What Elon Musk Says to Purpose Fatigue #makerbrands
4 min read

Last night, a good friend told me on the phone that she had a serious case of purpose fatigue. That was a bit worrying though because I do purpose for a living.

Last night, a good friend told me on the phone that she had a serious case of purpose fatigue. She just stumbled over one more Always ad (or was it Volvo?), and it was one too much. One too much syrupy, tear-jerking, do-good, Cannes Award nominee ad. I can relate.

That was a bit worrying though because I do purpose for a living. About a decade ago, I put on my LinkedIn profile the line “making business a force of progress” to describe the work I do with Innate Motion, and it’s been there ever since – proudly. Is my own purpose out of date?

In the same conversation, my friend and I discussed her love relationship with her Tesla. The bliss of road silence, and the kick of knowing the brands helps shift the world towards something she values. That sounds pretty related to purpose still…

Probably the 2.0 version – the “maker” version.

“Maker”? A movement in design, creation, and entrepreneurship, that goes against waste and hype, and pushes for making your own stuff, rather than buying it. A movement that turns everyone into an engineer, and calls the average Jane to understand how things are made, to craft them herself. Gaining mastery of technology, honing hand skills, learning by doing, sharing and collaborating. Changing the way we relate to our stuff. Doing, rather than just thinking.

Look around, maker brands are sprouting like mushrooms on a rainy day.

I don’t just mean the DIY, celebrate-the-hippie-in-all-of-us brands (though they grow too and I love them!) I mean brands like Tesla, who set to change the world by the stuff they make. The fascination that Elon Musk’s rocket-flying cars inspire is easy to understand: they reinvent our relationship to transportation, to power, to fuel, not by campaigns and story-telling, but by the power of their entire business model. When they install free solar powered electric charger across the USA, they help reduce emissions, and they build value for the Tesla owners – who can travel farther for free. When they open their patents to their competition, they help push oil engines towards oblivion – and also contribute to the development of a ubiquitous network of chargers that make their own cars worth more.

By “maker” brands, I mean brands that move away from bolted-on “social missions” to putting practical outcomes at the heart of what drives them. Think of Lifebuoy, distributing their anti-bacterial soap in remote villages to battle against bacterial diseases. Purpose? Or are they simply in the business of being useful? Think of Evian, asking NGOs to help them change their entire plastic production system and create a circular brand. Think of Patagonia, bringing radical transparency into their value chain, so people can choose for what they really want to buy. It’s what you do that matters.

Dove work is beautiful, and it did inspire change. But times have changed, and brands are facing a legitimacy crisis. Not so much because people distrust big business by principle, but because of hyper-connectivity: when information is available, we become curious, and there ain’t no hiding place for those who hide behind CSR and brand stories but don’t actually deliver.

In that world, maker brands feel more honest and much more human. Because like the original “makers”, maker brands re-claim their technology, their sourcing, their production policies, as core aspects of their marketing. Think of Happy, a baby food company that set-up to reinvent the way babies are fed: their marketing people are hardly story tellers, and no brand manager is in charge of making their social mission happen. But they design every recipe to make it easier for parents to feed vegetables to picky toddlers. No added sugar there, but a careful choice of produce, a creative way to combine vegetables and fruits, so baby dinners stop being the war zone they can become. And a careful sourcing with farmers they trust, with a total control on an organic value chain: marketing people know what they sell, and parents know what they buy. A typical maker brand, Happy has grown from its founder’s kitchen to a few hundred million dollars – and it’s now inspiring changes at the heart of Danone, its new owner.

Maker brands put their purpose at the core. They organize around it. They don’t rely on telling great stories, they “make” great stories.

At Innate Motion, we’ve worked with a few – from Happy to Materialize, a world leader in 3D printing, or Ben & Jerry’s. And we are keen to help more grow. Because, frankly, it’s still a good time to make a business a force of progress.

Benoit Beaufils, Partner & Business Humanizer