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Leaders - How to uncover your Brand Purpose

At the heart of brand strategy is “purpose”. Perhaps at the start of anything worth doing there will always be a purpose. A reason. A why.

Image Credit: Gabriel Côté Source: Unsplash

What's the purpose of a purpose?

Will you suddenly sell more products by defining your purpose? Will you suddenly receive a following of new customers? Will your business be easier to manage and all your staff suddenly easier to motivate?

The truthful answer. No.

So why bother with defining it then?

My answer is that by defining purpose you have a lens through which to look at all the decisions your leadership team is making. Without having a purpose which everyone has signed up to (or been recruited into) you are going to get a very disjointed set of decisions.

On what basis will decisions be being made? Mainly on commercial short term gains in my experience. This might be great for a while but as time goes on you may find you have a Frankenstein organisation that is full of disunity and confusion. By defining purpose you will be able to design and plan your activities in a logical and thoughtful way. Purpose aligns thinking. Used properly your purpose allows you to become "purpose-driven".

The other thing purpose should do is ensure you and your people are not looking at things simply from their own perspective. I define brand and the meaning people attach to you and your offer. This definition is helpful because it makes leaders think about what the brand means to others - e.g. their customers and potential customers.

Branding is the management of meaning. The first step to managing meaning is to define it and purpose is at the heart of this definition.

Your purpose should determine why you do what you do. It should explain why you exist beyond making money. It should appeal to your audience and your staff. Yes, revenue is important for every business. But revenue is the fuel in the car. The question is, where is the car headed? Why should I get on board? What's the destination?

If your purpose is solely to make money then that’s great. For you. But why should your staff or your customers care? Defining your brand Purpose and having a clear connection with your activities and the experiences you create to that purpose show them that there is a deeper meaning to your brand. A meaning grounded in the things they experience.

How do you define brand purpose?

So, assuming you have read this far you are on board with this idea of “purpose”. You know you need to define it. You know everything should ladder into it. You know it aligns and inspires. But Purpose is a hard nut to crack.

It is especially difficult if you have a large leadership team that have not considered this aspect of the business before. Who have been focused on their small piece of the pie and have been used to fighting for their corner. To ask these individuals to suddenly pull together and think in a unified way can be tricky.

It’s also tricky because there is no clear process to reach it. It’s part logic part magic. This is why having outside help can be essential. A breath of fresh air to uncover, ask the silly questions, review, challenge and inspire. Although bringing in an outsider might help it's not necessary. At the end of the day, your purpose has to be sure and reflect the leaderships ambitions as well as being relevant to your audience. You have to own it. Not some outsider.

As I’ve mentioned there is no silver bullet to reach a purpose statement that works. However, having written and helped hundreds of leadership teams define their purpose I have found there are some key areas that are well worth considering and which can help to really shape a purpose that is authentic and relevant.

I structure these in terms of time. Past, Present and Future. For each of these, I’ve explained the reason why these are important to consider and how you might go about gleaning relevant information from them. Let's dive into each one:

Brand Purpose & The Past

No business is suddenly born. It is always the product of consideration and careful choices. The past, therefore, even the recent past, is a crucial element of uncovering purpose.

The best place to find purpose is to review the origins story. I always like to try and speak to founders - even if they are now retired I’ll try and get hold of them (and usually they love to talk about the good old days!). The thing you want to unpick with them is what was “broken” with the world which made them start a business. What drove them to begin the business? If it was enjoyment - what was enjoyable about it? If it was an opportunity then why was that opportunity so interesting to them? Try and get into belief systems and what motivated them. I also like to ask about the bad times. What got them through? I also like to ask about times when they did not do what was the “norm” at the time. Why did they break with tradition? What did they go over and above?

If founders are not around another source of information is in company archives or in newspaper and press articles from the early days. Again these can be very helpful. Look for the reasons behind what is happening. Immerse yourself in the history. Go to the first factory. Visit the first retail shop. Walkthrough the original office. Stand where the founders stood. Smell the things they did. Who knows what you might uncover.

Digging into the past. The context of the birth of the brand. The principles of the reasons behind why the brand began, its origins can help leaders to find relevant principles upon which to build the future.

Brand Purpose & The Present

The present is probably the most crucial element. It defines relevance.

Interviews with current customers that uncover why they buy from the brand and what attracts them o the brand can be really helpful. Running focus groups that uncover what customers think the purpose of the brand is can be insightful and although customers should not determine purpose their perspective should never be underestimated. There can be nuggets of gold in how the company is currently perceived as this can highlight things to improve or things to double down on and amplify. These gaps can be helpful to look at where brand thinking needs to be applied.

The current leaders are important to tap into. As a consultant I like to have one to one time with all of the leaders. I like to dig into their past. I like to understand what they got into their area of expertise, why they joined the company and what keeps them there. How do they see their futures. What do they want to achieve. What excites them about the future. It is a really human and emotional thing.

With the leaders (and to some extent with the founders) what you need to try and do is synthesise sometimes often differing motivations. I try and summarise each leaders “drivers”. These are their core motivations. I then like to run a workshop where I put all the motivations up based on our conversation and get them to cluster them and simplify into 5-8 collective drivers. These are the top things which motivate them as a group. These need to then inform the company purpose. They point the direction to the purpose.

You can also run a similar exercise with other members of staff but I usually find purpose is and should be set by leaders and especially with the CEO.

From these drivers usually, a working purpose can be crafted. However one element is missing - and that is the future.

Brand Purpose & The Future

Looking at purpose through industry trends and future customer desires is important.

Why is the brand relevant and what will keep it so? What's happening around the corner that might mean we need to change to keep relevant? How could we make our customers stronger? What might kill us and what might we need to do to negate those risks? What role will we play in the future? Where will we need to innovate? Again these are leadership questions. Where are the leaders taking the brand. What is their vision of the future - both for themselves, the company and also for the brand - but most important what is the future they imagine for their customers?

Usually, this information is derived by examining consumer trends and potential futures via research. Couple this with working with leaders on their brand vision and defining that can be very informative to a brand purpose. I find leadership workshops the best way to align and define a vision for the brand. Swarming on where the brand will be in 20 years is always interesting and deeply imaging different potential futures with leaders helps them to see where the brand will head in the future. Does that align with our purpose? It should do.

Putting your Brand Purpose together

Once you have done your research, conducted your interviews and gone through your workshops its important you write down your purpose so you can begin to use it. Using it is crucial so you need a succinct version of your purpose that leaders can remember and reference in their decision making.

Again I always suggest this is done collaboratively with leaders. I usually get them to each fill in a “purpose statement”. These can then be placed on a board, discussed, challenges and then voted on by the group giving a direction. It's usual that these are in an embryonic stage - expressing ideas imperfectly. Usually, I suggest working with a copywriter to craft and simplify the wording.

Here are a few examples from some recent brand projects I’ve had the privileged of working with.

  • “Create a world everyone deserves” - A public-sector building procurement agency

  • “To throw pixie-dust in the eyes of boring” - A communications training company

  • “Connect the world through live experiences” - A hospitality ticketing platform

  • “Give the joy of food to the world” - A global restaurant consultancy

  • “Do great things” - A product innovation consultancy

  • “Create luxury” - A designer kitchen company

  • “Cause butterfly effects of happiness” - A FMCG brand

  • “Build a better way for agriculture” - A regenerative agricultural business.

  • “Expand what’s possible” - A business coaching company

  • “Explore opportunities & grow them.” - A digital marketing agency

Now obviously these are just statements that represent the tip of the iceberg. Packed away within each one is a history, industry, trends and leadership context - we cannot obviously go into these here. These statements mean much more to those who understand the contexts than you or I will just read them in a list like this. But you can see how these statements begin to help people, and especially leaders, make decisions. They capture intent. A reason for being. A reason to do things (and a reason NOT to do things). Is this thing going to align with our purpose? No? Then we don't do it. Simple. Better decision made.

Once you have your brand purpose, launch it into the business. Model it as leaders. Reference it often. Ladder your business activities and imperatives into it. Build your marketing and communications on top of it. Create your HR processes with it. Plan your commercial strategy through it. Allow it to inform everything. Use it to make sense of your decisions. If you do this it will inspire, attract others who believe what you believe and share a similar purpose and ultimately take you in a meaningful direction that is helpful and useful to your audience. A direction that has long term thinking baked in and not simply based on short term money making (although that will come because you will be adding value). A brand is not simply what you say it is. It’s what others say it is. To create experiences so they see your purpose in action. Let them play your purpose back to you. That's when you know you have truly got a brand purpose that works.

This is the power of brand purpose.

I wish you all the very best in finding yours.


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