A long time ago, it became clear to me that marketing research had only one purpose: to search for the consumer need, wish, want, or desire that would be the key to the unleashing the marketing "money river."

While this is an honorable goal, it is a very elusive one.

The November 28, 2005, issue of the Wall Street Journal published an article titled "It's the Purpose Brand, Stupid," co-authored by Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School, Intuit Chairman Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall, chief strategy officer of the Advertising Research Foundation. The provocative article states that marketers would be far better served if they were to start looking at their brands "from the standpoint of understanding what jobs customers need to do—and to build products that serve those specific purposes."

The authors go on to say, "When people find themselves with jobs to be done, they essentially hire products to do those jobs." They argue that we must develop "Purpose Brands," or brands that consumers inextricably associate with the jobs they want done.

But still the issue remains: How do we discover the consumer need, wish, want, or desire that will cause a brand to have a purpose?

In my book, I write, "Consumers buy products because they need them, e.g., an inexpensive Chevy simply to go back and forth. They buy products because they want them, e.g., a BMW because it makes a strong statement about their success. They buy products they wish for, e.g., a Porsche because it is a symbol of automobile perfection. They buy products they desire, e.g., a PT Cruiser because it takes them back to their childhood." By deftly finding their identity along the need, want, wish, and desire continuum, all of those autos—Chevy, BMW, Porsche, and PT Cruiser—have become "purpose brands."

In essence, we do need to create purpose brands. But the other half of the story—that is, the hard part—is to determine clearly the that job a brand can uniquely and believably execute so that consumers can fully embrace it.

Our economy is highly sophisticated and competitive. We have choices that are far beyond the simple fulfillment of basic needs and wants. We have moved to a point where research that simply uncovers and exploits what might have been a significant need or want in the past is now basic, necessary for merely remaining competitive. And it's far short of identifying a unique "Brand Purpose."

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image of Robert Kaden

Bob Kaden is president of The Kaden Company and author of Guerrilla Marketing Research. He can be reached at thekadencompany@sbcglobal.net.