Corporate Purpose Statements

Brand claims: “What’s in it for the customer?”

In its comprehensive purpose study, Globeone examined the brand claims of a total of 238 companies in Germany, Switzerland, the USA, China and Brazil. Result: Many companies tend to be egocentric in their brand claims. What is a credible positioning, what are rather counterproductive claims? In an interview with the portal Niklas Schaffmeister gives successful and less successful brand claim examples.

Purpose is about the decisive question of why a company exists at all and what benefits it can bring to the public. “This is of course to some extent a question of current events,” says Schaffmeister. A brand claim is not developed in a vacuum, but must always be seen in the context of the social context in which companies are embedded. In Germany, the diesel crisis, for example, has led to a massive loss of confidence among German consumers. “I think we can therefore at least put a big question mark behind the claims of some German car manufacturers,” believes Schaffmeister. Audi, for example, has been positioning itself for years with the claim “Vorsprung durch Technik” (Advancement through Technology), which clearly celebrates the company itself and its outstanding engineering skills. “However, in view of the headline-grabbing behaviour and the lack of efforts to clarify the exhaust emissions scandal, Audi obviously did not have the lead for society in mind.”

Arrogant brand claim also at VW

The Volkswagen claim “Das Auto.” also falls into the category “We are the best and the biggest” and does not answer the question what the customer gets out of it. “What good does it do society?” is the question here, according to Schaffmeister. The German art of engineering, which is otherwise regarded as the guarantor and figurehead of the German automotive industry, has been given a second, ugly face in the context of the emissions scandal. “Interestingly enough, the attitude that led to this crisis is clearly reflected in the corporate claims”, says Schaffmeister.

Counter-examples: BMW and Telekom

What are examples of more successful brand claims? Within the automotive industry, BMW’s “Sheer Driving Pleasure” is far less problematic, “because it is more emotional and communicates the core benefit that the brand promises the customer.” However, the social benefit is not included. The positioning statement of Telekom, on the other hand, is a good example: “Life is for sharing.” This brand claim is not meant to be about the product, but about people, and with the aspect of sharing it emphasizes not only the community, but also access to the digital world. “In this way, not individual customers are addressed, but people are placed at the centre of the positioning and a target group is outlined that excludes no one”, says Schaffmeister. “In the end, anyone who supports the company’s goals and concerns can feel addressed, thus underlining Telekom’s social relevance in an increasingly digitalised world.” The brand claim also fulfils another important criterion for success: “It takes up the industry background of Telekom. The concern is repeatedly voiced that digitization is happening primarily at the expense of many people. With its claim, Deutsche Telekom is deliberately setting a counterpoint here, which shows that a better future uses the possibilities of digitization to connect people with each other.”

Self-referential brand claims – a problem?

What about claims that are primarily about the company or a product? According to Schaffmeister, Globeone’s analyses show that corporate claims, which are very closely related to the product, are now out of fashion in the leading economic nations. “Products and services change quickly and sometimes it seems a bit small-minded to position a company on a very specific product benefit.” A brand claim should always succinctly convey the essence of a very complex overall construction and yet still have a certain “durability”. “We don’t see it as fundamentally problematic when companies address themselves, as long as they still refer to what a difference it makes for customers, target groups or society as a whole,” explains Schaffmeister. Ultimately, the big question is “Why do we exist?”

From a strategic point of view, working on a purpose statement is all about showing companies further positioning options with which they can differentiate themselves from the competition. “To this end, we also reflect on far-reaching social changes that are already of increasing importance for brands,” says Schaffmeister. “In Germany alone, the millennials will account for around a quarter of the population by 2022. Members of this demographic stratum are once again more oriented towards the common good and are looking for personal fulfilment in both their professional and private lives.” The Millennials are a high-consumption segment, generally well educated and just about to make a full career start. “But in their role as consumers and employees, they want to be addressed on a different, more emotional level than the baby boomers. And ideally, brands should take this into account by positioning themselves in a way that is not just about themselves”, says Schaffmeister. This tends to go from “how great am I” to “why do I exist” and “what can I contribute”.

Why a clear positioning is important

When asked whether a claim is not relatively irrelevant because it is not very important for consumers anyway, Niklas Schaffmeister answers: “I don’t think so – for two reasons. First, if you as a company fail to get to the heart of your positioning and say in a strong sentence what you stand for, then you have a problem”. In the end, it is not just about the claim, but about a strong and meaningful positioning behind it. “If a claim is then slanting, it is a visible indicator that there is something wrong with the positioning as a whole”, says Schaffmeister. “In our experience, claims fulfil an important orientation function for employees, especially in very large organizations, and are also a strong signal to the outside world. A good claim forms a symbiosis with the brand name, is relevant in the context and burns itself into the memory of the target groups.”

Interestingly, only 27 percent of the companies investigated by Globeone in the “No Purpose, No Brand!” study had no corporate claim, according to Schaffmeister. “For the majority of companies, the corporate claim is obviously still an important instrument in their positioning.”

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