What is the meaning of life? It’s probably an algorithm isn’t it? It’s a question not likely asked until you’re starting to settle down; slowly becoming slower, quickly becoming fatter. Welcoming more responsibilities into your life; kids, mortgages, aging family members, bum knees, debt, and subscription services you forgot to cancel. As I get close to the halfway point in my own life I find myself thinking more about the question, or at least what my answer would be – personally and professionally. Can a brand have its own answer to this paradoxical question? I want to believe so.
My preferred personal answer is adopted from the Harvard philologist Calliopi Dourou who recounts the Pythian response within Manolis Kellis’ excellent Meaning of Life Symposium (check it out here; it’s worth your time). The answer is simply two words and has 3 meanings (so very Greek):
First, become #1, always strive for excellence. Whatever you choose to pursue, reach your full potential. Maximise your contribution to the world. For me this is about being obsessed within yourself, rather than against other people. Queue Eye of the Tiger montage.
Second, become one with your loved ones. Set space within you for someone else. Think collectively rather than selfishly. Afterall, 2020 is empathy’s coming out party.
Third, become one-year-old again. View the world through the eyes of a child. Be imaginative, curious and adventurous. Climb that tree, touch that thing, poke the bear.
If we are our own brand, in that we have a name, an identity, and are actively leaving an impression on the world, can a brand or business then have an answer to the meaning of life? Does it have a reason to exist? Does it have values and beliefs by which it lives by? Any brand ‘strategist’ or marketing expert will tell you of course it does. Look at all these funnels, ladders, platforms and brand pyramids I’ve Powerpoint’d for you! Some of them even have gifs!
The problem I’ve found with consulting for brands and businesses is their meaning of life (also known as their mission statement, brand positioning or north star) sounds ridiculous if you were to apply it to yourself. If I told you my meaning of life is to accumulate as many Aussie dollars as possible or become the most consumed beer in the world for as long as possible, then you might suggest I revaluate my values as a human. Imagine being 7 years old and asking your mom, “what’s the meaning of life, Mommy?” “Well dear, it’s to sell more beers than anyone else. Now finish your dinner so you can get back to mashing that barley!”
The point is, we’re all constantly seeking purpose in life and in 2020 we’re questioning our professional roles and responsibilities more than ever; the impact of how our time is best spent. 2020 has forced a lot of brands to look in the mirror and question everything. Pivot, disrupt, transition, refresh, re-invest, re-brand, re-position - it all sounds a bit much.
More seriously, is my business or brand spread too thin? If I’m trimming all this fat why would I not keep it off forever? Are we trying to do too much? Is what I make, sell or do, adding any value to people’s lives? Should I say goodbye to these old dried-up revenue streams forever? For some asking these questions has become a matter of survival and for others it’s about taking advantage of unique opportunities; insert the ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ quote. We’ve all been trying to grow our market share by any means necessary. The question then may be, what is necessary?
I’ve had a 20+ year career of being on the creative side of brand development. I’ve designed hundreds of logos, built festivals, events, products, experiences and have left a lot of marketing content in the landfills of archived hard drives. I’ve pitched countless ridiculous ideas; all attempting to rob the bank of consumer’s minds and their purchasing intent. The truth is not much lasts over the years. Consumers don’t really care. It’s harsh I know, but nowadays most people can’t remember what ads they saw 5 mins ago on Instagram, let alone what your tagline was in a TV ad from last night. Try remembering a brand name on a product’s packaging amongst a shelf of 500 different products, all using similar colour schemes, formats and promises of blessed living. If you’ve been following the marketing research and data coming from Byron Sharp and Les Binet & Peter Field for the past 10 years, you know our attention spans are not increasing, short-termism dominates marketing strategies, and creating long-term business growth takes planning which few businesses seem to invest in.
It took me a long time to realise that brands which strive to become immortal, the ones who really stick around and impregnant themselves into people’s memories, are the ones who have a confidence in their answer to their meaning of life. They’ve found comfort in understanding what value they’re providing to their customer’s past, present, and future and have understood the importance of doing it consistently for a really long time. This is what I deem as being necessary.
Where do you then start? Well sadly, what I’m saying is your logo is shit! No sorry, not that or maybe it is. I’d have to invest the time to review all your brand assets. I’d then recommend assessing how much they ladder up to what you see as your brand values, beliefs, pillars and something that feels like a meaning of life - a reason for why people want to work for your brand or share your brand with others. I’d then question how consistent and frequent you are with delivering your position in marketing, relative to your competitors and your consumer’s perception of your brand. This is your name, your logo, your brand ID, your products, your services, your people, and your processes. These are your brand assets.
Maybe stop constantly refreshing your brand or changing how the world recognizes you. Maybe it’s time to think of your brand as a human. Are you truly distinct or are you copying someone else? Imagine how pissed your mates would be if you phoned them every 3 years and told them you’re changing your name and you can no longer be friends with them because you don’t wear orange anymore. To quote my fellow Canadian Ricky LaFleur, ‘it doesn’t take rocket appliances to get your grade 10.’ Meaning, understanding your brand, its fundamental values, and why consistency matters, shouldn’t be this hard. You’re already capable of passing this test.
For a brand to think about immortality, to last forever, to be the first brand a consumer thinks of when they need a thing you make or sell requires you to think about why you exist and how clear that is in the minds of consumers. What is your meaning of life? Is your answer obvious? We don’t all have to be Patagonia or only work to become 100% purpose driven brands that worship to the marketing alter of Simon Sinek. We can’t all be global charities or cure much of any big earthy problems overnight. ‘Just go be like Apple’, is not practical advice. It’s hard enough for some brands to be great at quenching thirst quickly or providing people with pants that fit properly.
We’re all just trying to live a happier life by making tomorrow better than today. And maybe that’s it. As a brand or business, are you making tomorrow better and for who? If you are making it better for someone, then it’s in your best interest for them to remember it was you and the next time I need your service or product, I’m able to recognise you and hopefully, find you.
- Reece Hobbins, TABOO - Director of Brand Development & Innovation