Telstra’s Andy Bateman says “no such thing as brand purpose”

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 24 July 2014

Westpac’s Lisa Ronson, Ten Network’s Russel Howcroft and Telstra’s Andy Bateman frontlined an AANA debate yesterday on one of the hot emerging global marketing themes: “brand purpose”.

Unilever is a high profile global advocate for the concept except Ten’s Howcroft sees it more as “brand narcissism” and Telstra’s Andy Bateman is not buying the trendsetting view. Westpac’s Lisa Ronson, however, is a believer. In the middle moderating the debate was MEC’s chief strategy officer James Hier.

Telstra puzzled

“I’m puzzled by the trendiness of the brand constituency that are starting to put those two words together,” Bateman told a heavy hitting line-up of big brand marketers at the AANA’s Speaker Series yesterday in Sydney. “I guess my point is there is no such thing as brand purpose. There is brand strategy. Some work I did with my partner in crime Inese Kingsmill a while ago was to help the leadership team in Telstra identify and craft its purpose and values as a company. We didn’t mention the word brand actually – we were just talking about the need to shift from vision, mission and values to purpose and values. I make the distinction between corporate purpose and brand strategy.

“What I see a lot of is grafting on of CSR [corporate social responsibility] into a brand strategy and calling it brand purpose, which it’s not. Frankly I think it’s borrowed interest. However having a corporate purpose is very important and we’ve seen it galvanise 40,000 [Telstra] people into doing something much more meaningful than they thought they were doing.”

Bateman said Telstra’s corporate purpose to “create a brilliant connected future for everyone” was ultimately premised on shaping a better society through connecting “everything to everything and everyone. Our job is to create that.”

He cited Cisco’s estimates that there are 9 billion devices on the planet but just 1% are connected. “When those 9 billion are connected and by the time they are connected there will probably be 25 billion devices – an by devices we mean buildings, cars, transportation systems, traffic lights, police officers – when we can connect everything to everything and everyone we can start to do some amazing things. Driverless cars, solving traffic problems without building new roads, creating security walking home. So we think a brilliant connected future is about connecting everything to everything and everyone. But it’s no good if it’s just for a few people. It has to be for everyone.”

Bateman said that was Telstra’s corporate purpose but the brand strategy – not purpose – was about translating that to something meaningful for customers. “It’s not necessarily taking that corporate purpose and saying that’s the advertising brief.”

Westpac a believer

Conversely, Lisa Ronson said Westpac’s corporate purpose translated directly to brand purpose – Australia, Proudly Supported by Westpac.

“Brand purpose is absolutely central to the DNA of the company,” Ronson said. “It enables us to communicate in a very different way and changes the rules of communication and why we’re able to do such a great TV series like Air Rescue. If the Westpac group didn’t have that sense of purpose it would not have made sense to do Air Rescue. It was a great success for us. I know there are some cynics around but it is truly believed by every senior manager in the Westpac team. It absolutely has to be worthy. If it’s not worthy, there is no authenticity and people see through it straight away. To Andy’s point on corporate purpose versus brand strategy, for us it’s different to our house of brands.

“Our Westpac brand purpose, or brand strategy or whatever you want to call it, is actually aligned to corporate purpose. So at a corporate level it’s all about helping people. That is definitely aligned with what we are trying to do. All of our brands engage that in different ways with customers. So St George is slightly different, bank of Melbourne  is different again but Westpac being the masterbrand winds up directly inside the corporate purpose.”

Ten: it’s narcissistic

Ten’s Russel Howcroft had, characteristically, many observations but warned there was the threat of brands and brand owners becoming narcissistic. “I’ve got this feeling we are in a very obsessive me, me I, I era where we can have the museum of me. We are now in a situation where brands really do think it’s about them. That self-obsession of the brand – it’s almost like thankyou for buying me, together we can change the word. I think we’re in la-la land.”

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