“Life's most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
The above quote came up a few times last Monday over Twitter in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I found it very appropriate in relation to some thinking I've been kicking around about the state of business and what needs to change in how we view and build brands in today's world. Here is where those thoughts are now. They lean heavily to the idealist side of things, but I think that's o.k. Why aim for anything less than the ideal, right? Anyway...
A New Era For Business
The recent era of business has largely been defined by how much one could take, buy, own and grow. Bury the competition at all costs. Put them out of business and take their market share. Grow, grow, grow. Take, take, take. To a large degree, the only "others" brands cared about doing things for were the investors and analysts. Nothing is as important as the quarterly earnings statement being well received.
I am hopeful that a new era of business is coming about. One where brands realize that they have the power, money and ability to help create real, positive change in a world that is in dire need of it and act upon that realization with conviction. It's not about beating the competition, but about beating a massive problem facing humanity. The more massive the brand, the more massive the problem they should be focused against.
Now, don't take this to mean that it's all about giving and that means that they can't make money. By all means, that's the point of business and always will be. It just means that they now recognize and respect that the shareholders are only one third of the equation they have to satisfy. They realize that they also have to look to the people who actually buy their products and services to find new and better ways of serving them and they need to consider how to do something good for planet that we all live on.
Finding Your Massive Problem(s)
With this as a starting point, a brand needs to be able to answer to Dr. King's question, "What are you doing for others?" Only for brands, the answer can't be given in the same old generic product benefits. In addition, the brand needs to think bigger. They need to ask themselves, "What are we doing for the world?"
For several companies, the best answers to these questions are likely to be found from within their own walls. A good start can be as simple as doing some soul-searching and digging into the company's roots. Another is looking into what's going on in the culture surrounding their brand(s) today. What massive problems have they helped to create and how can they now work to repair the damage? What bigger human problem/need does their product solve/address?
The Modern Brand: Defined by Purpose and Action, Not a Position
Once the brand defines its massive problem to solve, they then develop a very clear point-of-view on how they believe this should be done, which becomes exactly how they do it. The brand then is based on the combination of its point-of-view for how to solve their massive problem(s) and its actions for doing so.
Rather than being based on a position, the brand is based on purpose and action. So, instead of being built around the idea of giving you the "whitest whites", they are about cleaning up the world and having their own view and actions on how they do this.
With its clearly defined view and direction, the brand works diligently to make sure that every action they take reinforces their purpose, using their core beliefs and values serve as their guide. It's no longer about being the biggest. It's about vigilantly doing the best they can at fulfilling their stated purpose of doing something for the world and the people who use/buy them.
In doing this, I believe that these brands will be able to thrive. You don't have to be the biggest to be enormously successful. You just have to be relentlessly focused on doing something meaningful for others and/or the world.
So, what are you doing for others? What are you doing for the world?