Is your brand purpose really a marketing campaign? Here's how to tell

When it comes to marketing, there may not be a more discussed topic than brand purpose right now. It’s trendy. It’s hot. It’s showing up in boardrooms across the world with a promise to connect with customers at their deepest emotional levels. It’s so prevalent in fact, that it’s already teetering on the cusp of fatigue. The trouble is purpose is far too important to the health of your brand to be fatigued.

Why does brand purpose matter?

Done right, purpose can bring focus to a business, motivate staff, and allow consumers to see how their values align with your own. It can heighten how a brand can impact its community, industry, and even society as a whole. All good things.

But when brand purpose is led by the marketing team, and not embraced more broadly by the organization as a whole, it’s nothing more than a campaign. “Purpose” that doesn’t influence decisions being made by operations, finance, R&D, leadership teams, customer-facing staff, etc., is just a marketing message. If your products and services don’t demonstrate your purpose on a consistent basis, your customers will see it. And they’ll be gone as quickly as they came.

As we’ve worked with purpose over the past six years in our brand and consulting work, I’ve found there are three easy-to-spot tell-tale signs whether your organization is embracing a new purpose, or if you’re just messaging a new campaign direction.

3 ways to know if your brand purpose is really a purpose (not a campaign)

1) Your executives are engaged

Purpose doesn’t work in isolation. It needs friends to thrive. Specifically, friends in high places. And not just one or two friends, it needs all the friends. To be truly effective, purpose needs to be not only understood by the leadership of a company but embraced by them. Purpose needs to influence decisions and directions at the highest level. It needs to be the anchor point around which all decisions that impact the future of the company are made. It should influence product and service directions. It should impact the way you manufacture and deliver. It should set the expectations for pricing. It should creep its way into how a company acts at every level. If that support and engagement with purpose aren’t there at the leadership level, it’s destined to fail. And the messaging around it is nothing more than a campaign destined to change in the years ahead.

2) Team behaviour changes

A true purpose motivates. It rallies people around a greater reason for their work. More than just a paycheque, purpose can give reasons for actions and cause staff to respond differently to situations. In the instances where we’ve seen purpose at its best, front-line workers will make decisions on the spot to ensure the company is living its purpose. Competitive job offers are rejected because staff feel meaning in their work. Or, if the purpose doesn’t resonate with them, they don’t. There is no buy-in. The purpose fails to connect with your staff and they don’t see it as a reflection of the company. In this case, the purpose is not achieving its potential.

3) There’s an alignment with the product or category

This one is trickier. Purpose is about a business serving a higher ideal, beyond making money for its shareholders. If that’s the case, you’d think any purpose that drives change in the world is fair game, right? Not quite. In our experience, if the purpose doesn’t link back to the product or category the business is serving, it sits outside of your day-to-day work. This makes it forgettable — and often forgotten. While people inside the company may rally around it in the short term, it ends up being ineffective as a purpose since it doesn’t impact operations. Once again, the messaging behind it ends up as another marketing campaign.

Ultimately, if your leadership isn’t making decisions on your brand purpose, your staff isn’t changing its behaviour and if that purpose isn’t linked to the product or category in some way – your new purpose is always going to sit outside of the work of the organization. This isn’t living a purpose, this is pushing a campaign message.

Luckily, it’s not all bad news. Even if you can’t get buy-in to the value of purpose across your entire organization, there’s still a win in being authentic in your communications. Telling consumers the strength of the company as you see it. Sharing how you do things better than the competition. Telling your truth. Because even if your organization doesn’t embrace purpose to its full potential, talking to your customers about your authentic truth is far more powerful than just talking about features.

Want to learn how to properly express your brand purpose? Join us for our free webinar!

On Tuesday, April 27 at 9 am (MST), our award-winning Director of Storytelling, Kurt Beaudoin, will discuss how to creatively express true brand purpose in your marketing campaigns. We'd love to see you there, just register for your ticket below. 

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