Purpose is the new black!

Ten years ago every business of scale had a mission statement, a vision and a defined set of values. They lived at the back of their website and in the opening pages of credentials and annual reports. Very little was said about having purpose, about the human side of business, those lofty aspirations that lived in the boardroom.

Step into 2022 and ‘purpose’ is the new black! 

This is a good thing right? It signifies that corporate cause and effect is influencing decision making. That humans are thinking more critically about their choices both professionally and as consumers. 

After 46 laps around the sun, I’m now at an age where having direction is a driving force behind my motivation to get out of bed. After twenty-four years in marketing services, the monotony of life and earning a living has unearthed, as it does for many, a deep desire for something more, for greater satisfaction and meaning. Sigh. 

In the words of American philosopher Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well”. While this 19th century view is now considered antique, what Waldo is saying is that purpose links to our deep human need for meaning and coherence - to have direction and a sense of worth. These are all considered contemporary views and used in modern Psychology practises. 

As a branding expert, I see the opportunity for a well defined purpose as a way for a brand or organisation to express a synthesis of:

➡ reputation
➡ image
➡ performance
➡ culture

Is having purpose purely about competitive advantage?

While it can be argued that a brands reputation can be built over years of consistency in quality, customer value, workplace culture and effective marketing, in an environment where more humans have access to 24hr media consumption, it is fair to say that differentiation and improved brand image can also stem from a stronger connection between purpose (motivation) and behaviours (action).

The mistake leaders make when pivoting to a “purpose-led’ strategy stems from when it is used as a sales tool; a fluffy marketing tactic that lacks genuine substance. Having purpose means alignment to core human values that underpin what and how one operates. As Simon Sinek famously said (and I apologise for the cliche) “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe in”. 

Brand purpose matters more in today’s marketplace and can be used to improve meaning and connection but in order to avoid being “purpose washed” leaders should consider the following.

🔹 purpose starts from the top (it must influence decision making)
🔹 express core value systems (real human values, not commercial goals)
🔹 link to a product or service (avoid pithy cliches that bare no relevant to your service or product)
🔹 inspire policies, systems and behaviour changes 
🔹 help attract and retain good people
🔹 help ignite innovation and R&D initiatives

Do you make decisions based on your perception of a brand’s purpose? Social justice. Inclusivity. Recyclability. Equality. Preservation. Do you make employment decisions (paid or unpaid) based on your personal belief systems? Do you consciously consume based on the same set of values?

As the founder of a for-profit purpose-led business, I can testify that we use our purpose to guide decision making. It informs the types of partnerships we have and seek, the services we offer, what we aspire to in the future, and our culture. We don’t always get it right but it's a bloody good start!

Written by Amber Bonney

This is part of an @Edison Agency series on purpose and branding. Stay tuned for more.

Click to Chat