Customers are Trying to Tell Us Something


Let’s start with a story that I was a part of years ago. We were a team of volunteers for the Young Neuro surgeon who had just come into our city Ahmedabad. As a part of his entry/launch strategy of his clinic he had invited the community around the clinic to take part in a volunteer program. Post our training, my job as a volunteer was to invest my time with the patients and ensuring that their appointments with doctors and medicine schedule were being followed.

Expectedly with his inclusive approach the clinic took off and I got the opportunity to meet a variety of patients, children ..distraught youngsters , addiction….I used to take notes for the young doctor of his conversations with his patients, make minutes and update his patient file.

Over the months that I worked with him , I started observing a certain pattern in the doctor’s consultation towards his patients. Consultation usually took place before admission (if required) post once the patient is ready to go home. Besides the expected sensitive+ disciplined approach, I always found the Doctor insisting on digging  the personal lives of patients and asking them to make notes of their disappointments/failures/ key moments / loved one’s likes /dislikes he pursued this with a passion bordering on sometimes pushing too hard.

Post one such intense session I was having coffee with him and blurted out that he is a pushy doctor with western ideas and will scare aware his patients, what was he looking for and why was he putting his patients through such agony ….The answer or rather his philosophy has stayed with me since then. Simply stated he said “I look for purpose in a lifeIf you have one then that alone will help you see through the medical difficulties …  and if you don’t then no amount of medical science can help you overcome your illness. People need something to look forward to, to live for, to fight for…Emotionally it is critical to identify this. And there are times I help them find it through consultations”.

A few moons later, I started building my career in Advertising & Marketing and my life revolves around brands. Building brands,  through relaunch, or re engineer or offer new products, or a new segment , a new geography , a new technology , service and every time over the past 3 decades I have been infusing reasons to evoke consumer trials and loyalty .   I am fanatic about what the brand offers , to whom ?, is it relevant?, is it consistent ?, at what price? , instead of what other brand ?…. And I was struck with similarity of the doctor’s philosophy – He was looking for purpose for his patients. And I was creating purpose for my brands.  How similar have our pursuit been. We are trained to think of brands as human beings, and just as love/hate/relation/existence are important to thrive the same holds true for brands.


I am not surprised by our marketing brethren on how Purpose marketing has gained success lately, sweeping across the globe and now in India.

Purpose, is imperative. We all have one and it drives our lives. Bhagvad Gita says ‘Power is in knowing your life’s Purpose’. Yet when you specifically ask people to define their purpose in life, perplexity flashes across or some materialistic objectives are listed. And that’s y the good doctor was relentless with his patients to find/discover their purpose.

For years we’ve discussed about the 4’Ps of the Marketing Mix, Product, Place, Pricing, and Promotion. If they are relevant today or not is an argument for some other day, but I believe the 5th P – Purpose is the new P of Marketing and is here to stay.

Purpose is bigger than ever and has had a massive growth spurt in recent years. One can see glimpses of ‘the cause’ on stores shelves, banners, commercials and shows. These days, more than not, we have either purchased something associated with a cause, or have seen a cause-connected promotion. So as Marketers we need to accept the inevitable and judging from ample data supporting cause marketing, our Brands better be paying heed.

Besides the Price, Product, Promotion, and Place as the 4Ps of the Marketing Mix – I celebrate the emergence of the 5thP- Purpose. Image

The 5th P helps an organization pursue innovation, transformation and inspiration. My belief is that this P also helps organizations look within and put themselves in the social context and as a part of the community they operate within.

In the past, it was easy for a social enterprise to stand out and get noticed. But today more than the quality of our ‘product’, consumers are looking at the quality of the company and the purpose of the product. It is no longer superficial needs that need to be fulfilled by the product. The consumers don’t want to align with our Brand but with our Purpose.

There were days when Brands were comfortable making data-driven decisions and spending time managing the details. As marketers we can’t run the campaigns on auto pilot. The consumer is looking for buying decision help and we marketers can provide this by inducing Purpose in not only our brand but organizational goals too.

Purpose is neither a gimmick nor a form of positioning. It is not window dressing or PR. Purposefulness is a principle, an ethical choice – an approach to the way we do business. It is implemented through the same strategies that have been in the system but is defined by a higher order value that sits above these strategies and is embedded in the brand’s genes – Purpose. Today’s marketing leaders have strategically crafted Purpose into their brand essence and brand promise. Cause marketing is not a marketing tool as much as the fundamental of the brand framework.


This paradigm shift in consumer behaviour is a far call from the erstwhile one. Our consumers are no longer uninformed users. They are the “citizen consumers”. Gone are the days of short-lived cause efforts where slapping a pink ribbon on packing to sell more products would garner consumer trust. They’ve started asking questions on the Brand Values, Ethics and the Moral Grounds of a product…They are asking questions about the Organization. How are the company’s employees treated? Is the company embracing diversity? Does the Company make environmentally sound products? And many such dialogues are taking place constantly across the buzzing social media.


Therefore to connect with the consumer, brands should not just engage them with a meaningful purpose but go beyond that purpose to deliver on a deeper promise for the community and the planet. After all, the purpose of life is a life of purpose.

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