Sanjeev Kotnala: Does a brand purpose serve any purpose?

04 Nov,2020

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Are you someone with a purpose, a life purpose? Or perhaps, like most of us, you know you probably do have some higher purpose, but you wake up every morning and prefer to simply focus on the day’s tasks?


Life purposes can guide and influence behaviour, shape your goals, and offer you a sense of direction. It lends meaning to your everyday life. At least it is supposed to. Richard Leider, a preeminent executive-life coach, says: “When your authentic purpose becomes clear, you will be able to share it with the whole world.”


Now, translate this concept to a Brand. All companies know what they do and how to do it. But there are a few companies who delve into the why. It is the question of ‘why’ the company or brand exists. No, not the obvious reason that there are consumers out there willing to fork out money for the brand of product or service. The ‘why’ of a brand purpose goes deeper than that. It is about defining a higher purpose for a brand’s existence.



With the democratisation of communication and the advent of broader, global concerns, there is a race in the brand world. Be it gender and race equality, inclusiveness, empowerment, and environmental sustainability, every brand suddenly wants to show-off a ‘higher purpose’ to strengthen its lifecycle. A purpose that is supposed to align its business to its consumer and prove to us it’s not about the money. Brands want to be recognised for working to advance societal causes. Yes, brands are anxious to leverage the supposedly broader concerns of the millennial customer.


But my dear friend and marketing guru, Vermajee, begs to disagree! He believes there cannot be a bigger myth! According to him, brands chasing a ‘larger purpose in life’ and shouting about it from the rooftops are losing sight of reality. While the brand purpose and being purpose-driven make for good conversation, he says there is very little of it that genuinely percolates within the four walls of corporate life. He believes corporate entities should focus on their primary goals of offering functional, cost-effective products and services. And by all means, offer them without harming the planet’s resources. Just don’t go around crowing about it!



Taking a sip of his Antiquity and No.1 Club Soda, he declares that it is plain foolishness for a brand to expect consumers to pay a premium for being ‘purpose-led.’


Adjusting his posture with an extra cushion, he begins to vent his ire. Let’s listen to his rant.


Every consumer out there is busy delivering what their bosses want and what their boss’s boss wants. People have deadlines to meet and have limited resources at hand. They have families to take care of and ensure a proper education for the kids.  Commuting is a nightmare. The monthly grocery bills are an ordeal, rents, and painful EMIs to take care of, scraping around to save a bit.  Then there are the unforeseen medical expenses. And the foreseen family functions, festivals, and the promised vacations, all of which ensure one is always operating well above already stretched budgets. Add to this the emotional battles and fragile egos. Envy, jealousy, and understandable frustrations. Social status, peer pressure, and family demands.


Do you really think amidst this fierce whirlpool of everyday living, a consumer has the time to give a F@#K about a brand’s purpose? When the social ecosystem is fraying at the edges; and our security and safety under constant threat. Fleeced by corrupt public and private infrastructure providers, our lives a never-ending struggle for basic dignity. Who gives a F@#K about the ‘higher purpose’ of a brand of shoe or a mobile phone?



Vermajee is not done. He has a word of advice. Wouldn’t it do all of us a world of good if companies quit blowing monies on communicating their ‘purpose’? Instead, invest their resources in improving the quality, reliability, and affordability of their products and services?


Do you think it matters to me what your purpose is? If my purpose in life is to make the world a better place through my poetry or music, I don’t keep harping about it! I go ahead and make the world a better place through what I am good at. My life purpose is mine to define and mine alone to abide by. The moment I start bragging about it, I have crossed a line and made it my life purpose to promote myself!


Who cares? Who the F@#K cares?


The initial thoughts for this article were mine (Sanjeev Kotnala). However, it was my Bengaluru-based dear friend, Peter Suresh; a media research analyst turned content writer, and an ex-colleague from Dainik Bhaskar, who gave it the Tint, Hue and Colour, in an almost perfect articulation of my thoughts. Thank you, Peter. 

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