Advertising Your Purpose: How to Market Your Reason-for-Being and Cultivate a Loyal Following

In January of 1984 Apple aired one of history’s most iconic ads in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. In the 1984-inspired TV commercial, a woman is seen running from police through a crowd of mind-controlled men before hurling a sledgehammer into a large screen showing “Big Brother” propaganda. After the hammer explodes the screen, a narrator says, “On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

This ad jumpstarted Apple’s quest to define its brand as “the warrior for the cause – a cool, rebellious, and heroic company that was the only thing standing in the way of the big evil corporation’s plan for world domination and mind control,” as Walter Isaacson put it in Steve Jobs. In the subsequent years, Apple successfully created a powerful lifestyle brand with loyal followers united in the cause against big corporations who identified as creative and innovative rebels.

Steve Jobs led Apple to think different and change the world. He infused his advertising with a sense of purpose that went far beyond making money, and he cultivated a legendary loyalty to Apple products unseen in the history of American industry.

As leaders of businesses and organizations seek to market their products and services today, can they draw people to become loyal followers of their brand by communicating their purpose like Apple has? How can you infuse your purpose into your marketing in a way that captivates such an audience?

This might sound like a tall task – after all we are talking about imitating the world’s largest publicly traded company – but effectively infusing your reason-for-being into your marketing is something you can do. It is a practice that can massively impact your effectiveness in building your brand, and you don’t have to be Steve Jobs to pull it off. In fact, there is a common pattern found among those who effectively imbue their purpose into their advertising.

The pattern consists of a few crucial steps, but it all boils down to this: publicize your purpose and broadcast your beliefs. You must find a way to make it clear to your customer why you are doing what you do. The approach explained below cover the most effective ways this has been done in the past, but creative thinking will no doubt allow us all to find more ways to do this.

Identify your purpose

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the only way to successfully communicate your purpose is to first know what your purpose is. You must identify your why – the purpose, cause, or beliefs that give you the reason for doing what you do.

This can be a difficult task for many, but a good way to get the juices flowing is to frame the question around the customers you serve. At the core of every successful business offering is customer empathy. Companies must have an intimate connection with the feelings and needs of their customers, so their product or service can adequately serve them. If you can nail down the ways in which you serve your customers, your purpose often flows right out of that.

There’s no need to force yourself into a single reason for doing what you do. More often than not, companies operate under a set of core beliefs and objectives that drive everything they do. Be specific and concise, but if you are truly driven by more than a single objective, expand your purpose to include a cluster of aspirations.

Once you identify your purpose, articulate it in a concise statement of purpose and belief. This is the core of who you are, and it can propel your marketing forward in a way that allows you to reach your customers in a deeper way.

Embody your beliefs

Once you identify and articulate your purpose, you won’t want to just forget about it. Most likely, you’ll be motivated to do more and do it better. Lean into this motivation and let your reason-for-being pump life into everything you do. This is the next crucial step to effectively infusing your purpose into your marketing: embody your beliefs.

From the leadership in your company, to each employee up and down your organization, to the very product or service you provide, your company should embody your beliefs. Find ways to infuse your purpose into the culture of your people and design your products and services around the most effective ways to advance your cause.

Why is it so important to embody your beliefs? Because consumers are savvy enough to sniff out phony advertising built upon inauthentic claims. If you are going to successfully market your services by articulating your purpose, you must let that purpose flow through everything you do. Your organization should be known for its purpose, and that comes through in more than just your marketing.  

Think about all the ways your company will benefit from a clear purpose. It will inspire your people to work in the best interest of the whole, not just the individual. If you lack a clear set of values and beliefs, the culture of your workplace can turn into an every-man-for-himself environment with no collective buy-in. Your purpose can become a rallying cry around which all your employees unite and you in turn will develop better products or services.

Put words to your Purpose

The previous two ideas – identifying your purpose and embodying your beliefs – are internally focused and still don’t mention how your marketing can communicate your purpose externally. This is because your internal activities are so foundational to your external communication; they are the crucial first steps. If you neglect to identify and embody your reason-for-being, your marketing is likely to fall flat. However, if you do this, you can then begin to put words to your purpose.

The most basic way to communicate your purpose is to be as clear and concise as you can be. You need your audience to hear how you are motivated and you will attract a customer that is, in turn, motivated to identify themselves with your brand.

Find a good copywriter who can help you say it well. If appropriate, compose a mantra that is easily remembered and often repeated. Or, tactfully weave your purpose into all your advertising copy. Bottom line: do whatever it takes to get the message across to your audience.

When your advertising copy clearly expresses your purpose, you will begin to connect your brand to an audience that identifies with it, too. Your marketing will transform into the promotion of a greater purpose instead of merely the promotion of a product. The way to create loyalty with customers is not to merely sell to anyone who wants what you offer, but rather to sell to those who believe what you believe. When you do this, your audience will see your product as more valuable than your competitors’ and be willing to pay more for it.

What you don’t want is for people to hear about your company and your product but carry no sense of loyalty to you because they don’t identify themselves with you, they only want something from you. When your advertising is imbued with your reason-for-being, your audience will see themselves as with you, standing beside you as an ally in the battle for the cause.

Elevate heroes

Nike has championed the cause of superior athletic performance by providing athletic gear to the best athletes in the world. They spend billions of dollars a year giving away their gear to the top college athletic programs and many of the best pro athletes in the world. Why do they do this? Because these are the heroes of athletic performance who embody their purpose, allowing the watching world to associate their brand with athletic excellence.

In the same way, any company can elevate heroes to embody their purpose. This can happen through celebrity endorsements or through the creation of fictional stories with “heroic” characters. Flo from Progressive Insurance is the hero of low-cost insurance; the Energizer Bunny is the hero of reliable, long-lasting electric power; and the girl who threw the hammer in the Apple commercial mentioned above is the hero of the individual, rebel spirit. Elevate a hero for your cause and you will soon be identified with the cause.

Don’t hold back

In 1914, an English explorer by the name of Ernest Shackleton set out on a ship with a crew of 27 people to explore the Antarctic and cross the continent on the southernmost tip of the earth. It was a dangerous journey, but he had a crew ready to confront the peril. How did he recruit such a crew? He ran an ad in the London newspaper The Times that read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

Shackleton attracted a crew that believed in what he believed in so much that they found such a voyage enticing. If you are looking for loyalty and commitment from your customers, don’t merely champion your product, champion your greater purpose. Embody your reason-for-being and lead the way in the cause and you just might find yourself with a crew that’s willing to cross the Antarctic with you.

Matthew Shaughnessy
09 18, 2020

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