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Purpose - the essential secret to brand building

A ‘Purpose Statement’. A crisply defined reason why you do what we do. Is it just a fluffy ‘nice to have’? I think not. Why? Because without defining a brand purpose you will probably struggle to align a team. A defined purpose sets the direction. It becomes a lens through which to view options. It helps you make choices. From it you can build. You can use the purpose as a strategic leadership tool to help create employee experiences which attract the right people. You can use it to build customer experiences which differentiate you. It can help you (and even more importantly your customers) create and tell powerful stories. You can set a logical, reasoned and designed strategy which purposefully motivates and aligns multiple people.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

In this post I’ve pulled together some insights from some interesting reports on the subject of purpose. I also give a few suggestions on how a business can begin to build a more purposeful culture. I hope you find it useful.

What is purpose and why is it important to branding?

What is your brands “purpose”? It’s the reason you exist beyond making money.

And for all the doubters out there who think that businesses should exist only to make money then consider this: What would happen if such a business stopped making money? If that was the businesses only purpose then it would be purposeless. It would fail. Everyone would pack-up and go home. But if a purpose is bigger than money, there is a reason to innovate. To look for solutions. To solve problems. To think of other ways you could do what your purpose was driving you to do. The money you make is simply the fuel which fuels the engine toward the purpose. Purpose makes you powerful.

As a designer at heart, I’m obsessed with purpose. Design is all about purpose. Unlike art (which I typically define as “self expression”) design is all about being selfless. It’s about taking oneself out of the picture and considering the purpose. For brands and businesses, that means putting the customer first. Not the profit. Strangely if you do that, the stats tell us the money will come (see the reports I reference below). Not only that but you will attract other ‘purpose-driven’ people who will also go the extra mile to carry you towards your purpose.

Branding is about attempting to “manage meaning”. To help your audience attach the right meaning to your offer. Ultimately that is all a brand is: “the meaning people attach to you and your offer”.

Action without purpose is meaningless. Purpose without action is also meaningless. The key therefore is to connect all of your business actions and the experiences they create for consumers to a purpose.

Purpose conscious buyers

I was struck recently by a number of interesting reports. In 2017, Edelman published a report: Edelman Earned Brand Report. Of 14,000 people in 14 countries, 50% considered themselves as belief-driven buyers. Last year Edelman issued another report (2018 Edelman Earned Brand) One of the interesting finds this year, is that of the 40,000 people from 8 countries, 64% of them answered “yes” to the question “do you choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues?”. Of course what people say and what they do at the moment of purchase can be quite different but is this an indicator of the intentions of consumers. There are of course many factors that contribute to why we buy what we do (need, price and convenience trumping most other things for most purchases). However if, at the point of purchase we have two options before us. One with a brand whose purpose and reputation has recently been damaged by a national news story because it has behaved in a way which does not live up to its purpose and values and one which has not had such a story, will that make us more likely to purchase the product from the brand whose reputation is unsoiled?

Purpose conscious companies

In 2015, Harvard Business Review and EY issued a report about purpose-driven companies (2015 - The business case for purpose). Of the 474 executives interviewed it was discovered that 58% of businesses who had a clearly understood purpose experienced over 10% growth. 84% of the executives believed that a strong sense of purpose drives employee satisfaction. Purpose, therefore, is not simply a fad. Of course, businesses need to make money. But there has to be more to it if you want to inspire your people - and it would appear business leaders know this.

Purpose conscious employees

Another couple of reports have caught my eye in recent years. In 2012 YouGov and Calling Brands published a report of their findings having interviewed 4,202 people in the UK, Germany and the US. 65% agreed that: “working for an organisation with Purpose would motivate me to go the 'extra mile' in my job.” In 2016 Deloitte canvased 7,700 Millennials from 29 countries who were all employed full time and had a degree. 87% believed that: “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” These stats therefore indicate purpose cannot be ignored if you want to attract motivated people to your business.

...But we have an alignment problem

But it would appear that businesses are struggling with aligning to their defined purposes. In 2016 PWC issued a report entitled 'Putting Purpose to Work: A study of purpose in the workplace'. The report states that out of 502 US business leaders 79% thought that “purpose is central to business success.” - however:

  • Only 34% believe that: “purpose is a guidepost for decision-making of their leadership team.”

  • Only 35% Reward employees who demonstrate values or behaviours aligned to purpose.

  • 29% have changed or are about to change their recruitment strategy to align with purpose.

In 2017 Gallup issued a report called “Failed Brand Ambassadors”. It stated that only 40% of employees know what differentiates their company’s brand.

Somehow, although consumers and employees are becoming more purpose orientated businesses are struggling to build purpose and brand thinking into business practices.

7 tips on building a purpose-driven brand.

So what's the answer to how to create a more purposeful, meaningful business? Well obviously it will depend on your circumstances but here are some really simple, yet powerful things a business must do:

  1. Define. Get your leadership to write a purpose statement to remind them and their teams why it is they do what they do beyond making money.

  2. Align. Align your leaders around this purpose. Get them to consider all of their decisions and actions by asking “does this align to our purpose? If so how?” and ensure they articulate this to their teams at every opportunity.

  3. Authenticate. Be authentic - people wont just fall in line if your purpose is not visible or real. They won't just follow you because you have suddenly articulated a purpose. It has to be lived and proved.

  4. Extend. Define a vision, values and behaviours that help to be guardrails as you fulfil your purpose. Use these as leadership tools to prove to the leadership team, staff and customers that you truly do value these things and your are committed to your purpose.

  5. Design. Create routines, reward programs and reminders which help to continually reinforce and hold people accountable to the purpose. Set goals and targets which ladder into the purpose and measure results against them.

  6. Create. Help employees and customers create memories from the experiences you deliver for them so that they have emotional stories to tell which backup your purpose. Help them create meaningful stories.

  7. Lead. The above are just a few ideas - most require leadership. Your leadership team will need to be heavily involved to create meaningful change. So set the course. Share the vision. Listen. Adapt. Lead your brand into the purposeful future you set out to realise.

So - I hope you have found this article interesting and a few of these thoughts of use.

Good luck in your quest to create meaningful, designed and purposeful businesses that fulfil a purpose above and beyond simply making money.


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