Ep. 32 – How to create purpose-driven branding with David Aaker of Prophet

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In this week’s episode, DuBose talks to David Aaker, Vice Chairman at Prophet. David is a legend in this field, and he shares his knowledge on creating a strong brand purpose for your company, no matter what you offer. Can all brands have a social purpose? Does work across different sectors and where do you even start looking for what fits your brand?

Downloard The future of purpose driven branding here.

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David: If you say to yourself, well, I want every single brand to have a home run signature program. I want every single brand to have a home run social purpose. I mean, give me a break.

Eric: I'm Eric Fulwiler and this is Scratch Bringing You marketing lessons from the leading brands and brands rewriting the rule book from scratch for the world of today.

DuBose: How do you create purpose-driven branding? Attaching your brand to a purpose or a social cause can be a powerful tool that how do you actually do it effectively? In today's episode, we're talking to a legend within this subject. David Aaker David Aaker has authored and published hundreds of articles in 18 books and the latest one is called The Future of Purpose Driven Branding. His books have been translated into 18 languages and sold over 1 million coffees and have offered guidance and inspiration to marketing leadership at many of the world's leading brands. In today's episode, we wanted to really drill down into what purpose-driven marketing means and how brands should approach this. We also asked David if all businesses need a purpose in order to attract the right customer. David shared some really good nuggets on brands and brand purpose and he even offered a free ebook to you. Our listeners, after you've listened to this episode, make sure to grab your copy on the link in the episode summary. Alright, let's get into the interview. David, before we start on brand purpose, one of the things we always like to do here on scratch is ask the guest a few questions just about how you see the world. One of the things I'd love to start with is what are you most curious about right now when it comes to marketing? I imagine some of it may be brand purpose given the book you've just written, but what stands out to you?

David: Well, I get sort of focused in whatever I'm writing about and I think my last two books have really addressed major strategic problems facing all firms and they're kind of what is going to be the future and therefore it's the future of branding as well. And I wrote this book on disruptive innovation only game-changing subcategories where I introduced branding into a subject that really hadn't seen branding much. These important books on disruptive innovation don't mention branding at all. And then my last book, the one that's coming out next week is on the problem of how do you address societal issues if you're motivated to do so as a business. And here again my role is to introduce branding into a subject in which it's very under leveraged.

DuBose: Why do you think that is? I think it's intriguing that within the industry it feels like there's been quite a few conversations or that have come in vogue on the idea of brand purpose and societal good. But I think to your point, it feels like no one's really connected that as well as they could or talked about the details underneath it. Why do you think there is that disconnect?

David: That's a really good question and I've never thought about it. But the basic reason I think is that the leaders of the strategic and tactical for that matter efforts around both disruptive innovation and addressing societal challenges are not branding people. They're not even marketing people in the disruptive innovation space there. They tend to be technology people or strategy people, business strategy. And they're have probably had no exposure to branding and they're sort of stuck in the seventies when branding was simply tactical is the pg e brand management model where it's completely tactical and delegated to some third middle management person and they didn't get the memo that it's changed and marketing's is and branding's now strategic and at the executive table. And then in the case of the social programs and societal challenges here, again, I think the drivers of that intellectually and so on have been economists or they've been sort of business and society people that are interested in public policy and they're interested in societal problems and the role of business in solving them. And they don't come from marketing, they certainly don't come from branding. So I think that's the reason that all those books don't mention branding.

DuBose: And is that what inspired writing the book is the need to close that gap between people thinking about societal purpose and think people thinking about branding what inspired you or what started the process for the newest book?

David: No, it it's the way I write books is for better or worse is not that way. I wrote a book on disruptive innovation because I discovered in my work in Japan and I'm looking at beer data 30 years, there's only four times a market share projections changed and they're all due to new subcategories form disruptive innovation. So I sort of discovered disruptive innovation is such a powerful force. So I wrote a book on disruptive innovation and about two thirds down through the book I started looking in the mirror and said, well all these books, what have I got to offer? And then I kind of realized it that what I have to offer is branding. And so that became the goal of the book and the differentiator of the book and the value add of the book. And the same thing happened in this space. I've been always interested in how you why and how you do good for society if you're a firm in a business and what is the rationale and what is the motivation. And almost all my books, I have a chapter on that and so it's just a subject that and here. And so I just went into it and said, why should you do it and how you do it, how would you work? And about two thirds into the book, I realized there's hundreds of books on this, what am I say that's different? And I realized that well branding's pretty important here and nobody else is talking about it. So my role in this book also is to explain why branding is important and how you do it.

DuBose: Why do you think there, there's that disconnect even amongst people who wrote books about it. I think it's intriguing that when we talk about brand purpose as we alluded to earlier, it feels like the industry has discussed it for quite a while and the industry definitely is in love with applying branding to certain things. But it feels like to your point, there's a lot of books that missed that. Is it something that came through an insight from your work that guided you to connect the two as you mentioned? Or was it looking at the industry and trying to close a gap there?

David: Well, once I got into both of these issues and sort of got waist deep in it and I really 60 or 70% done of the book, it was becoming clear that to do have success in the area, it was really branding was almost indispensable. It was an enabler and you just had to have a brand and in the case of the disruptive innovation, you needed to be the exemplar of the subcategory. You need to position this subcategory, not the brand, the subcategory. You need to scale it really fast to be successful and you had to build barriers and those are all branding problems in this social purpose book. It all came to me that it's all about two ways that branding work. One is you got to brand the social program. It's not just a matter of having grants, volunteers, energy goals that are not branded and kind of amorphous. They're aimless, they're the same as every other co company that a doesn't get much impact at the end of the day. And two, it lacks what a brand gives you a brand guides a brand, brand inspires, a brand communicates and all those things are necessary for success of the program. So that's one thing. The second way a brand has comes into the occasion, Michael Porter and Professor Kramer at Harvard wrote a famous article 10 years ago in which they said that you know, need to have shared value, you need to have a brand that helps society but also helps a business. And they said, you can do that by building windmills or growing organic food. You can change your business to do that or you can have enjoy some cost reduction because you use less energy or something. And they even said you could coalesce your factories and offices in an area and help the community, but they really missed the real value of that to elevate the brand of the business. You give it energy. I mean these business brands are making bar soap you's no way to get energy, but if you build a program called Help a Child Reach Five, you have enormous energy. You three videos that Life Boy did to support that program got 44 million views. So you get energy and you get an energy lift. You look at what Goldman Sachs did with their 10,000 women program to train women entrepreneurs in the third world and give 'em access to capital. And that's done a lot for the image of Goldman. It really shows that Goldman has a heart that can apply their resources to do good in a remarkable way. And finally you can engage your employees, your customers, your other stakeholders. And as we know in marketing and branding, well the whole heart of the business is the loyalty of the customers and that's driven by a brand. And so you know have a company like Thrivent, which is a large financial services company and they adopted Habitat for Humanity as a signature program back in 2005. And since then they have had an outlet for their employees and customers. They had these action teams that go all over the world building homes under Habitat for Heaven. They've got a sub-brand called Thrive and Builds and just think of the loyalty and the affinity for thriving and for Habitat for that matter that this outlet for their 2 million sort of thriving members and their families, what that generates. So anyways, so the brand has to be on the program. They have to understand they need signature programs that are branded and they have to use that brand to help a business brand to give it energy, image lift and a connection. And that was was missing.

DuBose: Prior to this conversation with David, we were curious about how brand purpose works in industries that are inherently negative. Can all brands have a purpose or can you adopt a purpose regardless of what you're selling and what services you provide? We asked David about this and here's what he had to say.

David: Oh, that's a great question. I don't know if you saw it and that prompted your question, but there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that was critical of Unilever and suggested they were wasting money, chasing purpose and they should get back to the fundamentals of their business. And I wrote a blog that it's just went up last few days under@davidaer.com in which I made some observations about that article and in the premise, and basically you take a brand at Unilever like Dove, they developed in 2003 the Real Beauty program and adjacent to that it was the self-esteem program for teen girls. But the real beauty program has is it's a matter of them stopping the real beauty program and doing the fundamentals of the business. The real beauty program is the business, it's the core, it's the body of the business strategy. Without the business strategy, without the real gritty program, there would be no business strategy. So it's not a matter of sort of sticking to your knitting. That is the knitting. And you look at what that's done over the 20 years they've ridden that wave, they've they've doubled sales and from 2.4 million to over 4 billion and it's just amazing. I mean they've had a dozen different campaigns within this. One of 'em called Sketches got 75 million YouTube viewers alone and another one called Evolution got 150 million worth of free advertising. I mean this is basically a bar open SY deodorant and stuff. It was a bar soap that was based on moisturizer. Now they make deodorant for which moisturizing isn't even relevant. So if they want somebody wants 'em to go back to basics, what would that be? So anyway, and then if you look at Unilever, they got 400 brands, they got a portfolio and if you say to yourself, well I want every single brand to have a home run signature program, I want every single brand to have a home run social purpose. I mean, give me a break. If you create a financial portfolio, if you have a portfolio in which every single stock was a home run or at least above average, you've probably got a wrong portfolio, you probably have not taken enough risks in that portfolio. So it's unrealistic to have every single brand be a Dove or a life boy or somebody that's has hit a home run. And that's one thing. The second thing is you have they're patient with their products. They have a product called Ax that was the poster child for somebody that is sort of two-faced, they're talking about dove and self-esteem, then axes tearing down women. And so what Unilever did was to say, okay, we got 400 brands, we're going to take 26 of 'em and call these are sustainable life brands or whatever they used term was. So they had a status, these 26 brands and they grow that every year. That number and Acts wasn't one of 'em, but over time Acts is sitting there sort of being uncomfortable in the corporation, they're uncomfortable they got no support for what they were doing and they didn't throw 'em out, they didn't sell 'em off, but they made 'em uncomfortable and suddenly they woke up and they said something, this isn't working so well anymore. I mean people aren't that they're not having a lot of humorous fun with the idea that we can attract women by putting on the right deodorant and they'll just fall over us and attack us. And it's sort of the joke wasn't funny anymore. And so they said, well we to should change. And by the way, if we did that, the executive suite at Unilever would feel better about us. That's not all bad. And so they changed the thrust of acts to be one of achieving your potential, whatever it is to be you, but to be the best you. And that was their new mission. And after that got traction and they dumped all these stuff they were doing, they joined this elite group of brands at Unilever, they earned that status. So their social purpose became help people achieve the best they can be kind of thing. But let me say a word about purpose. People argue that if you have a social purpose, you're going to dilute your main business. So there's two things about purpose that I need to say. One is that if you don't have to do that, there's a lot of companies that do that. Legos does it well there's other companies, but if you don't create a business purpose that provides an umbrella making social programs acceptable in your company, then you have a stand by side, stand by side social purpose. So Salesforce has a business purpose, we connect people and they have a social purpose, the software for good kind of stuff, the nonprofit cloud, the sustainability cloud and so on. So anyway, they have two side by side purposes, social purpose and a business purpose. And so that gives the social program status and it also gives them a permission to go there and it doesn't detract from the business purpose. The other thing I would say about purpose, and this as well as I did boys, they've worked with brand and brand strategy. If you can create well I used to call it a brand identity, their brand vision or brand pillars or brand principles or whatever you want to call it, what your brand stands for aspirationally. If you can get that right with the right label, it's total magic mean you can drive the company, you can drive the relationships, you can drive the pr. A big example, there's a lot of good examples, but the Haws Berkeley Business School at California created these four principles, one of which is a confidence without attitude. It's so differentiating, it made that business charge up the world map that everybody's envious of it because it really got something that clicked. It is not easy to do that. And sometimes you can spend weeks or months, sometimes you spend years before you find something that really clicks and in the meantime you've got something that's basically not doing any harm but is not doing any good every, it's all ignored. It's not magic, it's not inspiring, it's not guiding. And so this illusion that there you either have a purpose or you don't have a purpose is just not the way reality is. It's a spectrum. You can have a great magic purpose or you can have a purpose that doesn't do anything and you have no purpose and which is about the same. And so it's not a matter of saying, let's have a purpose, we'll go to organization like ours or yours and find magic. It's not so easy.

DuBose: I love, love that point. You raise purpose is less of a decision and more of a force that drives brands to adapt sometimes to the ax example. I guess one of the things I would be curious to get your opinion on is we've talked a lot about brand purpose and right there we talked about good brands, just good brand fundamentals and good brand understanding. Do you feel the role of brand is changing over time or the role of a good brand and the structure of a good brand is changed or is it timeless and we're just talking about it in new ways?

David: Oh, that's a good question and lies behind it is how brands of and brand management has changed over the last 30, 50 years. So that is got something to do about it. There's, it's been a really spectacular change of the Proctor and Gamble tactical management to this now CMO or VP of marketing seat at the executive table and the knowledge that strategy is intertwined with branding. So there's that, and of course that memo hasn't gotten to everybody yet. There's still people that don't accept that or they don't get it. And so there's that journey we're still on. And then there's of course all the tactical stuff around digital stuff. The digital is accelerated disruptive innovation and it changed the ability to scale. It's changed the ability for a brand to get into the e-commerce or something get into people's, getting people access to 'em and communicating with social and websites and so on. That tactical stuff is affected strategy as well. And so there are those changes, but there's a lot of fundamentals that are the same.

DuBose: It's such an interesting point you raise, it's like there's a book called The Successful Exposition of Advertising from 1890, and I used to read it to junior planners and cover up the bits that would give them a hint that it was over a hundred years old. And if you take the channels out and you swap things like telegraph for social media, obviously there's some elements and tactics that change. But it was interesting that a lot of it still rang true. And I tend to agree with you that you go the wider strategy and foundations are pretty timeless, but the way they're being applied, the way that we apply them to the game, that is marketing and persuasion changes.

David: So yeah, it comes back to creating the product. Phil Kotler always said that the definition of marketing is making unselling unnecessary. So you create the right product, but then you have to communicate it and you have to distribute it.

DuBose: I guess there's an interesting point there I'd love to know more about because the Kotler definition, we're kind of selling the unnecessary, how do we think that mixes with an age of social purpose, an age of conscious consumerism? Does it need to change or is it just an uncomfortable combination in today's society?

David: No, I think it comes back to doing what people want done. And so there's a important constituency that's employees. Employees really insist that you do something that ma then make money for shareholders. And they even want you to do something more than make insanely great products. That's not enough for 'em, especially Gen Z, even millennials they won't join or they won't stay at a firm that doesn't have a different attitude, that doesn't have a social purpose. It doesn't have effective, so doesn't allow them to in order to do something for society. So therefore, if you are running a business strategically, you need to factor in that thing. There's also customers and to vary an amount, but it doesn't take very many customers to make the difference between struggling and thriving. 10% of the marketplace can make that difference. So even though they might be small in relative numbers, they can still be influential. So again, I think that we can be doing social good and still sort of fulfilling our goal of creating a viable enterprise. But there's one other element and that that business need to be leaders and it's not only a matter of figuring out where employees are, where customers are and then following them and sort of a seating to their demands. The companies have to be leaders and it's easy to be discouraged today about the politics, the rise of autocratic governments and the polarization, the paralyzation and one bright spot. It's really incredible what private companies are doing for climate change, for social good for diversity. It's just amazing and it's really hard to find a company, even small companies of a few hundred people or a few dozen people, they're really doing something useful. And over time this motivation and this energy is productive there. I mean they're really making a difference. They're making a difference to climate change it amazing. And so they're really behaving like leaders and it's like Benioff and the people at Unilever and the people at Patagonia are not the only ones. I mean they're out in front, but they're not the only ones. It's really across the board. You have Goldman Sachs, you have Walmart. I mean Walmart for 10 years has done the most amazing things than they were, weren't there 10 years ago.

DuBose: I love the point you raised there because I think to your point there, there's an expectation of leadership on a lot of marketers and private organizations nowadays and a lot of push to claim the benefits that we've talked about from a strong brand purpose. How would you advise marketers listening to this to start? Because I imagine there's a real push to want to save the world on day one to want to be Patagonia, but I imagine that's quite a high bar barta set. So what would be your advice to start on that journey for a marketer listening,

David: First of all really the importance of the CEO is can't be underestimated. CEOs have such a key role here. If you look at the Unilever's, the leaders in the world and all the CEOs of their brands and Patagonia, the CEO is really, really the driver, the inspiration, the P people that's building that culture. So there's that. But what I would advise is to create a signature brand to really a signature social program and really focuses on trying to find something that works for you. It would be really great if it's something that employs your assets and resources and is compatible with your offering or at least your marketplace, but that's not necessary. You can make a commitment and involvement just through fundraising and through intellectual and support and you know, look at Avon Walk for Rest, breast Breast cancer or something. And that was their signature program and it had nothing to do with their products or anything. So I would look for signature programs because that will end. You'll end up with doing something that'll have more impact, and B, you'll do something that will help your own brand, which will give you money and market share and all the rest of it. But more important it will support the program. I don't know, it's more important, but it will end. You talked about a flywheel. If you get something that'll help the business, the will then be motivated and it won't even have to be asked. It's going to support that program with an endorsement with resources and involvement.

DuBose: So when you're speaking about signature programs, something that came to mind was how do you actually go about finding the right fit for your company? Does it have to be strictly related to what your business does or can you just choose wildly?

David: Oh, that, that's really a good question. I was at the board of an insurance program, our insurance company, and we look for 10 years for a signature program. We never could really find one because we had a broad array of customers and we could find one that was relevant to each of those customer bases, but we couldn't find one that spanned them. And God, we tried. And so we were doing all these $10,000 grants every year. Every year and to people that wrote in and it nothing. But we did end up creating about four or five signature programs that were oriented toward a customer base. So it helped our brand with those customers and they were modest. So if you put four or five of 'em together, they ended up making a difference. We had had a program to rebuild the kitchen in schools for teachers, the teachers use because teachers was a big thing. And for the police, which was another big deal customer, we provide teddy bears that Truman could give kids an accidents. So anyway, and we branded both those programs. So anyway, that's one Rob. But another strange source of signature programs often comes from some spark within the organization. Maybe the CEO or maybe something else had an incident, they ran into a homeless person and something triggered 'em. We got to do something about that. And they started or got involved in a non-profit or they got started themselves doing something and that fire within the company can explode and suddenly it's a signature program. They had a trust problem once and they started a social purpose led set of programs. One of 'em was a digital eagles where people would help people understand the digital world, old elderly people and youngsters and so forth. They started out with seven employees. They now have 17,000 doing that. And that's not nothing to do with their bank or just at all really, but it was a germ of an idea that just grew and everybody was attracted to it and it was something a need doing. Nobody else was doing it. They had the expertise, they had a bunch of people that understood computers and entertainment systems and they could go out there and help. But that's a really good question. I have a chapter in the book, how do you find your signature story and not signature story on signature program?

DuBose:The signature program and the openness you speak about there is so intriguing. I know one of the things we've always thought about brands is successful brands are open to the world. And I think the build you've had there of the ceo, e o especially being a kind of spark in social change is interesting if both the organization and the leadership of that organization and the brand understand what's going on in the world around them and understand how they want to interact with it. I think it's an intriguing point on brand openness and understanding that your role may change and that it may need to interact with the wider world and marketplace.

David: And I hadn't thought about this before, but it does suggest that having a CEO that is sort of externally oriented and has his feel for well employees and the customers is probably a good thing.

DuBose: It's so true. I think it, it's always struck us that in a lot of the brand work that we've done, the consumer is always trying to lead you somewhere. The world is always trying to lead you somewhere. It it's just, are we able to listen or are we able to follow where they want us to go? And I think it's an intriguing point that the leadership as well needs to be open to that, to understand the forces that want to pull them in certain directions and understand how the brand of the company can adapt to that. One other thing I'd be curious about just thinking about the question we ask a lot of guests and I I'd love to know is when we think about modern marketing, is this in addition to the way modern marketing exists or is the idea of increased purpose something that's going to rewrite the rules of modern marketing in your mind?

David: Nobody asked me about what the future of marketing, they asked Phil Cutler that they asked me, what's the future of branding? So I a little bit beyond my pay grade, but I think it has to be part of the future of marketing for sure because of all these forces. The fact that we've got these social problems now that are scary or they're serious and they're affecting everything. And so we have to get involved and we can get involved because we have the agility where the resources, we have the knowhow and our employees and others demand it. And actually our business often needs the energy lift and the image lift that it'll give.

DuBose: So true. One thing I'd be curious about building on our conversation about purpose and business growth is obviously at the moment we're looking at quite an economic downturn in a lot of markets across the world. And I think there's a challenge sometimes for marketers, especially to assume that when economic times are tough, when price becomes more sensitive, we have to boil back what we do. Do you see the role of purpose in consumer's minds in society changing as the economy has a downturn? Or do you feel it's still as important as it is now?

David: Yeah, it's a really good question. I guess it probably receded a little as other it's law, right? It is. When you have to get your, if you can't feed him how you or your or somebody or some relative, that becomes more important than anything. And so I think that's going to be a challenge to keep the focus on these major things that are too easily when you have that. So that's definitely an issue, I think. So then it comes back to leadership and that's all the more important, this idea that making sure these social programs actually enhance the business instead of detract to them. Because if they're a deadweight financially, they're very vulnerable.

DuBose: I think it's such an intriguing point there that if you can make them valuable to the business, then they can survive a downturn. And I think, yeah, as you were speaking, one of the things that struck me is there's probably such an opportunity for marketers over the next 12 to 18 months to help maintain the progress in certain causes that consumers care about. As times get tougher, I think we tend to trade off a lot of things. You know, look at sustainability during covid, the idea that single use plastic came roaring back or the idea that environmentalism during an economic downturn is going to be harder to pay for sustainable things. And I think to your point about brand leadership, if brands can step in and make it work for them, but also make it work for consumers to maintain that progress, that feels like such a powerful opportunity in what could be a tough period that's upcoming. One thing we ask everyone at the end of the program would be, if there was one thing you wanted listeners to take away from this one thing you wanted them to know from the conversation we had today, what would it be?

David: Well, my sort of goal for almost three decades is try to get people to use to understand branding, to use branding in their business and to make it a strategic thing. And I think I've made a small bit of progress in that and I still feel that way. But really, as I said at the outset, I was really stunned when I made came the realization both in the disruptive innovation book, the subcategory book, and in this latest book, the Future Purpose Driven Branding, that these two major they must be the two most important strategic issues facing a lot of businesses. That brand has been absent for all these major books. I mean, in both cases you got a hundred books and branding, it's almost absent, and yet branding is so important in each of those arenas.

DuBose: It's so true and quite a powerful point. I'm really looking forward to reading it. And as I mentioned in the beginning, I'm quite a fan of your work, so I think it'll be an intriguing read and an incredibly useful one because I think at the moment we're doing quite a lot of work on purpose. So I think figuring out the best way to push that forward and make it necessary and make it kind of valuable, as you say is really key.

Scratch is a production of Rival. We are a growth consultancy that builds challenger brands, strategies and capabilities to disrupt categories. If you want to learn more about us, check out wearerival.com. If you want to connect with me, email me at eric@wearerival.com or find me on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe, share with anyone you think might enjoy it and leave us a review. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

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