HONDA — Purpose-driven


Purpose and the People-First Approach to Marketing


As customers, we have more choices now than ever. Over the past 50 years, the amount of new packaged goods introduced each year has grown 30-fold. As more products enter the market, the differences among products gets smaller and smaller. And as product differences become negligible, research has shown that customers are making purchases based on a brand’s purpose instead of its price.

Honda and the automobile industry face a similar challenge. Generally speaking, every car manufacturer makes a reliable car with similar features. As a result, it’s getting harder for customers to understand and identify the differences between manufacturers and models.

As the auto market becomes increasingly undifferentiated, brands need to stand out for something more. If we want to connect brands and people, it starts by talking about their “why” (purpose), not their “what” (features).

Shared Ideals Between Customers and Brands

Purpose-driven, or “why,” brands stand out not only for their beliefs, but also for their financial success. In 2011, after researching 50,000 brands, former Procter & Gamble Chief Marketing Officer Jim Stengel and market research firm Millward Brown discovered that the brands that grew fastest (from 2001 to 2011) were all “built on an ideal of improving lives in some way, irrespective of size and category.”

Stengel’s research was a harbinger of improvements in corporate social responsibility. In fact, sustainability reporting among companies in the S&P 500 rose from just 20 percent In 2011 to 81 percent in 2015. As corporate sustainability grows, so too does customer demand. Sixty-six percent of  customers worldwide are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013.

As product features become harder to differentiate, customers will opt for brands whose purpose, mission or ideals they relate to or support. Simon Sinek, in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” put it best:

“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

Honda’s “Why”

“We don’t just want to tell customers about Honda. We want to connect the humanity of Honda to the customers in a way that feels honest,” said RPA’s SVP - Chief of Creative Development Jason Sperling.

Honda believes in having the courage to bring imaginative ideas to life, a belief all people can relate to and expressed in Honda’s global tagline “The Power of Dreams.” Our job is to imbue Honda’s core beliefs into the creative execution.

We can do this in one or both ways:

  • Communicate Honda’s “why” as part of their brand story
  • Demonstrate Honda’s “why” in the way we execute their message

Sometimes, there are tactical messages (e.g., “rearview cameras come standard on all vehicles”) that aren’t about the “why.” That doesn’t mean we can’t demonstrate Honda’s “why” in the way we execute that tactical message.

Bringing Honda’s “Why” to Life"

Honda’s ad, “Yearbooks,” was about creative, successful people who persevered despite occasional setbacks. By animating old yearbook photos, we used an imaginative approach to telling those stories and Honda’s brand story. In other words, the creative, just like other Honda products, is an imaginative solution itself. If imagination and determination are integral to Honda’s values and history, we should use these values to inform our execution.

“We’re like a translation service in some ways,” said Sperling. “It’s our job to help Honda translate what they make and why they make it into a compelling message.”

Honda: Yearbooks
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Sperling highlights the humanity in the spot. “It’s about relating to someone who had a dream when they were young and feeling really passionate about it. In the ad, you hear from people who had a dream, never gave up on it and persevered. The essence of the ad was taking a brand that made cars and telling their story through people and the common values they share.”

Even the CR-V, like the people featured in the ad, was not a success right away. The CR-V was entering a market of large SUVs in 1996–1997. And yet, Honda stuck to their convictions, persevered despite the market and have one of the best-selling compact SUVs in the world.

Determination and imagination are also part of the message and execution of the Honda Accord’s “Tower of Success” ad.

Honda: Tower of Success
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“When comparing brands that are similar, you want someone to say ‘I like that company better because they stand for something I believe in and I can relate to them more,’” said Sperling.

People First is about a connection. And people connect with brands that have a purpose and stand for something. For Honda, it’s about the courage to imagine, shining a light on it and connecting it with customers.

The “Why” Is People First

A brand’s purpose is what matters. It’s also the human, emotional core of the brand. It recognizes that customers care about what’s behind a product: who makes it, what they care about, why do they make it. Finding that core makes the brand relatable to customers. The more relatable a brand, the more likely a customer will support it.

“Are companies making something for a quick buck or is there something more? That “something more” is what people care about and what we like to focus on,” said RPA’s SVP - Group Strategic Planning Director Christian Cocker. “There’s nowhere to hide as a brand today and faking it can only go so far,” said Cocker. “Our job is to look at a company and go deeper than the physical, tangible product they’re selling and understand why they’re selling it.”