Brands today need to go beyond Positioning and become Purposive

Shweta Sinha


In today’s brave, new, post-digital world, two things are certain…

Firstly, gaining Consumer Trust in brands and advertising is harder than ever! Digital has helped create a platform for consumer expression and outrage where they are actively demanding accountability, and proof of the promises made by organizations and brands.

And secondly, creating a marketing differentiation at a brand and engagement level is increasingly challenging. With the growth in the ownership of mobile phones and social media usage, advertising is getting more and more intrusive. It’s getting harder to break the clutter, gain eyeball and occupy mindshare when hundreds of brands are fighting for space within the 6×3 square inch screen in your palm.

 Despite that, some brands such as Dove, Apple, Whisper, AirBnB have continued to enjoy trust, market share and profitability GLOBALLY! What all these brands have in common is that they are all Purpose-led brands and not just positioning-led.

Now purpose isn’t the newest buzzword that has replaced positioning in branding parlance. It truly is a far greater undertaking for a brand and organization, as compared to a positioning exercise, in which, it truly guides and informs every aspect of the brands internal behaviour (product innovation, culture, structure, hiring and HR policies, incentives, etc.) and external manifestation (direct impact on a consumer’s life). A brand’s purpose truly defines the reason for the existence of the brand; ergo bringing consumer centricity at the heart of a brand and claiming share of life, not just share of mind or wallet.

 Let’s look at Whisper as an example. While whisper’s positioning, which guides its communication could evolve from helping women have a comfortable period to busting myths and taboos around menstruation, their greater brand purpose is ‘helping girls embrace womanhood positively.’ In order to live its purpose, not only does it make TVCs with themes such as ‘touch the pickle,’ but actually participates in its consumer’s life through real touchpoints and activations. On ground, Whisper conducts health and hygiene programs in schools, and online, it has created an interactive forum for girls where they can actually discuss all their coming-of-age problems with an always available ‘older friend/confidant.’ It constantly looks for real opportunities to engage with the consumer’s life, beyond the directive of just increasing sales.

Similarly, while Apple’s positioning may be ‘the most stylish and desirable phone on the bloc,’ its Purpose is much deeper – ‘to empower creative exploration and self-expression.’ This purpose can be seen manifesting through every product innovation, consumer experience at the apple store, as well as their internal organizational culture and practices. That’s how it creates a brand preference at an emotional-level, much beyond just the rational-transactional level.

 Lastly, purposive brands are also known to outlast and be more profitable than those that do not evolve into finding their larger purpose for existence. A purpose brand will find itself, its organization, and all its stakeholders sharing an ecosystem of mutual profitability. Further, Purpose can help create blue ocean strategies for new business opportunities, in a way that positioning never can. Airbnb is a great example for the same. Its purpose is, “We exist to help you belong anywhere”. It isn’t something as imitable and transactional as “we are the most trust worthy home stay partner for you.” When it says that its purpose is to help people ‘belong anywhere,’ it goes all out to walk the talk. By getting people to live at the homes of hosts who are locals, it gives people the opportunity to “live like a local and experience the culture of the place far more intimately”. This is something a regular hotel in a business district or a far-away resort can never provide. As a blue ocean extension to its offering, it is also planning to get into curating experiences that are far more authentic and intimate – from in-home dining with the locals, to exploration of hidden local places, to facilitating participation at local festivals and events, local cooking/art classes etc.

In summary, Purpose Brands have conviction. They put their money where their mouth is. They know why they exist, and live, walk and breathe their purpose. Purpose Brands are the ones we always quote, reference, look up to for inspiration and are loyal to fiercely, even if sometimes irrationally. And lastly, the survive category ups-and-downs and are profitable!





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