Samsung innovation chief: define your brand purpose, not just brand promise

Pio Schunker, senior vice-president, global head of integrated marketing at Samsung Global, talks about the need for iconic brands to resolve tensions and transcend functionality.

Samsung innovation chief: define your brand purpose, not just brand promise

The Samsung Note brand was expected to die following the Galaxy Note 7 ‘exploding devices’ debacle. But with recent rumours around the Galaxy Note 8 launch expected to be unveiled as early as next month, it could result in one of the biggest turnaround and renewal brand stories. Samsung has not confirmed the launch, but Schunker explains how refocusing the business on Samsung’s purpose has helped it, and its customers, move past the fiasco.

"We started on a journey to humanise our brand because we were experiencing a massive shift in consumer behaviour"

"There is such a lot of bullshit around authenticity and purpose. Every marketer, every brand is talking about it. Every iconic brand, like Samsung, has to make it [purpose] real and resolve the tension points in the society for it to be really authentic. We have to make our customers not just buy into the functionality of our products but also make them believe that we have a point of view that they can buy into or aspire to."

He gives the example of Rio 2016 Olympics "Anthem" campaign that strives to break down barriers of geographic borders and to unite the world by combining segments of national anthems from several countries to form one anthem brought to life by athletes and fans across the globe. "'Anthem' was against the backdrop of some landmark global events including Brexit and Trump, a time when people were (and to some extent continue to) looking to anchors of truth and trust in institutions and organisations.

The philosophy of our founders was based on working for the benefit of the people, the country and mankind

"They were responding to and engaging with 'Like a girl' and Nike’s 'Find your greatness' campaigns. Our Olympics campaign was about one country singing another country’s national anthem, then ricocheting around the world to create a global world anthem." 

Schunker adds that purpose-driven branding, while obviously not a new concept, has taken on new significance in this era of angry, anxious consumers.  A brand belief he says is exemplified in its latest tagline: "Do what you can’t" – created by Leo Burnett.

This is a statement that goes beyond its vision to build on the tech and innovation heritage, according to Schunker. "We started on a journey to humanise our brand because we were experiencing a massive shift in consumer behaviour. We were not experiencing angry consumers as such, but instead we're seeing how the consumer wants to be more empowered. The philosophy of our founders was based on working for the benefit of the people, the country and mankind."

"But how do we use this in a meaningful way?" asks the veteran of Coca-Cola, American Express and Mercedes-Benz, who started at Samsung in 2015.

While this idea had always been the basis for all of Samsung’s business strategies, it was only over the past two-and-a-half years that its management recognised the need to bring it front and centre. "Defy barriers, and hence, do want you can’t" was one of the core brand messages, Schunker says, that Samsung extrapolated while rediscovering and re-articulating its core values.

The importance of (re)building a brand on a purpose, and not simply a promise on what it can offer in terms of functionalities, he argues, isn’t just to help consumers understand what the brand stands for but, perhaps more critical, to enthuse product innovation and positive actions and behaviour of a business.