How to Become a Purpose-Led Brand
If you’ve spent any time branding or marketing a company in the last five years, you’ve undoubtedly heard some version of the following:
Purpose-led brands grow nearly 2X faster than other brands. Younger generations of consumers are supporting brands that genuinely reflect their values, as the meteoric rise of purpose-led brands like AirBnB and a resurgent Patagonia demonstrate. While many established brands still operate as if their purpose is to make as much money as possible, the winds of change are now approaching hurricane strength and even slow moving monoliths like PepsiCo are paying lip service to purpose in an effort to attract a new generation of consumers. So why is being purpose-led so effective?
(read: How These 5 Purpose-led Brands are Winning)
(read: Your Brand’s Purpose is Sacred)
Historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari explores in his book Sapiens, the power of ideas as organizational systems throughout human civilization. He explains that we seem to have a natural limit of around 150 individuals, roughly the size of a large tribal community, where the uniting factor is the survival of the tribe—above 150 people and the group inevitably splinters, forming smaller communities. It wasn’t until the rise of popular religion that we were able to unite under a set of beliefs and values, giving rise to larger communities and eventually cities and all of the cultural, scientific and technological advancements that come with them. We need ideals we could aspire to, something greater than ourselves we can belong to. We are hardwired to seek out and fully embrace the sacred. We see the same phenomenon in the sets of beliefs and values offered by science leading to the advancement of the modern world, and for better or for worse, in the patriotism that colors our current geopolitical system and moves hundreds of millions of people in unison. Understanding this core element of humanity, the need to find meaning in the sacred, is the first step in the journey to becoming a purpose-led brand.
When we start the brand strategy process with a client, we begin by pinpointing their purpose; to borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, we “Start With Why”. Why do employees come into work—or Zoom into work—day after day? If the answer is ‘because we pay them well’, it is a near certainty there are more days than not when their employees don’t feel like coming into work. And eventually, they won’t. Collecting a big check simply isn’t an inspiring idea that everyone in a company can unite behind, for obvious reasons. People leave high-paying jobs all the time simply because they feel unfulfilled. A purpose must be as big and lofty as the word itself suggests. It must be a calling, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
(read: The Biggest Lessons from Simon Sinek’s Blockbuster ‘Start with Why’)
A short aspirational sentence with one or two emotionally charged words is really all that is needed to explain why your brand exists and where it’s headed. Patagonia’s recently refreshed mission is a best-in-class example of how to create a purpose that inspires employees and resonates with customers: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” High value words like ‘save’ and ‘home’ stoke strong emotional responses in those of us not made of stone, and the overall sustainability mission aligns perfectly with consumer demands for products with reduced environmental impact. It should be noted that Patagonia is not presenting itself as a charity either. The deliberate inclusion of the phrase ‘in business to’ grounds the brand as transparently for-profit.
Purpose isn’t new in branding. While some will argue the specifics, you can see the glimmer of purpose in any brand with a mission statement. The difference between purpose and the mission statements of the past is in how it’s applied. Mission statements were generally considered internal messaging—strategic direction—intended to align company thought. A renewed interest in terms like ‘purpose’ and even ‘promise’ signals the merging of internal and external messaging into a shared rallying cry for all. While still an internal tool on its face, for a purpose to be effective it must be communicated with your customer at all times and align with their values. In our increasingly customer-centric business world, this is a powerful shift uniting employees and customers in a singular goal that shimmers with real truth and meaning. Purpose is more than a strategic statement, it’s a way of living your brand.
(read: How Patagonia Lives Purpose)
No matter how moving, it’s not enough to announce a new purpose, paint it on a wall in your office and expect company-wide adoption. Regrettably, nothing is that simple.
How many of the 1500 workers at Patagonia, a company with sky-high job satisfaction and a remarkably low 4% employee turnover, are unable to recite this mission? A number approaching zero seems like a fair bet. Since its inception Patagonia has walked the walk, sourcing sustainable materials, launching advertising campaigns that discourage mindless consumerism and committing to workplace policies and perks that create the conditions in which employees are able to thrive, professionally and personally. The result is a fulfilled workforce that lives the brand purpose with passion, and injects it into all aspects of the business, from product development to customer service.
While sharing a bit of messaging wisdom passed on by veteran White House operative David Gergen, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner revealed that in order to change company culture he had to repeat himself so often he got sick of hearing himself speak. Purpose must be fanatically preached throughout your organization, modelled from the top and lived by leadership and employees alike. Purpose doesn’t simply change company culture, it is company culture.
(read: 5 Brands That Live Their Purpose)
Becoming a purpose-led brand is a challenging process requiring difficult cultural change and discipline in a workplace, no question about it. But once you begin to see it established, everything else becomes easier. The upside ripples through every part of your organization, from sales & marketing to operations, providing clarity, energy and fulfilled employees. Moreover, the process of developing your purpose, if done well, puts you in harmony with your customer, removing ambiguity from messaging and content creation, clearing the path forward for previously unimaginable growth.