Your brand purpose requires more than story. It requires action


Brand purpose continues to be an ever-growing topic of conversation for business leaders. Research shows the real, tangible impact purpose can have across an organization. And now, the call for action from business grows.

Each year, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink pens a letter to CEOs. This year, he outlined the imperative for organizations embrace the purpose movement. Society is demanding a better balance of purpose and profitability, he said. It’s up to organizations to align to act with purpose - for consumers and themselves.

Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders. It will succumb to short-term pressures to distribute earnings, and, in the process, sacrifice investments in employee development, innovation, and capital expenditures that are necessary for long-term growth.

CVS is an organization working to align its brand purpose with its business model. The pharmacy chain giant says it exists to help “people on their path to better health.” It recently announced it is working to end photographs with touch-ups on beauty products, like cosmetics, skincare, and personal care items. The belief was that it couldn’t back up its brand promise of helping people live healthier lives while also promoting an image of beauty that can cause mental or emotional health issues for some.

The reason was that CVS has a responsibility “to think about the messages we send to customers,” said president Helena Foulkes.

It’s not the first move CVS has made to align its business model with purpose. In 2014, the company announced it was stopped selling cigarettes, bypassing an estimated $2 billion in revenue.

The result? A 2016 study by the American Journal of Public Health found smokers who previously purchased cigarettes exclusively at CVS were 38% less likely to buy after the pharmacy chain stopped selling. And cigarette sales dropped 1% (around 95 million packs) in 13 states in the eight months after CVS stopped sales.

In this regard, CVS showed the true commitment to purpose that Fink talked about in his 2018 letter. The pharmacy retailer gave potentially billions in revenue to help its customers move forward on the path toward better health.

As Fink’s letter says, corporations must be willing to live and breathe the reason they exist - even if it impacts short-term or quarterly profits. Brand purpose is more than just telling a great story about why your organization exists. Those stories are great, sure. They grab attention and might make us feel all warm and fuzzy. But they’ll fail unless that reason for existing becomes a central part of what you do you and the interactions you have with key audiences.

We’ve seen examples of what happens when companies roll out brand purpose, only to see if backfire because of a lack of alignment throughout the organization.

Fink’s letter to CEOs to start the new year highlights a critical point. Yes, organizations must respond to the societal movement demanding a better balance of purpose and profits. And that goes far beyond just telling a great story. The real work is aligning an organization and building a culture that lives that brand purpose each day. But by doing that, companies build strong, meaningful relationships that show people they back up what they say.

Don’t want your organization to be left behind, take our Purpose Potential Assessment.

PurposeRyan Schneider