From brand idea to brand ideal – the new breed of brands elevating their purpose

Any brand worth its salt has a brand idea but there’s an emerging trend to focus on a brand ideal that makes a genuine difference. Jodine Bell and Tom Sykes explain.

At the heart of modern-day brand strategy is the core principle of a brand idea.

A brand idea sums up what a brand is all about, what it stands for and why the brand exists.

Think Nike’s “Just do it”, Dove’s “Real beauty” or Apple’s “Think different.”

As branding professionals, we work with brands of all shapes and sizes to determine the core underlying idea that truly epitomises the purpose of the brand.

But every now and again, we come across a brand that is thinking beyond ideas. Instead, they are striving for a brand ideal.

Brand with ideals are, by their very nature, idealistic. They are looking to elevate their brand and purpose beyond commerce to make more than money. They want to make a difference.

There are a handful of Kiwi brands that come to mind when you think about brand ideals.

Allbirds is a great example. By reinventing the humble sneaker with a commitment to sustainability and using eco-friendly materials, the business has made an idealistic commitment to helping the planet.

We recently had the pleasure of working with a lesser-known New Zealand business that has gone all in on a brand ideal.

Tax might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about being idealistic but Tax Management New Zealand (TMNZ) is reimagining what it means to be truly purpose-driven.

Unique to New Zealand, TMNZ is a tax-pooling trailblazer. In 2002, in collaboration with the Government, TMNZ created a system that pools the tax of Kiwi businesses.

Instead of paying Inland Revenue directly on a given date, tax can be paid into the ‘pool’ whenever you like. Then, when your tax bill arrives, TMNZ pays it on your behalf. The system allows companies to overpay their tax when they have the funds freeing up cash flow when they need it most.

While this innovative approach is impressive in and of itself, here’s where the ideal comes in. Since 2020, 100 per cent of the company’s annual profit has been reinvested in New Zealand through the Whakatupu Aotearoa Foundation. The foundation supports high-impact environmental and social organisations and initiatives such as the Live Ocean Foundation which is dedicated to restoring health to our oceans; New Zealand Food Waste Champions 12.3, committed to halving food waste by 2030 and Project Crimson which is working to restore New Zealand’s precious ecosystems.

The challenge for TMNZ was how to communicate this ideal and infuse it in the branding of the organisation.

The visual identity needed to encapsulate the unique duality of this brand challenge — tell the story of TMNZ’s financial services while articulating the vision to address current social and environmental challenges.

Representing TMNZ’s dedication to making Aotearoa better, we developed the ‘100% invested in Aotearoa’ brand idea.

To capture this sentiment visually, we created a wordmark with rounded forms and straight lines that echo Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique modernist design forms, immediately familiar to most Kiwis.

100% became the lead construct for language and logo, with the ‘Z’ in TMNZ representing the percentage symbol.

Keeping it energised and structured, a rectangular pattern references financial spreadsheets and bar charts — something all accountants can appreciate. While the colour palette references our native landscapes with calming Tōtara green, Horopito Red and Kōtare Blue, as well as a vibrant digital-first pop of Nīkau Green, and an unexpected Hebe Pink.

Putting this brand ideal at the heart of TMNZ has had a flow-on effect across the business. The organisation has seen higher staff engagement with a staff survey finding 90 percent of people, “feel inspired by TMNZ’s purpose”.

Expressing this ideal has also helped the business with talent attraction, led to positive client feedback, improved website and media statistics and increased growth in new business.

Most importantly, it has contributed to TMNZ’s support of the foundation and its investment in Aotearoa New Zealand.

A brand is what a brand does. TMNZ is a brand that ‘does’ its purpose. Bad grammar aside, it’s a branding and communications dream. It’s the easiest story in the world to tell because the evidence of purpose is apparent. No positioning or communications ‘layers’ required.

As more brands start to embrace environmental and social causes, there’s an opportunity to create a new category of businesses that follow suit by identifying and working toward brand ideals.

Purpose isn’t easy to do, but it’s often a simple construct. Do something that’s right and good and true to your contribution to the world, even if it costs you, and then keep going in that same direction. What’s so great about the TMNZ story is that if ‘tax’ can do it, then so can anyone in any category or market. The opportunities that purpose provides are truly boundless.

Imagine if brand ideals replaced brand ideas. It’s a lofty goal but one worth working towards.

Jodine Bell is the Creative Director and Tom Sykes is the Strategy Director for Principals Aotearoa.

About Jodine Bell & Tom Sykes

Jodine Bell is the Creative Director and Tom Sykes is the Strategy Director for Principals Aotearoa.

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