David Baldwin (pictured above) is Co-Founder of Ponysaurus Brewing Co., and CEO of Baldwin&. He will be a speaker at the ANA Brand Activation & Creativity Conference, a virtual event to be held Sept. 12-13. ANA Senior Director, Brand & Media, John Paquin recently sat down with David for a pre-conference interview.
John Paquin: Brand Purpose has become a lightning rod for companies and part of our “culture wars,” but it wasn’t always that way. Is that a result of the ambitions of marketers, the shifts in society or simply a cultural “perfect storm”?
David Baldwin: The issue here is a misunderstanding of what purpose is. Most brands seem to have mistaken “purpose” as uniquely social activism. There’s an opportunity to fine-tune back to what purpose always meant, which is focusing on the higher order need your business exists to fulfill for its customers. Sometimes this might very well be social activism as in the case of a brand like Patagonia. But purpose lives on a spectrum, some businesses solely exist as a transactional event between a customer and the company, some live on and have a much broader remit. I wrote this article about this very subject here.
Paquin: Speaking of marketers’ ambitions, we’ve seen some prominent examples recently of retreats. Target moving their Pride display to the back of the store, Starbucks taking down Pride flags, even in The Village, A-B/Bud Light of course and there’s more. Even Chick-Fil A came under fire. This certainly has caused other marketers to reconsider their own plans. Do you think these responses to the Right’s brushback signal a general retreat in the marketing community? Were they overreaching in the first place? Not the right fit or strategic choice for the brands?
Baldwin: The issue today is that it can be dangerous to live your purpose given the political climate. We’re living at a time where at its most cynical, a movement might take advantage of a brand standing up for a group of people that are a segment or subsegment of its customer base just to score political points, fan outrage and incite people to threatening violence. The Free market is now sometimes armed and angry. It’s hard to fault a company for putting the safety of its employees first during these times. At the same time, if you’re going to support a movement like Pride Month, don’t be performative and retreat at the first sign of trouble. Walk the walk.
Paquin: You stress the power of brand building from scratch, which feels the very opposite of so-called “purpose-washing.” Can you talk a bit about that? Is there a way to insulate a brand from the backlash? How do the brands’ “values” comeinto play?
Baldwin: You must have alignment throughout a company and do something we call “Branding from the Inside Out” versus a purpose campaign that lives in the marketing department only and leaves employees of a company scratching their heads. The alignment is to align your company from top to bottom and from side to side around your purpose, whatever that is. Then you can talk about it. When you talk about it first you can get whacked by not only the people who are standing against whatever beliefs you may have, but also by the very people you thought you were supporting because you backed away at the first sign of trouble.
Paquin: “Brand Purpose” and “Cause-Related Marketing” seem to have become a bit conflated in the minds of some marketers. Can you talk about the distinctions and synergies between the two? Must a successful Brand Purpose aspire to “Doing Good” in society or is there a case to be made for one more grounded in product performance?
Baldwin: Purpose should be authentic and endemic to a company, not something made up in a conference room. Otherwise, it’s all just performative.
Paquin: Can/should a brand’s Purpose evolve over time, much as we might ladder up to a higher-order Benefit Statement?
Baldwin: Brands should always look for ways to expand upon their purpose if their company is going into new markets, new categories or to new audiences. That said, they should still stay true to the original vision. Amazon is a great example of this, they started out as a book seller and are now so much more than that, but they’re still aligned around delivering excellence to their customer as quickly as possible. These are my words, but I’d guess they’re pretty close.
Paquin: Many of the world’s leading companies have taken very different stances on the issue of Brand Purpose. Some feel that the industry has gone too far while potentially not paying enough attention to “growth”. Is this about long-term vs. short-term growth? What advice would you give companies under pressure to meet stockholder’s demands?
Baldwin: It's not that companies have gone too far, it's that they’ve conflated purpose with something it’s not always supposed to be. I was talking to a food client about purpose and they said, “Oh, we’d never get political.” And I said, “Oh, man, why would you? That’s not what I’m talking about. We’re talking about the purpose that exists for which is to make people happy and fulfilled through their products. They mistook the word for social activism.” We need to do a better job as advertisers to make these distinctions.
Paquin: You won a Gold REGGIE this year for Ponysaurus Brewing’s “Lt. Governor’s Fund for the Fabulous” while wearing both hats as client and agency head. The campaign is sharp, witty, and does not hold back from taking on a state governor – no small thing these days. Yet there’s been little/no blowback, and the business has thrived. What’s the lesson here for other marketers?
Baldwin: I’ll answer this question with a warning first. So much purpose work, the social activism kind, seems to be created to win awards and that’s a huge problem. It’s skewing what clients even believe we think advertising even is, what we think is important, and what purpose advertising serves in the marketplace. So, while we did win the Gold REGGIE this year, we didn’t do this to win awards, we saw a need we might be able to support because we are a very inclusive company and our whole reason to be is to build and support the community by bringing people together for a beer. That’s it. It just so happens that the story is quite powerful. We’re seamlessly supporting our product, our brand and our customers while being incredibly creative. There’s a great quote about advertising from the Shaker community that says, “Never make anything unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.” I can’t think of a better description of the attempt to make impactful advertising. We saw a need and we fulfilled it and it has created awareness (and distribution because of interest in the product) for our brand.
Paquin: And finally, of course, who’s “winning” the Culture Wars and what would be your advice to those re-considering their plans going forward?
Baldwin: I’d advise staying out of the culture wars altogether unless doing it is important to your brand. It probably isn’t. That said, your purpose is important to understand because it can help you operate more efficiently because you’ll always know where you’re going and why you’re going there. Getting purpose will help you be more efficient in the marketplace and with your own employees. Brands that really understand purpose know that their brand can drive their entire enterprise, not just their communications. And that’s a big difference.
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