Putting the teeth into brand purpose

Purpose. Your organization’s north star. The higher ideal the business serves beyond making money. The “why” a business exists and the contribution it makes to society. A rallying cry for an organization. A galvanizing concept that can accelerate an organizations growth.  

With promises like these, it’s easy to see why purpose has the attention of so many business leaders. And why your organization should jump on the bandwagon if it hasn’t already. Because it’s not just about making the world a better place (although that’s likely reason enough). Books like Jim Stengel’s Grow and his Stengel 50 study showing how purpose-driven brands outperformed the S&P 500 by three times over a 10-year period. Similar studies have proven the effectiveness of purpose, properly implemented, in driving organizational success.

The key to unleashing the power of purpose is in the idea of it being properly implemented. Because reaching the nirvana of purpose-driven growth is not as simple as defining your purpose and sitting back to count the Benjamins. In order for a purpose to make an impact on organizational performance there’s a few practices we’ve come to learn which set up an organization to reap the benefits of adopting a purposed-driven approach.

Here are five ways to put teeth into purpose:


1) Support purpose with positioning

Defining the higher ideal your organization serves is a great first step. But customers still need to understand what makes you unique and different from your competitive set. Purpose alone doesn’t guarantee a differentiated positioning. Again referencing Jim Stengel’s research on purpose, he identified there are just five primary ideals that all purpose statements are built around. So there’s a one in five chance you’ll share your purpose with your competitor. As a brand, you need to ensure either through the language of your purpose statement, or in a supporting mission or brand positioning statement how you’re offering is differentiated in the mind of the consumer.


2) Building organizational strategy around purpose

This can’t just be a brand initiative authored by the VP Marketing. To be truly powerful, purpose needs to be championed throughout the most senior leadership of an organization. Because to be truly lived, a purpose should impact all areas of a business – how it operates, how it staffs itself, how it plans for the future. To illustrate the obvious here, if marketing decides to build a company’s brand around an ideal, and finance is running a mandate that restricts the necessary investment to live that purpose, it will never get traction. Purpose needs to be the basis for strategic decisions across all functional areas of an organization. This means buy in need to be across the board – including the board!


3) Champion it internally

Purpose is as important for internal stakeholders and as it is for the customers a business serves. A clearly articulated purpose unifies teams around a common intention. It gives meaning to work and motivates staff by providing a line of sight to how their efforts in supporting the company’s purpose improves society. But to accomplish this, purpose needs to be championed internally from leadership on down. It can’t live only as a slogan framed on the wall. It needs to be front and centre in the leadership agenda. It needs to be visible in decision making on a day-to-day basis. It needs to be the rock you lean on during adversity. Starting every all-staff meetings with a reminder of purpose, sharing stories of success and celebrating demonstrations of team members living your purpose makes your purpose more real and allows all employees to see this is not just another initiative from head office.


4) Ensure alignment between purpose and values

If purpose is your organizational north star, your values are the bedrock beneath your feet. Values are the jumping off point for purpose and it is critical that there is a clear alignment between the higher ideal your company services and the values you live day-to-day. Think of it this way – if your team truly lives your values, will the outcomes from that behavior support your purpose? We often work with organizations whose values were articulated years earlier and we meant to support the concept of vision statements – which tended to be more internally focused. As you shift to purpose-based approach, spend some time looking at the alignment between values and purpose. Catching a misalignment early may save frustration and confusion down the road should staff start living values that don’t support the purpose, or vice versa.


5) Make a significant show of commitment

As a final practice we have seen help put teeth into the launch of a new purpose-based approach is making a significant show of commitment. This is kind of like putting your money where your mouth is. It’s doing something highly visible and with enough weight behind it (financial and/or human resources) to show the entire company this is not just a new slogan that will be rolled out and forgotten about. This significant show of commitment could be a massive new sign supporting the purpose-based brand. Or it could be a full day team rollout with proper leave-behind articulating the purpose. Whatever it is, it should be the starting line for a number of changes to come. Because integrating purpose is not a flick of the switch and done. And to show stakeholders you’re serious about it, start with something big to make it real.


We’ve seen first-hand the importance of these five practices in getting traction into a purpose driven approach for our clients. And of course, there are many other practices and approaches that can support the success of execution on a properly defined purpose.

If you’re not at the stage to think about execution of purpose, but still interested in learning more about what purpose is, examples of its power within an organization and how we bring purpose to life for clients through their brand and communications, join Kurt Beaudoin, our Director of Storytelling, and myself at a Webinar we’re hosting at the end of the month on this topic. Hope you can join us.



If you can’t join, or have any questions or thoughts on the above, please feel free to reach out to me directly dan.king@zgm.ca

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