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Why Mission-Driven Brands Will Win This Year

Not every entrepreneur or creative, professional or business is driven by making a positive difference in other people’s lives. But if you are, there’s good news.

Trends and research point to people wanting more from businesses. Some new research also suggests that mission-centered brands not only are improving their bottom line. They’re also gaining a more genuine community loyalty, shifting our attitude about what branding is, and improving employees’ sense of purpose and productivity.

What we are and are not talking about

When we talk about the psychology of branding, we walk a fine line between manipulation and elevation. The same tools that can help people have truly valuable experiences also can suck people into snake oil. So, I offer these insights in this context with appreciation for those nuances.

Your brand is not a flashy logo or website. Those are only facets of branding.

Here are working definitions useful to put into context these trends and studies:

A brand is the total emotional experience someone has with you. “You” means all of your business’s touch points – your website & social media presence, technology, team interactions, partnerships, loyalty programs, customer support, product purchases, product use.

Apple’s brand is not its forbidden bitten fruit icon. It’s the whole feel of being part of something fun and it’s the unconscious pleasure of the way your fingers feel as they tap on the wireless keyboard and it’s the way you consciously feel when you engage with someone in customer support who actively problem solves with you.

Branding includes all of the means you employ to shape that emotional experience and deliver on a singular elegant promise. Consistently. Logos, websites, design features – those are subtle, pronounced elements of branding. They’re not your brand.

A brand story includes all of the branding elements that tell a cohesive, consistent narrative of you or your business over time about what your business does uniquely and why it matters for our times.

That last piece is critical: why it matters for our times

Without a clear understanding of why your business or corporation exists in our culture now – and how it contributes value to our culture in a meaningful, genuine way – other than to earn profits for shareholders or you, your business or personal brand lacks a complete brand story. It lacks a living mission. And it lacks the difference between inspiring real change or continuing business as usual.

The business and branding climate is different in the early 21st century than it was 40 years ago. That different climate makes new demands on brands.

How branding is changing now

I grew up in the early 1970s, a product of manipulative branding. I wanted cereal promoted by Tony the Tiger, a tricky rabbit, and a dancing leprechaun.

The best minds of Madison Avenue teethed on David Ogilvy’s philosophy. Ogilvy was an English salesman par excellence. His philosophy on copy writing and any form of advertising was simple and clear: Its sole purpose is to get people to buy what you’re selling. If it doesn’t achieve that end, all of the creativity in your advertising is for naught.

So, if a creative agency could create offensive mascots like the Frito Bandito and Frito Lay could dominate Saturday morning cartoon slots on ABC, NBC, and CBS to persuade me at 7 years old to beg my mother for Frito Lay’s Frito snack packs that she could conveniently slip into my Kellogg’s Lucky Charms lunch box, then that business and other businesses like it that could afford the best creative agencies won.

Fair enough. Ogilvy’s philosophy worked at least for the business-as-usual approaches to advertising in a world where the most effective and expensive advertising came in the form of television and radio commercials.

Branding, then, was based on illusions and fictional characters (Mr. Clean, Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive, Trix’s tricky rabbit, and Frosted Flake’s Tony the Tiger).

But the dominance of the tv-and-radio-centered world of advertising has passed. Not that commercials aren’t still creative and effective. But our cultural attitudes have shifted, and digital technology has changed the way we engage media and businesses.

And many businesses and professionals have not caught up from the 1990s.

We live in a time in which people are savvier to being manipulated, many of them are fed up with business-as-usual that treats people like abstract units of sale, and we’re seeing how businesses can actually contribute productively to our culture – beyond creating jobs and increasing the gross national product.

Personal brands and organizational brands – and creative agencies – need people who are emotionally intelligent, imaginatively intelligent, and ethical.

Next, I’ll dive into 4 trends I have noticed for mission-driven brands in 2018.

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