Written by Mark O'Renick
As a society, we’re waking up to the need and desire to build companies that focus on making meaning and money. It’s the best way to build socially responsible, sustainable enterprises that optimize economic impact. It’s also proven to be good business, with statistics showing greater interest and loyalty among customers, employees, investors and more.
Individually we yearn to find purpose in our lives. It’s the ultimate goal of fulfillment (see Maslow’s hierarchy). But for companies made up of individuals from all walks of life, finding a collective purpose is more difficult. It doesn’t have to be, and these five steps can help any organization define their sense of purpose and bring it to life - in everything from their brand to their business model.
Step 1: Determine Why You Exist.
Most companies spend their time on the functional and rational aspects of their business - delivering products and services to the marketplace to make money. Important goals indeed. But in today’s world of rapid change, unlimited options and global competition, features and benefits aren’t enough to separate yourself. Focusing just on the mechanics of what you do is not enough to attract, retain and grow relationships with the people you need to make a business go - dedicated customers, employees, partners, and investors.
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The first step to change this dynamic is to define the unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose that drives your company. Finding purpose is akin to enlightenment - gaining deep insight into why you do what you do, every day, to make a difference in people’s lives. Great companies know this ‘why’ is rooted in what we long for as individuals - making meaning and money, growing individually and collectively, and sharing the rewards of our hard earned efforts. It’s more than just a slogan, it has real, lasting positive impact on companies that make the commitment to act with purpose.
Step 2: Build a Strategic Framework
A clear sense of purpose stands at the core of game changing brand and business strategies. Your brand is your entire company seen through the world’s eyes. Knowing the impact you want to have serves as the driving force of why you exist and the benchmark for everything you do - from the products you produce and how you deliver them, to where you promote them, the people you hire, the partners you choose to work with and what you choose to do with your profits.
“Does this support our purpose?” is a question that should be asked constantly in strategy sessions. Just as important is asking “What can we do better to make the impact we hope to achieve?” Strategy is a living, evolving process designed to drive action toward your goals. Making sure company purpose is the foundation of the planning framework is key to bringing it to life.
Step 3: Map the Gap
Numerous studies put the fail rate of corporate strategy at somewhere between 70% and 90%. Theories to improve results range from getting executive level buy-in to putting performance management systems in place to drive accountability. In reality, performance wanes when people lose passion and lose the belief that what they do every day matters in the bigger picture of life. A defined sense of purpose not only builds belief, it gives you a benchmark for change based upon what your company and brand can become if acted on in meaningful ways.
Gaps between point A (where you are) and point B (where you hope to be) are natural when you’ve chosen a purpose that aspires to something greater. How do you change the image and perception of your brand among consumers? Change the belief set of employees? Attract new talent to push the company forward? Improve products and service to align with the promise of your purpose? Tell better stories about why you exist? Build a social presence that’s relative and engaging? Improve touchpoints? Make investors more aware of why purpose matters? These are all potential areas where gaps exist. A good analysis looking at the current and desired state of these areas will identify gaps to close in your brand and business strategy, and the purpose-based reason to make the effort to do so.
Step 4: Iterate Don’t Hesitate.
Change is a process not an event. The work of purpose driven companies in never done. But the world and your employees and customers and investors will never see the potential of purpose if you don’t act today. Find the gaps. Prioritize strategies based on feasibility and importance. Reinvent your brand by executing, engaging and evaluating in rhythmic quarterly fashion. Make necessary changes in your business model. Keep the ball rolling and build momentum. Purpose driven brands have a powerful gravitational pull that increases as reputation grows. When this happens, the attraction to your company and its brand becomes stronger and stronger.
Don’t worry about being perfect in everything you do. Be honest and real, and make sure you’re intentionally acting with purpose, on purpose. The impact you’ll have by expanding your reach will become a powerful, unstoppable force to create the meaning and deliver the impact you want to have.
Step 5: Collaborate To Stay Strong
There's not a one-size-fits-all blueprint for building a purpose driven brand and business. Just like spiritual enlightenment, every company is in its own unique state of being. The journey of a thousand miles does indeed start with the first step, if you don't know where you're going all roads appear to lead there. Define your purpose. Apply it strategically to your business model and brand. Map the gaps to determine where to start. Get into a rhythm to engage, execute and evaluate to build a powerful force that attracts.
When it seems fuzzy (and it will) collaborate with others working through the same process. Pursuing purpose as the ideal takes will and determination to bring it to life. The stories others have about their road to change may hold cues for what you might do to advance the cause in your organization. Read, learn and participate. And remember, we are all teacher and learner. The greater goal of building great companies is the opportunity to make a lasting, positive impact on the world. Creative, collaborative change is the right approach to get there.
If you’re thinking about or headed down the path to building a purpose driven brand and business, these five steps will hopefully help you identify ways to move forward. Feel free to reach out with your thoughts or questions. After all, we’re all in this together. With purpose, on purpose.
Mark O'Renick is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than two decades of experience in marketing and developing and implementing business growth strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.