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  • Writer's pictureRick Julian

Branding Basics: WHY Are We Doing This?

“Why?” is always on my mind–I am driven, as I believe all humans are at a very elemental level, to find meaning in life, and I believe the more attuned we are to the “whys?”, the more consistently successful we’ll become in our branding efforts.

From  climbing mountains, to conquering market share, when we become aligned with our raison d’être, remarkable things begin to happen because we become fueled with the most potent propellant known to man: passion.

In branding, it’s one goal to move the numbers in a spreadsheet, and quite another to move people’s hearts and minds. The greatest brands and organizations in the world almost always have a higher purpose, and when they’re able to articulate it in a compelling fashion and deliver on its promise, spreadsheets typically move accordingly.

As an example, a few years ago, TOTO–a premiere Japanese manufacturer of toilets and other bathroom accoutrements and an 800-pound gorilla in Asia, yet a relatively unknown brand in the US, engaged us to raise awareness of their brand. They certainly wanted to sell lots of product, and though the marketplace  in the 21st century was a bit different than when they began in 1917, the basic questions remained relevant:

What are we selling? To whom are we selling? What’s our value proposition? What are our channels for communication? What are our points of differentiation?

etc., etc.

All good and important questions to answer, and 90 years later these were the same questions with which we began our engagement. But from a branding perspective, their answers only began to  scratch the surface, and the deeper stuff–the stuff that moves hearts and minds–both within the company and in the marketplace revolved around, “why?”.

By asking “why?” again and again–by going all the way back to the beginning of the company, we discovered that, yes, the company’s founder was a highly motivated entrepreneur with a good idea, but his deeper motivation involved a very humanitarian goal: the improvement of the public health and sanitation of his country. You see, he had traveled abroad and seen western bathroom “technology” that didn’t exist in his country. Whereas toilets were fairly ubiquitous in the US and Europe, in Japan they were practically unknown, and there were public sanitation consequences related to this fact. The founder was driven to change this, to bring his country up to 20th century standards for sanitation. Yes, he had identified a business opportunity, but he was also driven by something higher–he wanted to elevate the level of his country’s civilization to stand shoulder to shoulder with the West.

That initial core mission propelled the company toward remarkable success, and we discovered this seminal DNA was very much alive as we dug deeper and deeper in our exploratory sessions with TOTO’s executive leadership. All these many decades later, the challenge of improving public sanitation in Japan had long been accomplished–Japan’s “bathroom culture” is now considered by many as the most sophisticated in the world–possessing all manner of innovation and luxury. What we discovered was the modern “why?” was “to benefit the health and well-being of our customers in everything we do”– a phrase so basic and fundamental to their product engineers, yet one which hadn’t been articulated publicly before in their branding.

That phrase was the gold nugget we had sifted through all of the dirt in search of–the “leverageable insight” we’d been pursuing, and while we had lots of fun touting some remarkable product features in very creative ways, this heart beat of their corporate mission propelled us to inform our work with soul, and I attribute the remarkable success of our campaign as much to its soul as to the substance of their product line.

Ask “why?” more:

Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why is my client doing what they’re doing? Why should people care? Why, why, why . . .?

I can’t promise you’ll always get the answers, but the pursuit of the questions almost always leads to valuable insight.

Be bold and prosper

-Rick Julian

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