Great brands change the world, says Giles Lury
Brands drive change. They change categories, markets, and habits. They are sources of ideas, of products, services and innovations that help drive change. Through relationships with their stakeholders, their employees and us, the general public, brands have the budgets, the breadth and the depth of connections to seed and drive lasting differences. Brands can and do change the world.
In 1956, the Houston Post reported that “it has been estimated that Brownie Wise has helped more women to financial success than any other single living person.” The tool with which Brownie achieved that end? Tupperware. The brand power of those simple plastic boxes, combined with Brownie’s parties, brought financial liberation to thousands of local representatives.
Apple’s brand power has repeatedly driven change. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but its arrival changed the category. iTunes subsequently changed how we buy music, and as the music industry moves to streaming, Apple has again helped change the landscape, though it’s now on your iPhone. Amazon started as a brand retailing books, but it changed the staid category of publishing, and now its brand is synonymous with a complete change in how we shop.
These are not always side effects. Brands increasingly want to play a part in changing society for the better. Whether this is always their initiative, or a reaction to social change, is open to debate, but they reflect a desire to go beyond a narrow corporate mission. Ariel’s #sharetheload campaign has done wonders in India to encourage men to do their fair share of housework; Lifebuoy has helped 1 billion people around the world improve their handwashing habits, helping reduce instances of pneumonia by 23% and diarrhoea by 45%.
There are several engines of change for brands today. Marketers’ current ‘darling’ is brand purpose, often a manifestation of the beliefs of the brand’s founders. This isn’t entirely new. Patagonia, founded in 1973, dubs itself an activist company; the Body Shop had a purpose when it started in 1976; further back, chocolate-makers Cadbury’s was driven by Quaker principles in 1824. But it is increasingly common.
Not all purposes are about some higher ideal. James Watt and Martin Dickie “set out on a mission to make other people as passionate about great beer as we are”. That might not be a lofty moral statement, but it’s working: BrewDog is driving huge change in the brewing industry.
Another common driver is the desire to democratize a product, a service or an experience. That sounds worthy, but it can also be seen as the search for growth. Think of how Henry Ford democratized cars and Ryanair democratized air travel.
Brands’ ability to create awareness, obtain distribution or provide channels to market is another key factor in change-making, especially when it comes to technology. Brands can be seen as technology super-chargers, turbo-boosting the adoption of new ideas. Behavioural change is also made easier by the ability of a great brand to make something convenient and accessible: Apple is a past master.
Competition is another powerful driver, inspiring innovation. Motorola was worried about losing out to AT&T in the in-car mobile phone market, which led it to start developing the first personal mobile phone.
Last on this starter list is when real changes are an unintentional result of an action. In the early 1900s, Hyman Kirsch, a soft drinks retailer in Brooklyn, became vice-president of the Jewish Sanitarium for Chronic Disease. He and his son Morris came up with the idea of creating a special beverage treat for the hospital’s diabetic and cardiovascular patients. His No-Cal soda brand became a huge success with an audience that went way beyond diabetics, attracting people who were just trying to watch their weight. It inspired Coca-Cola and Pepsi to respond, introducing diet versions of their masterbrands.
Change in business is now a constant. Brands remain a constant driver of many of those changes.