Do software companies need purpose?
Following Richard Branson, I stumbled upon this article from Virgin: Is purpose the new branding? When I read this, all I could think of was this quote from Rick & Morty: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV?”. It’s a very funny quote despite being out of context here, although one could argue that it isn’t that much out of context, since this blog and this article don’t belong anywhere :) In all seriousness, the fact that purpose has been on the forefront of my newsfeed lately and that I have been pondering with branding strategies for my job got me to dive a little further into the subject. And you, fellow reader, get to bathe in the splashes of this hypothetical dive.
Establishing the premise
I want to set the stage of this post and thus establish the scope within which I will be operating. Let’s acknowledge my (limited) domain of expertise. First, I’m going to talk about software, not things. Secondly, I have little experience in B2C marketing and strategy, but I have an extensive experience in marketing and strategy in software B2B. So I’m going to talk about B2B here, not B2C. And it’s good, because I think that the “purpose in B2C branding” horse has been beaten to death. Poor horse.
With this established, let’s have a look at who is the target of B2B. A good place to start is this study from Google, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, debunking some of the myths surrounding B2B marketing. The surprising outcome of this research and what I can read is quite simple: the persons that you are trying to target are following the same demographic and user expectations patterns as the rest of the population.
So, in short, here is the what we’re talking about: software B2B marketing strategy for people like us.
Not only caring about money does not mean we want to make the world a better place
Make no mistake: the first goal of a marketing strategy is to sell more. At least until capitalism collapses, which I’m not going to debate here. The assumption that many articles debating purpose is that generating revenue is not a purpose in itself. I think this assumption is correct, and several studies suggest that a paycheck is not the sole purpose of employment for our generation (take a look at this report for instance).
What I think is wrong is the conclusion that because millennials (we) are not by default driven by money, because we acknowledge that our jobs will change quite a bit over the course of our career, and because we seek personal development, it means that we are moved and seeking purpose. Like I argued before, our generation is the generation of individualism, and these findings should be interpreted within this framework. Specifically in the realm of B2B, I can tell you from experience that what excites is not the Purpose with a capital P of a solution but rather what it can do. What it can do for me, now.
Do bytes have purpose?
Another interesting question to ask, and perhaps the first question we should have asked, is: can my software have a Purpose? I would argue that no, software is a tool to achieve a goal. It does not have a purpose, it’s 0s and 1s (at least as long as we use binary machines). Of course, any set of tool can be used to achieve a purpose; but we are not talking about what you can do with the tool, rather if the company that is building the tool or the tool itself can be presented as having a higher properties or purpose than using the tool. I think this quickly becomes over reaching.
So: do software company need purpose?
The outcome of my current thought process is no. The theorized search for purpose of the millennial generation is operating under false assumptions. Furthermore, pieces of software by definition do not have a purpose which makes your software marketing strategy intrinsically swimming against the current.
Instead, I think that branding should focus on capabilities, not purpose. In my opinion, highlighting what a product can do in a comprehensible and palatable manner is far more exciting and ultimately convincing than positioning a product as the banner behind which we need to rally to express our views of the world. I would also add that B2B decisions are more and more data driven, and I don’t think that purpose is a relevant data point when considering alternatives. As always, I would love to proven wrong and hear your thoughts against this conclusion.