Back in 2002, when we worked with the Dove brand team to create the Real Beauty strategy, we were thrilled to have found a positioning strategy that was built on a very rich consumer insight, and facilitated Doveâ€™s entry into more beauty-centric categories (e.g. face, hair) in a way that was differentiated and compelling to the target audience.
While the position was â€śsold inâ€ť as a big and powerful idea, we had very little inkling at the time that we had created the kernel of a â€śmissionâ€ť.
Driven in large part by a very courageous brand team and a very ambitious content strategy (including use of traditional media), Dove has become what we would call a â€śmission-based brand,â€ť keeping company with brands like Method and Ben & Jerryâ€™s. Â Mission-based brands are generally built from the inside out. They decide who they are and what they will be. This is also what makes the Dove case so amazing, as the â€śinsideâ€ť of the brand is actually a huge CPG company, unlike most of our other mission-based brand examples.
A mission will inspire and attract consumers, or it wonâ€™t â€“ but it doesnâ€™t change to meet the whims of the marketplace. Â The insight that underlies the Real Beauty strategy is based on a womanâ€™s desire to be her most beautiful self – accepting of flaws and all – rather than the perfected ideal of marketplace beauty. Â If you look around â€“ other beauty brands, magazines, TV shows â€“ you can see that the Dove insight isnâ€™t necessarily indicative of the beauty zeitgeist overall. Â Especially in 2002, before others hopped on the â€śIâ€™m beautiful as I amâ€ť bandwagon.
As a mission based brand, Dove was selling a transformational idea to the marketplace. Mission-based brands often make a unique and important cultural contribution. Dove’s current “Sketches,” blowing up all over socialÂ (and traditional) media, is reigniting the conversation around self-acceptance and self-appreciation that Dove started with their original â€śReal Beautyâ€ť campaign.
Importantly, mission-based based brands arenâ€™t just in it for the good of the world, itâ€™s still about making money and building their brands. They operationalize their mission and harness it as a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Their mission is often their most sustainable competitive advantage.
This idea of sustainability is important. Missions arenâ€™t â€śthis yearâ€™s ad campaign.â€ť The deeper your competitive differentiation sits within your business, the more real it is to your audience and the more difficult it is for your competitors to emulate. As a marketing idea that wasnâ€™t really grounded in a product experience, â€śReal Beautyâ€ť could have been copied. But, once it became a mission within Unilever it became harder to emulate. Once it became accepted as a mission by the audience, attacking it became even more difficult.
Missions arenâ€™t for the faint of heart, but we suggest you go through the exercise, even if itâ€™s just academic. If you were to put your brand on a mission, what would that mission be?
Sara Schor, Sterling Strategy