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What is Purpose? What is Brand Purpose?

Apr 29, 2019

nyc-ad-agencyPurpose-Driven branding. Brand purpose. Or purpose are the same thing. Your brand purpose consists of the central motivating aim of your brand, organization or company—the reason you get up in the morning. Purpose should guide decisions, inspire behavior, shape goals, offer a clear sense of direction, and create meaning.

For some business leaders, purpose is connected to meaningful, satisfying work. For others, a company’s purpose underpins company commitment and responsibility. Brand purpose codifies a select few beliefs. Your brand purpose clearly expressed, is the red thread along which you and your people do what you do. Purpose will be unique for every company; what your brand identifies as its path will be different from others. Questions that may come up when you reflect upon your brand purpose are: Who are we? Why do we do what we do? When do we feel fulfilled?

Your brand purpose is your contribution. Some business leaders feel hesitant about pursuing a purpose because they worry that it sounds like a self-serving or selfish quest. However, genuine brand or company purpose is about recognizing your contribution to the world—helping people or society solve problems. Genuine purpose should actually end the self-absorbed, self-serving relationship your company has with society. When your authentic brand purpose becomes clear, you will be able to share it with your employees, with your customers, with your prospects and with the whole world. It’s incredibly empowering.

But there is one significant challenge. Too often a brand’s purpose ends up dormant, sitting in a PowerPoint somewhere or a plaque on the CMOs wall, but never really acted upon in a meaningful way. And in some ways, that’s not surprising, since a purpose that’s inspiring is almost by definition lofty, making it easier to talk about than act upon.

Jumpstart Your Brand Purpose

This idea of activating brand purpose is near and dear to me because it’s what we specialize in at StrawberryFrog. We pioneered an approach called ‘Movement Marketing’ that’s proven to help brands avoid the hazards that come with pursuing purpose. A big part of this approach is a structured brainstorm we call a FrogLogic session in which we ask ourselves some tough questions to jumpstart creating a purpose a brand can act on. Here are a few of them:

What’s the enemy? Knowing what a brand is against can give focus and energy to what the brand is for. For example, nearly all banks have a purpose that dances around the idea of “helping move people’s financial lives forward.” This can obviously lead to actions that are generic. But if we think harder as to what a bank brand’s nemesis is – financial insecurity, fear, or lack of understanding, etc. – clearer and more ownable actions bubble up.

Is your thinking at the right ‘altitude’? Some brands aim too low on the purpose ladder (e.g., “our purpose to serve our customers.”) Nice to know, but what do you do differently based on it? Other brands aim so high that it triggers the B.S. meter. I once found myself saying to a client, “What if it really IS just a salty snack, not a self-actualization tool?” You don’t necessarily have to take on a huge societal issue to do successful purpose branding.

Does your purpose have buy-in at the top? More than once, I’ve seen a brand’s high-minded purpose initiative be shut down by top company leadership as either not pragmatic enough or ‘too risky’. This has happened often enough that I once seriously considered writing a blog post called ‘How to be a socially conscious marker – when your company’s leadership doesn’t really believe in anything’. Bottom-line, if your company’s top leadership isn’t 100% on board, a higher purpose is likely to just be window dressing for your brand.

Does it inspire on the inside? I’ve often found that a good first step in articulating an actionable purpose is to ask the question,” what would make an employee want to get up and go to work every day?” If an employee can readily put a brand purpose to work in his/her job, it shows in the customer experience – which is what actionable purpose is all about. That’s why purpose marketing nearly always works better when it works from the inside out.
More and more today consumers not only have strongly held beliefs, they’re acting on them. It’s time for marketers to do the same: to move from purpose-finding to purpose-activation, to get our collective heads out of the clouds and put our brands’ highest ideals to work out in the world.

By StrawberryFrog

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