Brands are so much like people.

They come into this world. They develop their own unique identity and sense of purpose. They grow. They evolve. Then, all too often, they lose their path and need to realign with their original reason for being. Or else, they wither and perish.

Some of the world’s most pioneering, purpose-driven brands have followed this journey of rediscovery in the pursuit of enhanced marketplace meaning. Let’s look at a few of them….

IKEA Steps Back to the Future

When IKEA first burst upon our consciousness, it was like the quirky, frugal uncle everyone couldn’t help but love. And the brand’s marketing reflected that. Who could forget ‘Start the car, start the car!’ or the sad lamp discarded curbside?

An entire generation of university students and young professionals embraced the Allen key and the world of cool Eurodesign it afforded them.

Then we grew up. IKEA tried to grow up with us by appealing to our more mature, more expensive tastes. But in so doing, it lost sight of its original value proposition. Along with it, IKEA lost its way.

So, someone at IKEA went back and revisited the original dream of its founder, Ingemar Komprat, whose goal was “to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them…to create a better everyday life for the many people.”

And they recreated their strategy. Now, campaigns around the world are featuring the kind of real people who truly need IKEA. Europe’s brand has revived as ‘Where Life Happens.’ In Canada, it’s all about ‘Beautiful Possibilities.’

Special K is “Owning It”

Long before Dove’s Real Beauty campaign and its message of body shape acceptance, there was Kellogg’s Special K. First introduced in 1955, it was marketed for almost half a century as a dieting product.

But then, in 1999, the young team of Loraine Tao, Elspeth Lynn and Emily Bain at Leo Burnett Canada challenged the strategy. They argued that a more transparent, empathetic and inclusive approach would endear itself to the female target, and elevate the brand above the status quo. And you know what? They were right.

However, in the 15 years that followed, Special K continued to promote its message of eating healthy, but somehow lost that purpose-minded strategy of ‘looking good on your own terms,’ unleashed by their original authors.

Then, in 2017, the brand came storming back in Canada with a vengeance, anchored by its #ownit manifesto.

Through this brand positioning, Kellogg’s has revisited the heritage of its brand, and is reconnecting with women the way it once had. This tactic has proven to be so immensely successful for Special K Canada, that the campaign positioning has been adopted by Kellogg’s in the US.

Benetton Rediscovers the Spirit of Unity

Few consumer brands and their marketing campaigns are directly associated with one creative individual. Benetton is an  exception.

Oliviero Toscani became Benetton’s Art Director in 1982. Decades before in-house agencies existed, Toscani conceived and produced one of the most prolific and famous campaigns, United Colours, in the history of advertising.

But as the years passed, the campaign began to lose its purpose-driven message of unity, and started seeking a shock-for-shock value appeal. Ads featuring a dying AIDS patient, or the bloodied clothes of a Sarajevo war victim, brought the wrath of critics. More importantly, they spread uncertainty amongst Benetton loyalists.

18 years after creating the United Colours campaign, Toscani parted ways with Benetton. And the fashion company immediately began to plummet without their Creative Director at the helm. Sales slumped and stores closed.

Eighteen years later, Toscani was brought back to Benetton. And almost as quickly, he has revisited the brand’s original message of unity.

Like Kellogg’s, IKEA and Benetton, even legacy brands can lose sight of their brand purpose. Lots of factors — from market conditions to category innovation to a change in corporate leadership — can derail a brand from its destined course and purpose.

What Does this Mean for a Purpose-Driven Brand?

For purpose-driven brands, we must constantly revisit the heritage of our brand. We must remind ourselves why our brand was created in the first place, why it’s so critical in our development, and why (and this is most important), we must adhere to a purpose-driven business strategy.

How do we do that? I’ve written a few posts about how to successfully create a purpose-driven strategy, including What it Means to be a Social Purpose Brand and How to Create a Social Purpose Brand.

A look into the brand’s heritage—the most salient benefits the brand offers customers—can help managers identify the social needs their brands are well positioned to address.

Harvard Business Review Oct/Nov. 2017

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