Finding Your Brand Purpose
Amy Parker and I have been in the digital media business since 1999. We have nearly 20 years of experience tinkering with technology to build community through content. The What is our third startup together. So, it should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. It’s like thinking you got this “parenting thing” because your first kid taught you everything you need to know. No. Starting a new thing means riding a rollercoaster of learning curves, no matter your expertise. And in our case, it also doesn’t help that the media industry is in free-fall. The six figure sponsorships and advertising contracts that
used to land in our lap in 2010 are an exception now, not the norm. We’re hustling like newbies all over again. But, like Nina Simone once sang, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day … and I’m feeling good.”
Well, most of the time.
We recently met readers of The What face-to-face for the first time at a shopping event. It was exciting to see how diverse our audience is but even more validating to discover their shared through-line of kindness, intelligence, and openness. As the event started to fill and lines formed at the register, one sweet reader remarked …“Wow, what a turnout! The What is such a success!”
Amy and I exchanged a knowing glance. If she only knew. Until the crowd showed up forty minutes after the event started, the store was alarmingly empty. Self-doubt started seeping in. But by the end of the day, we were satisfied with our efforts. Satisfied, but not ecstatic because we always try to exceed expectations and debrief on what we could have done better. On the drive home, I began pondering the concept of success–what it looks like to others, how it feels when I’ve experienced it, and how to help others feel successful. I don’t have a pithy HuffPo-style list for success but I wanted to share one exercise that Amy and I did over the summer that transformed the way we feel about our business: The 5Whys Brainstorming technique.
> FINDING OUR BRAND PURPOSE
A Brand Purpose is very different from a brand promise. We know The What’s brand promise: to deliver well-researched, intelligent, lifestyle content for curious people. Our content is packaged in the form of a newsletter, videos, and posts on various social platforms. What we needed to understand was The What’s fundamental reason for being. Content sharing is one thing but why did it matter to us? We already knew the what of The What. Literally. But, we needed to get to the Why to see if our brand promise and brand purpose were aligned.
To begin the exercise, we took a stab at the Brand Purpose. We each threw out a few ideas and settled on one that sounded the most true: Connecting + Empowering Women. I wrote that at the top of the page then we took turns asking each other why connecting and empowering women was important to us.
> WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
The 5Whys is an interrogative technique used to explore the cause and effect relationships underlying a problem. Once we finished brainstorming a few reasons of why our placeholder Brand Purpose was important to us, a recurring word stood out. That word was Friendship–the very reason we started our company and the basis of how our content is created. We then took turns asking each other why that word mattered. We often asked, “Why?” more than 5 times to get to the root. For instance, if you look at the bulleted list under What We Have, each bullet represents our answers to the question, “Why does friendship matter?” And once we had the bulleted list, we asked ourselves Why our list is important to our audience. The overlap between our Whys and the audience Whys began to illuminate the Hows.
> COMMUNICATING OUR PURPOSE
As we were getting clear on the Whys, we started asking ourself how. How could we let our audience experience our brand purpose? Did our current iteration of The What reflect our Brand Purpose? It was clear that our one-way content company was not providing a space for women to connect. Thus, our private FB forum was born that afternoon: The What :: Women, a place where our female readers can share wisdom, ask questions of the group, and find helpful content on everything from beauty products to travel spots to advice on divorce, cancer, and career. From our four hour brainstorm (there may have been wine involved), we got clear on the reason for doing what we do. And in the process, we ended up creating one of the most important tools in our 20 year career–a forum for women to connect, engage, feel empowered, and feel good–a confidence loop.