personal and professional lives) which is just weird to me.

“Brand” has come to feel forced. The roots of the word evoke burning an owner’s mark onto an animal’s skin.

For a decade now, I’ve been substituting the word “consumers” (another word that always felt cringey to me) with “people”. Maybe we can start using the word purpose instead of brand? I’m going to substitute “purpose” for “brand” for a bit, here. Let’s see how it goes…

Having a compelling purpose is a company’s killer app.

Defining a company’s purpose is an art not a science.

A company’s purpose is not the be all and end all to success. Many companies can reach a level of success without a defined purpose. Purpose is one piece of performance marketing. It doesn’t replace it, it informs it and all other marketing disciplines such as pricing, promotions, place, product. Hopefully, it inspires it.

Defining your purpose doesn’t require a big marketing team. Just the opposite. Better to have a lean team of experts solving strategy and driving big creative ideas than too many cooks in the kitchen diluting it. At LookLook, we literally have a one-page playbook that is centered around our purpose: “to unveil insights hidden in plain sight.”

Growth companies use insights and intuition to define their purpose. They don’t rely solely on big data to make decisions. That takes confidence.

Many companies don’t have a purpose that elicits an emotional response in anyone beyond “creating shareholder value”, which as an independent business, is irrelevant to me. My shareholders are my employees and our clients.

A final thought on “brand” vs. “purpose”. Brands require a push strategy and loud, expensive campaigns (another term from the well-traveled trunk of war metaphors applied to business).

Purpose, on the other hand, can exude from everything that a company does. It doesn’t require a budget; it requires storytelling and self-awareness to make sure that whatever is created and delivered is in line with that purpose.

As a company experiencing exponential growth with zero marketing, purpose seems like a good place for us to continue to focus. It’s where we can grow and win, without using language like “target”, “brand” or “campaign”. Much more inspiring to me to think of our work as deep listening, delivering much-needed clarity and inspiration in the world. Purpose, more yin to the yang of “brand”.

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