Vikki Chowney of H+K Strategies on, ‘What does brand really mean?’

Jan 23rd, 2018

Vikki Chowney

This week, Chief Content Strategist at H+K Strategies and One Question board member, Vikki Chowney joins the February debate by answering the big question, what does brand really mean?

What do I think when I hear the word ‘brand’? Well, for me it’s almost impossible to separate the word from my working life.

I spend my days trying to help brands work out what content to produce, with whom, and where it lives. Once upon a time, this would have been focused on making the message the centre of whatever amazing bit of content we produced to tell a story. It was largely about what our brands were trying to say. Now, it’s very much more about why they’re trying to say it.

The starting point for brand building has always been to define brand purpose – beliefs, point of view and tonality. But this was once confined to a brand book; a set of values outlined by the company that resided in unread booklets or in somewhat dull sections of websites. ‘Purpose’ meant CSR, coming to life almost purely through charitable donations.

Now, there’s increased social awareness and even more than that, expectation from younger employees and customers that a company will stand for something beyond what they sell. This has elevated the idea of purpose to no longer being ‘a nice thing to have’, but to become a core fundamental of business.

To the left of my desk right now I can see Harvard Business Review’s ‘The Business Case for Purpose’ and EY’s Purpose-led Brands report. These are just two examples of thousands of other pieces of research in this space. From those trying to unpick the motivations of what some are cringingly calling ‘The Purpose Generation’, through to the excellent work conducted by BrandZ on mapping stock value of brands that have clear purpose and meaning.

Brand purpose is a core step in outlining what ‘brand’ means. It always has been, but now it’s so much more visible.

On one hand, this brings better, more-thoughtful advertising. Unilever, the world’s second-biggest advertiser, rolled out a global strategy in 2016 to “unstereotype” its advertising and eradicate out-dated portrayals of gender in order to deliver against the part of its purpose that promises to increase positive social impact. A focus on purpose also brings us companies that think more carefully about the impact they have on society like Patagonia or Tom’s. Very good.

But on the other hand, we see the bandwagon effect. The influx of ‘worthy’ Cannes Lions entries over the past few years is proof of this. The work created specifically to solve a ‘world problem’ in order to win an award. It’s a plague on our industry and one I’m quite ready to see the back of.

But what next? When ‘Purpose over Profit’ is the new norm; what’s the new sexy ‘thing’ for brands? I don’t have the answers, but I can’t wait to hear the panel try to talk it out.

To find out more about One Question Debates featuring, Sony Music, PepsiCo and to book your ticket visit our website.