Purpose: The cornerstone of timeless brands

In an exclusive column for Storyboard18, Sumit Virmani, global CMO of Infosys, writes, the moment a brand is born, the pressure for it to stay relevant is also born. Timeless brands never stop changing with changing times, and yet remain unchangingly recognizable and comfortingly familiar at the same time.

By  Storyboard18Apr 17, 2024 10:22 AM
Purpose: The cornerstone of timeless brands
Patagonia, the outdoor recreation clothing brand, is committed to “saving our home planet”. They see their reason grow more relevant as the climate crisis deepens. They donate time, services and at least 1 percent of sales to help hundreds of grassroots organizations remain vigilant, appreciate and protect natural life and resources that face the threat of extinction, writes Infosys' Sumit Virmani. (Representative Image: Unsplash)

Attraction. That’s the trigger for most relationships. But that first pull alone is rarely enough to sustain a relationship; a deeper connection needs to be nurtured for relationships to survive. It’s no different with brands. Would you buy, when prompted by an Instagram ad, from a brand you’d never heard of before?

Possibly. Would you seek out that same brand actively after, and make another purchase? Unlikely, unless the experience was overwhelmingly positive, else you’d likely fall back on your established favorites. Right there lies the reason why brands need to build relationships with their customers. They need tribes that feel emotionally invested in the brand to come back to make repeat purchases.

Building that kind of deep emotional connection, we know, is done by being authentic, practicing empathy, identifying what drives the other, and showing one’s caring side. To do this, brands that stand the test of time, embrace a constant purpose striving to achieve more than just profits and shareholder returns. They ask themselves what the world would lose if their brand were to disappear – the why of their existence. They then ponder how they can deliver something of a higher order benefit inspired by their why – that can win customers’ hearts.

Several brands have been getting this right for decades. Here are two examples. Patagonia, the outdoor recreation clothing brand, is committed to “saving our home planet”. They see their reason grow more relevant as the climate crisis deepens. They donate time, services and at least 1 percent of sales to help hundreds of grassroots organizations remain vigilant, appreciate and protect natural life and resources that face the threat of extinction.

By authentically connecting with people that share their values, they have run a thriving business for five decades and have #1 market share in the outdoor apparel market. Tony’s Chocolonely, on the other hand, has a stated mission to make all chocolate 100 percent slave-free. They deliberately choose to work in Ghana and Ivory Coast, to source cocoa, where millions of children work in illegal circumstances and are victims of slavery. The brand believes that working in these countries, gives them the opportunity to make a positive impact where the worst problems are.

Recent times have brought in questions. With ESG-backlash making headlines in 2023, there have been ongoing purpose vs profit debates. That if a business’ core focus is to do good, then that is focus diverted from making money for shareholders. A counternarrative is that if the brand has a do-good agenda at its core, there’s no conflict then with making money.

The more the business sells its service or product, the more impact it creates, as well as more profit. By making place for purpose at the core of its business, companies can actually make profits and change the world for the better. At Infosys, for example, we provide digital training to employees worldwide, with a goal of teaching 10 million people by 2025.

Since inception, we’ve honed our foundational core to make learning at this scale a reality because that’s what we’ve been doing with our hundreds of thousands of employees over the decades. It moves the business forward, empowers our people, and they in turn enable others. It’s fully aligned to our purpose of creating the next opportunity for all.

If purpose is core to the business and not embraced to just drive a marketing narrative, finding the right balance between profit and purpose shouldn’t be a struggle. This ties back to the perils of purpose-washing; building trust in a brand takes time and effort, and using empty slogans and vague promises to appear purpose-driven can severely damage a brand's credibility.

The moment a brand is born, the pressure for it to stay relevant is also born. Timeless brands never stop changing with changing times, and yet remain unchangingly recognizable and comfortingly familiar at the same time. Their purpose is often that unchanging core of the brand, the same one that first won them a place in their customers’ minds.

Sumit Virmani is the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Infosys. He writes a fortnightly column series 'Brand Breakthroughs’ on Storyboard18.

First Published on Apr 2, 2024 10:03 AM

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