Purpose is dead, long live purpose!

There is no doubt ‘purpose’ has become a buzzword! When muttered in a meeting, people smirk under their breath, “BINGO!”. The potency of brand purpose becomes tarnished when organisations apply it as a veneer and marketers hijack it for their latest marketing campaign.

When thought leaders proclaim, “purpose increases profit,” it is no surprise that some organisations have jumped on the bandwagon. Writing a purpose statement doesn’t mean your brand is purposeful; it means that your purpose is in danger of being meaningless, and therein lies the problem.

Don’t treat people like idiots

Conscientious employees, customers and the wider community can see through thinly applied veils and will quite rightly criticise and reject brands for their hypocrisy.

Countless brands have fallen foul of a public backlash due to inconsistencies between what they say and what they do. Starbucks claims, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one community at a time”, whilst simultaneously minimising the amount of tax they pay which negatively impacts communities — it’s all talk and no action. In contrast, Patagonia claims, “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet”, and when handed a tax break, they gave the entire $10m directly to environmental causes.

Distinguish your brand purpose from CSR

A purpose shouldn’t be confused with corporate social responsibility (CSR); many organisations donate their time and money for a good cause, but what Patagonia does goes beyond philanthropy. They go against business norms and encourage their customers to buy less with a ‘Common Threads Initiative’ focusing on sustainability. They refuse to work with partners who do not share their purpose and only employ people who are committed to protecting the planet.

Should your brand take a stand?

It’s certainly more comfortable not to take a stand for many brands. Putting your head above the parapet and taking a stance can feel like you’re giving people an excuse not to choose you over your competitors. However, this will lead to mediocrity, and in an era of overwhelming choice, if your brand doesn’t stand out, you are in danger of being left behind. Consumers are no longer making decisions based solely on product features or price; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. They advocate for brands they believe in, reject those they don’t and call out ones that are bullsh*t.

How to develop your brand purpose?

1. Define your brand purpose

Define a genuine and overarching brand purpose that unites your whole organisation. Look at what the world needs, what your customer wants and what you offer. It should be your raison d’être and North Star guiding everything your brand says and does. Remember that your purpose needs to be AUTHENTIC with all your stakeholders in mind; these stakeholders can include customers, employees, shareholders, governments and regulators, and broader society. Please read our article on how to uncover your brand purpose.

2. Get your employees on board

Having a brand purpose is all very well, but if customers are going to believe it is authentic, your employees must embrace and endorse it too. Your employees are your strongest and most visible brand ambassadors. Please read our article on how to build your brand from the inside out.

3. Bring your brand purpose to life

Develop and implement strategies to operationalise your brand purpose. McKinsey & Company state that when fully embedded, it should be evident across all aspects of your organisation’s DNA:

  • Ways of working – organisational structure, acquisition & retention of talent, culture & employee experience, performance management.
  • Core business activities – operating processes, supply chain, distribution, customer experience.
  • Corporate strategy – product/services, asset portfolio, capital allocation.

As an organisation, you can’t simply declare that you have a purpose; it must be authentic and relevant — then, you must live and breathe it through consistent actions and experiences. If you’re struggling to get to grips with your purpose, then why not try one of our online workshops? Get in touch if you’re interested in knowing more. 

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