Catalyst 17
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Catalyst 17

Now might be the right time to upgrade your organization’s operating system with a compelling Brand Purpose.

The word “Brand” has become so over-used in sales and marketing that it has nearly lost its meaning.

Webster is running the spectrum when it comes to describing the term “brand.” From the mark burned in wood to the attestation of the manufacturer or of quality or of possession, to the mark on the offenders, to the class of products known by name, to the characteristic of something, to the tool used on the cattle ranches.

Catalyst 17’s brand definition is: a brand is the sum total of all human experience with your business and its products. It encompasses the in-house interactions of workers, outside perspectives of consumers and the general public. It is an ecosystem of brand elements.

While “Brand” defines some rational elements, such as logo and graphic design style, return policy, etc., it’s a lot more than that. Brands should also express the emotional promise of your brand, its raison d’être, its ideals, its soul!

As Professor Nader Tavassoli of the London Business School says, “Brand is not the icing on the cake. The brand is the cake.”

There is some misunderstanding however with two popular brand terms, sometimes used interchangeably, Brand Promise and Brand Purpose. In an effort to differentiate them I thought I would give you our definition of them, as well as a view of a more complex brand system approach.

First, let’s start with the Brand Promise and Brand Purpose and move on to Brand Ecosystem.

Brand Promise.

Brand Promise is a statement that tells people what they can expect from your product. It is mostly tied to a product and articulates what someone can expect from it. It is useful in telling people the functional reasons why someone should consider buying your product.

Our view is that people process and store Brand Promise in their heads. In advertising, this was often called a “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP. To us, Brand Promise is a small “p” promise of the lowest order, built on a Rational Value Proposition or RVP

Here are some examples of some Brand Promise RVPs:

  • Geico: “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
  • Coors Light: “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”
  • BMW: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”
  • Marriott: “Quiet luxury. Crafted experiences. Intuitive service.”
  • Walmart: “Save money. Live better.”

While these statements are clear — they lack any emotional quality or higher purpose. Modern brands now need to define a company’s emotional passion, its ethics and its values beyond just product values.

Now let’s look at Brand Purpose.

Brand Purpose.

A brand purpose is more than a product promise or statement. It’s a commitment or vow. It’s your brand’s OS.

The best definition I have heard is “Brand Purpose is a higher-order reason for a brand to exist beyond than just making a profit”.

It states your purpose and what your organization stands for and stands against. It’s the ultimate brand statement, a type of “We the people…” brand ethos constitution for people both inside and outside the organization.

Done well, people will connect with your company and your products on a much deeper level, and hold on to this commitment in their hearts!

Modern “Brand Purpose” statements are built on two things, an Emotional Value Proposition or EVP and social impact. Designed and delivered with integrity and passion, a “Brand Purpose” is what “Brand Promises” want to be when they grow up!

Here are some examples of some Brand Purposes:

  • Starbucks: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”
  • Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.”
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness.”

The Ben & Jerry’s Brand Recipe

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world’s best-known purpose-driven brands. Let’s look at how they express their brand.

Brand Purpose: We make the best possible ice cream in the best possible way.

Brand Pillars: Our three-part pillars:

  • To manage our Company for sustainable financial growth. To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.
  • To find innovative ways to make the world a better place. To operate the Company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.
  • To make fantastic ice cream — for its own sake. To make, distribute and sell the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

We like the simplicity and clarity of Ben & Jerry’s brand purpose and its pillars. It’s a great example of a brand clearly expressing its commitments.

The great thing about a brand purpose is it doesn’t just inform, but also influences and drives behaviour from employees, customers, and even your suppliers. A brand purpose supported by brand pillars has the power to transform an organization (like Ben & Jerrys, or TOMs or Patagonia, or IKEA) from good to great.

Brand Purpose is like your organization’s operating system. It becomes not just a marketing positioning tool, but a compass to guide decisions.

At Catalyst 17, we also have a far more nuanced concept of a brand. We feel that product attributes, marketing brand promises, employee experience and corporate social promises (CSR, ESG, SDG) should all be built within a taxonomy of the total Brand Ecosystem.

Brand Ecosystem

Within a brand, there are subsets, each interdependent upon one another. Every element of a brand has a symbiotic relationship with the other, and all should be clearly defined and articulated in a brand playbook.

Subsets include:

  • Brand Purpose. This is the Why” your brand exists or matters with respect to how it influences people’s lives both inside and outside of a company. It should have relevance beyond just you, your products and your customer. It should have social relevance. It’s a commitment or vow on what the company or founders reason for being. It’s built on an Emotional Value Proposition or EVP. Brand purpose works for both inside audiences, such as employees and for outside audiences like customers, the general public and your suppliers.
  • Brand Pillars. The compelling truths of the brand — those attributes that communicate the Brand Purpose, its core beliefs, culture, and values that must be present when experiencing the brand.
  • Brand (Product) Promise. Communicates the rational value proposition of the brand or product to the buyer. It’s built on a Rational Value Proposition or RVP
  • Brand Personality. The voice of the brand — the tone and the manner in which the brand will communicate.
  • Brand Positioning. The strategic intent or design for a differentiated image of the brand toward a particular target audience.
  • Brand Identity. The intentional design, name and/or symbol that distinguishes a product, service, or entity from any other. The brand’s “clothing”.
  • Brand Story. This makes the Brand Purpose real. A narrative that conveys how the brand is living its promises and helps connect brands with humans at an emotional level and in a very powerful way.
  • Brand Experience (External). The intentional design of external moments that physically, visually, and verbally integrate into people’s lives and their lifestyle, expressing the purpose, promise, and pillars of the brand, and triggering an emotional response. Store design, packaging design, consumer service scripts all contribute to a brand experience.
  • Brand Experience (Internal). The intentional design of internal moments that physically, visually, and verbally integrate into employee’s lives and expressing the purpose, promise, and pillars of the brand, and triggering an emotional response and commitment to the brand.
  • Brand Image. The collective set of associations attached to the brand identity and brand experience [influenced by all the others] in the minds of its constituents.

Where a Brand Promise is stored in the head as a rational statement, a Brand Purpose is stored in the heart. It has the power to differentiate your organization from your competition and drives decisions and behaviour.

At this time in history, people are looking for more from the brands they support and employees want to know that their work matters. They want their values aligned with their purchases and brand loyalty. To get from good to great, and to stay relevant, now is a good time to look at your brand ecosystem, and design and look at it as your company’s operating system!

Brian Hickling




Perspectives on Social Impact Branding presented by the staff and partners at Catalysy 17

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Brian Hickling

Brian Hickling

I believe in the power of creativity to change the world. I help brands to leverage the accelerated growth potential of Social Impact Branding.

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