Brand substance is the intersection of business strategy and brand strategy. It's the purpose of an organisation – 'why' it exists, the future vision, the everyday missions to be carried out and the values of the organisation and the people within. It's not simply a set of statements developed to represent each of the aforementioned. True brand substance is when an organisation's reason for existing is followed by an adjacent vision, daily operations that reflect it's 'why' and values that reflect a strong commitment to achieving its purpose. Not a set of statements that simply tick a box from the 'starting a business starter pack'.
Arguably the most important step towards establishing a brand strategy is to define (or thoroughly understand) the purpose of a company – this serves as a guiding light on an organisation’s journey. Following this, defining the vision, mission, and values. These Brand Substance components are important pieces of a brand's puzzle that can be utilised to unify a team and provide clarity on where they sit on their journey.
The Substance components – the vision, mission, and values may be described as a brand's 'future objective,' 'the how,' and 'how to react'. The components described above are the building blocks of a brand, much like the solid foundations of a home. A strong foundation supports everything that comes after it and the brand substance can provide insight into appropriate strategic thinking.
Organisations that exhibit strong brand substance are often referred to as 'purpose-driven organisations'.
What's the difference between actual substance and empty branded statements? The difference is not as black and white as good vs evil, but it may be the difference between success and failure of the brand to build a tribe of committed followers. A brand with key statements but no real substance has ambitious goals but no clear purpose – expressing strong feelings of simply existing to make profit. Whereas purpose-driven brands act with intent, transparency and a strong moral compass.
If questioned, most companies would claim to have a vision statement, a mission statement, and a clear set of values. That isn't where the problem lies, though. If a brand has a set of branded vision, mission and value statements – without a relevant purpose, it feels more like the brand has gone shopping for goods without first defining what it's going to cook for dinner.
Tesla is a brand with succinct vision and mission statements (below) that give clarity on their intentions as well as being driven by purpose:
Vision: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
Mission: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Tesla are clear on what they wish to achieve, why it is necessary and the market position they want to obtain while doing it.
The brand substance must lead the behaviour of an organisation - if you want consumers to see your brand as honest, transparent and morally guided. A business that is forthcoming with its goals, objectives, and plans for the future, then delivers on them, can be seen as having integrity and dependability. According to this research, purpose-oriented companies also have higher productivity and growth rates, along with a more satisfied workforce who stay longer with them.
Let's look at vision statements. A vision statement that succinctly expresses a company's purpose and goal may inspire a customer to become an advocate for the cause (brand). But what happens when a vision is disconnected from values? Or, worse yet, if there is no clarity in the organization's mission? This can raise some concerns regarding the organisation's original intentions.
KFC's vision statement from 2013:
"To sell food in a fast, friendly environment that appeals to price conscious, health-minded consumers..."
The year they released a vision about appealing to health-conscious customers was also the year they launched a burger that didn't have a bun – but rather fried chicken. That degree of inconsistency is unquestionably deceptive. At best, it's 'misleading.' As a potential customer searching for a health-conscious fried chicken restaurant, I might consider KFC as a result of this statement. However, the notion of 'health-conscious' is significantly compromised by the inclusion of chicken-for-buns in a burger.
Not all businesses recognise their purpose and other brand components as a holistic ideal. Some people believe it's just a means to promote who they are and what they stand for in order to gain market share. But there's far more potential for real connections to be made through leveraging brand substance. It may be used internally by a company to link business processes with the brand and its employees, aligning everyone toward the same goal. Research shows that such companies report 30 percent higher levels of innovation and 40 percent higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.
Some companies try to capitalise on social and political movements in order to appear as though they have a strong set of values. However, marketing initiatives like these lack brand substance and may be readily disregarded as greenwashing if their purpose and conduct didn't historically match.
Greenwashing is releasing an unsubstantiated claim made to mislead customers into believing that a company's goods are environmentally responsible. Some organisations have straight up lied in their values, severely negatively impacting the perception of their brand once they've been exposed.
In 2018, Nestlé released a statement saying that it had “ambitions” for its packaging to be 100% recyclable or reusable by 2025. Environmentalists and other critics, on the other hand, argued that the company had not published specific goals, a timetable to go with its expectations, or additional efforts to assist consumers in recycling. Greenpeace released its own statement, in which it said, “Nestlé’s statement on plastic packaging includes more of the same greenwashing baby steps to tackle a crisis it helped to create. It will not actually move the needle toward the reduction of single-use plastics in a meaningful way, and sets an incredibly low standard as the largest food and beverage company in the world.” In Break Free From Plastic’s 2020 annual report, Nestlé was named one of the world’s top plastic polluters for the third year in a row.
By leveraging substance, a brand opens opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals who find the same things important as the brand. At some point, a consumer must choose which brand they will deal with in order to solve their problem or meet their needs.
How can you make the consumer's choice to engage your brand simpler?
Purpose-driven businesses factor in the experiences of the humans they touch. The days of a brand's substance being hidden in an outdated marketing handbook in the basement of a building somewhere, or framed and hung in the office tea room should have ended with the VCR.
The leverage point lies among those people being affected, and the stories of how the brand's actions have affected them. In particular, how the brand met the expectations of the consumer and delivered on their brand promise, with a focus on what impact this had on their lives. Top-down narrative just won't hold up in this digital age. taking notes from the fundamental and timeless principles from brand-building.
Brands are jeopardising opportunities for connection if your company's substance is simply made up of outdated vision, mission, and value statements. The brand's goals are in danger. Organisations that fail to effectively communicate their goal to consumers, employees, and partners may fall behind and lose touch with contemporary branding; making the gap between where they are now and where they need to be, simply too great.
Take WaterAid for example; "WaterAid enables the world's poorest people to gain access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, allowing them to unlock their potential".
If WaterAid weren't adept in living and breathing their purpose, mission and vision, then their target audience wouldn't resonate with what they were trying to achieve. This would lead to hesitancy in making donations and ultimately, mistrust. A brand built around sustainability and social responsibility needs a community of generous donors in order to make their purpose a reality. Without the ability to connect and resonate with those people, building and sustaining that community would be impossible.
Simply said, the substance in their messaging establishes a foundation of trust and clearly defined expectations that their audience can put its faith in.
If your vision, mission and value statements are the extent of your brand substance - and they're outdated or disconnected from what you're actually doing as a company - then it's time to modernise. If they don't match up with who you really want to be - or how your target audience sees your brand - if the vision isn’t guiding decision making, then your brand lacks substance.
At Brand Agency, Blunt Agency we believe brands that leverage their substance make better connections with their audiences and ultimately build remarkable brands. Get in touch with us to discuss how your brand can become remarkable by leveraging your brand substance.