Higher Purpose Brand Stories Inspire

Last week we looked at how sets of stories can ensure that the strategy is embedded in our target market’s minds. Refer to sets of brand stories

What trumps a ‘set of stories’ is the ACE in the pack, that being a higher purpose brand story. And what we will discover is even a ‘disinfectant’ brand from a ‘multi-national’ can inspire with a higher purpose.

What is a higher purpose? It is a purpose beyond just selling products and services to increase sales and profits. It answers what Simon Sinek has dubbed the ‘why’ question for employees and customers. Many if not most firms are explicitly trying to develop or enhance a higher purpose. For some, this purpose articulates a challenging goal or an offering or application that inspires both employees and customers.

Consider Apple’s purpose, still in place, that is represented by Steve Job’s famous admonition to create ‘insanely great’ products and by the legendary stories that surrounded his passion.

For most firms, an inspiring higher purpose involves one or more social or environmental goals. Sometimes an offering-driven higher purpose will also be the social / environmental higher purpose. Tesla’s purpose, for example, is to create electric vehicles that will conserve energy and reduce the rate of climate change.

But in most cases, there is a need for one or more social / environmental purposes, side-by-side with offering-driven ones. Walmart, for example, has an offering-driven higher purpose, embodied by the phrase “save money – live better,” that exists along with a set of social / environmental purposes.

It’s not enough to have substance behind your higher purpose. You also need to conquer two communication challenges. One is to gain credibility & clarity within the organization, because the reason behind the higher purpose may not be obvious to employees. The second challenge is to gain credit for the purpose outside the organization, because many customers (consumers) and others tend to view such programs and their communication as self-serving and without substance.


Higher-purpose brand stories are well suited to address these challenges because they often inspire both employees and customers. Inspiration involves an elevated, more intense level of impact. An inspiring higher-purpose story will usually be more motivating, unique, single focus, credible, leveragable & enduring than the average brand story. The setting tends to create empathy towards characters, while the story itself discusses engaging issues and leads to emotional responses. It is a brand story on steroids. It is full of MUSCLE.

When based on programs and goals that directly touch people’s lives, a higher-purpose brand story can build stunning levels of audience involvement. The story can motivate people to volunteer their time, donate money, discuss the story with others or pass it along via social media. Or it can involve silent support, with the latent potential to become active when the moment is right. But a passive audience will rarely be the outcome.

For many brands, strategic messages around a functional purpose are not fruitful sources of intriguing, authentic and involving stories. Higher-purpose programs, however can transform a brand by providing a whole new level of story power. If your brand does interesting things, it will naturally have more impactful stories to tell.

To get a deeper look at how xxx please click on to delve into the story power of Lifebuoy from Unilever.

CMO Perspective – Unilever

Lifebuoy, a Unilever brand launched in 1894 as a disinfectant soap, is now a global brand. And it now offers a lifesaving purpose in India, Indonesia and some other nations: its ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign, which promotes good hand-washing habits. Every year, two million children fail to reach their fifth birthdays, often because, of diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, the incidence of which can be sharply reduced with good hand-washing techniques

The ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ program was rolled out with creativity and flare. Schoolchildren in class received child-friendly materials including comics, songs, games and rewards, to help them sustain effective hand-washing habits. The phrase “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy today?” was placed on over 2.5 million pieces of roti, a flatbread, during a Hindu holiday. Dozens of videos showed the related stories of children, parents, teachers, schools and events. One observer, Leon Kaye of triplepundit.com, suggested that in terms of people reached, it was the largest corporate social responsibility program worldwide.

A pivotal event in Lifebuoy’s effort was a decision to start a showcase program in an Indian village called Thesgora. The test, which reduced diarrhea incidence in the village to 5% from 36%, inspired a signature story in the form of three-minute videos. These videos received over 44 million views and helped Lifebuoy towards it’s goal of changing the hand-washing habits of a billion people by 2020, potentially preventing 600,000 child deaths a year. But the video also elevated the Lifebuoy brand by engendering respect, liking and a sense of shared values.

The videos were powerful in part because they:

  • Had compelling content. The audience is initially curious about the characters’ ways of expressing gratitude, but finds emotional satisfaction when the reasons become clear. The impact is enhanced by professional-level production quality.
  • Described an inspirational program to tackle a global problem. Each video ends with the news that millions of children die before their fifth birthdays, and with an overview statement about the Lifebuoy program.
  • Were directly connected to Lifebuoy and its hand-washing program. Lifebouy’s endorsement appears in all aspects of “Help a Child Reach 5,” including the videos and events. The message is reinforced by Lifebuoys heritage as a maker of germ-fighting soap.
  • Were supported by a known personality. The Indian movie star Kajol did interviews and made videos supporting the program. She encouraged people to pass along the videos to others
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