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Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 | 0 comments

Why Your Brand, and Brand Strategist , Should Think Smaller

brand strategy, brand strategist, purpose-driven brands, brand purposeOK, it’s a fairly gratuitous photo for a post on branding – but not completely. Yes, that’s me, your friendly neighborhood brand strategist and writer, sitting behind the wheel of my short-lived 1958 Triumph TR3, some years back.

I acknowledge, to all you classic car buffs, that this glorified go kart was hardly your 1954 Jaguar XK120 dream car or even the much more attainable, and substantial, Austin Healy 3000, both of which are still capable of making me drool a bit.  But the TR3 was my dream,  damn it, ever since my brother gave me a model of it when we were kids.  It was a dream well-suited to my life, resources and personality – and achieving even this small automotive fantasy for a brief period was incredibly satisfying.   Our “dream big” culture would likely have me disappointed that I didn’t grab a set of more expensive and impressive power wheels – but it turns out that dreaming too big may be bad not only for people, but also for brands.

Is Your Purpose-Driven Brand Driving in the Wrong Direction?
Two pieces of research caught my attention recently, each in it’s own way mitigating for a more reasonably scaled set of personal and/or brand expectations.  The first was a report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) pointing out that brands and the consumers they allegedly serve have very different goals and needs when it comes to subject of brand purpose.   The managing director of the WFA, Stephan Loerke, was quoted in Ad Age as saying “There is a consensus that brand purpose is increasingly relevant, but people and marketers don’t seem to agree on what it means.  Marketers see it as the bigger picture, but people see it as what you do in daily life.”

In short, brands have a grand, purpose-driven self-image, while consumers just want brands to serve a useful purpose (shades of Youtility, from my friend Jay Baer).  While CMOs may feel saddled with conceiving and executing grand CSR programs, their paying constituents are really just looking for practical help, for themselves and their world.  In fact, Loerke goes on to say, “It becomes clear that brand purpose isn’t necessarily about saving the planet.  It doesn’t have to be worthy per se; it can be about taking small and meaningful steps.”

Brands have a grand, purpose-driven self-image, while consumers just want brands to serve a useful purpose.

Is Your Brand Creating an Expectation Gap Consumers Can’t Cross?
Loerke’s remarks brought to mind the second study, one about human, not brand, behavior – but I think an extrapolation is not too much of a stretch here.  “Leave Them Smiling:  How Small Acts Create More Happiness than Large Acts” is based on research by Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School.  The title says it all: grand, abstract goals (for example, saving the environment) leave people feeling inadequate, disengaged and unfulfilled; setting one’s sights on smaller, more individually achievable goals (say, a community recycling drive for a set period of time) leaves people feeling empowered, accomplished – and happier.   In the later case, expectations and outcomes matched well; in the former, the “expectation gap” created by urge to think big leaves people frustrated and unhappy.

Is your brand overshooting the mark?   Or are you not even trying to attach purpose to your brand, for fear that it’s too big an undertaking?   In either case, the experts have just two words for you:  think smaller.

This post first appeared on Chuck Kent’s blog at

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