On brand purpose
In the past, it was terms such as positioning, differentiation or mission that set new directions for brand strategy. Today, it’s purpose, the reason why you do what you do. Why your brand does exist.
Every industry has its jargon. Words, methods and frameworks that become mainstream and redefine practices. Branding is no different.
In the past, it was terms such as positioning, differentiation or mission that set new directions for brand strategy. Today, it’s purpose. A word that’s being bandied about by agencies around the world, clients large and small, consumers and even investors. But what exactly is brand purpose?
A purpose is a catalyst for action. A driver of change. A lever for a better impact.
The very ideal
A North Star. A compass. A raison d’être. These are all common answers to that question. What your AI search engine will tell you. According to popular belief, a purpose is the very ideal that makes you wake up in the morning and keep pushing. The reason why you do what you do. Why your brand does actually exist, beyond (just) making money.
Arguably, one foundational moment for this era of brand purpose was the now infamous 2018 letter to investors by Larry Fink, with the revealing title “A sense of purpose”. On that letter Fink stated that “without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential”, because “public expectations of your company have never been greater” and “society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a public purpose”.
Something bigger than profit
But that’s not a new idea. Not by far. Whole Food’s Market founders John Mackey and Raj Sisodia introduced Higher Purpose as one of the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism in their eponymous book, written some years before Fink’s epistle (2014). Maybe it sounds like an oxymoron, but the concept of a conscious capitalism links performance with a sense of higher purpose, pursuing something bigger than profit while operating in the middle ground between a brand’s and users’ needs and goals. The authors state that this is, precisely, the purpose of marketing. I’d say it’s the purpose of branding too.
Sustainability and social causes are common suspects of that higher, public purpose a company could be serving. Patagonia is a paradigmatic example of this today. A clothing company that has stated that its purpose to “save our home planet”—which they just made their only shareholder—But is that a statement every other company or brand could claim? Or bring down to their daily operation? Certainly not. So, how do we make more purposeful brands, without always aiming for the moon?
Purpose is rooted in values
Enter Plato. His ideals of moral good—namely, the Good, the True and the Beautiful—have guided humanity towards a purposeful life for centuries, and they remain relevant paths a brand—a human collective—can follow today to make a positive impact beyond its bottom line. “Achieving the good has always been about service to others, improving health, education, communication and quality of life”. A good example is Doc Morris, with the purpose to deliver the most effective and empathetic healthcare imaginable: to everyone, anywhere, in one click. “The truth is all about discovering and furthering human knowledge, and the beautiful is about excellence and the creation of beauty”. Higher goals for which brands like Google or Dove, for instance, are rallying for.
The concept of a conscious capitalism links performance with a sense of higher purpose, pursuing something bigger than profit.
A driver of change
Something bigger than profit
Before Mackey and Sisodia, Nikos Mourkogiannis, greek business consultant, lawyer and writer, in his book “Purpose. The starting point of great companies.” (2006) categorized purposes in four categories:
- Discovery: the new.
- Excellence: the intrinsically beautiful.
- Altruism: the helpful.
- Heroism: the effective.
So these are all different ways of naming what is right and worthwhile. Aka, values (we will go through this subject in a new article coming soon). That is what makes purpose a great concept for brands: as values, it is universal, timeless, human. And its power is making those values actionable. That is what a purpose really is. A statement that translates ideals into an actionable direction.
It can be about saving Earth, or reaching Mars. But it can also be about building the greatest product one can imagine. About changing an industry. About simply growing a more conscious company. But whatever the case, a purpose is a catalyst for action. A driver of change. A lever for a better impact.
Words: David Reina, Lead Strategist.