What's Your WHY?

In his now-famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek delivered a simple yet powerful message: start with why. Sinek says that influential leaders work with a sense of purpose from the beginning, which allows them to inspire loyal followings. 

The Genuine and Compelling Reason Your Brand Exists

“Why” is a brand purpose, cause, or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exists—put simply, why it does what it does. When it’s compelling and genuine, “why” can form the basis of an incredibly strong promise and a highly differentiated brand

Even before the global pandemic, consumers were becoming increasingly interested in purchasing from purpose-driven brands, especially brands practicing sustainability.  These brands can even drive higher price points when leveraging their “why.” Nielsen’s 2015 report on global corporate sustainability found that about two-thirds of consumers in general (and almost three-quarters of Millennials specifically) are willing to pay more for a brand practicing sustainability.

Taking Care of Customers and Communities

Talk is cheap, but action can come with a substantial price tag. Brands that make noise about caring for customers and communities, the environment, or more specific causes during times of crisis, may have to dig deep to keep the promises they made when the world is in the throes of a deadly pandemic. The sharpest brands, the most competitive brands, are those that realize now is the time to activate their purpose. They need to communicate effectively and be authentic and, in the long run, they will win.

Countless brands are giving products and donations to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. High-end luxury brands from LVMH to Burberry to Gucci to Bulgari have stepped up to helping society and health officials by speedily re-manufacturing luxury goods into medical equipment and raising money to fight the spread of the virus. Many others have donated personal protective equipment or other critical supplies, infrastructure, expertise, logistics, transportation, manufacturing equipment, or space.

But what happens when brand purpose is put to the test—will customers forgive those brands that miss the mark?

In the wake of an 80% sudden and dramatic drop in flights at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin Atlantic announced it was grounding approximately three-quarters of its fleet, retaining a focus on core routes. As a result, staff was required to take eight weeks of unpaid leave at some point over the next three months (however, their cost will be spread across six monthly pay periods). A rather peculiar departure from the airline’s professed identity as the “fun, friendly, fabulous choice that made travel attainable for everyone.”

To make matters worse, the company called on the government to orchestrate an emergency bailout for the airlines “bolster confidence” and prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments. Virgin Atlantic said it needs relief for the summer season to match supply to demand, reduce costs, and avoid unviable flying and corresponding CO2 emissions. The airline believes this support will enable them to “weather this storm” and emerge in a position to “assist the nation’s economic recovery.”

Frustrated consumers shared their dissatisfaction on social media, noting the potential bailout of a company associated with a high profile billionaire owner, while the NHS struggles to treat ill pensioners.

When purpose truly drives the brand, customers who share that purpose become fiercely loyal, to the point where their passion for the cause and their love for the brand become indistinguishable from each other. However, people will remember this reaction from Virgin Atlantic, in the same way, they remember those brands truly driven by purpose.

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