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Do purpose-driven brands see differently?

Do purpose-driven brands see differently?

Does having a business purpose matter? And if it does, what does it change? Is it a marketing trick or do purpose-driven businesses see something others don't?

February 2, 2021


Simon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Do you think that to be true? Have you ever thought through why you do what you do? Do you even think it matters?

Discovering your purpose isn’t always easy. Practically speaking, we understand the ‘what’ much more than we understand the ‘why’. 

Here’s a simple example. Your business makes coffee, that’s what you do. But why? Is it for fun? You like making coffee? Do you have the skills to do it? Maybe you just found the right location to open a store?

I can tell you now that while all these reasons are true, they don’t reveal the real why. I highly doubt you created your brand with the sole purpose of putting coffee in little cardboard cups. People can get a coffee in lots of ways from lots of people. So why do people choose your coffee shop over another? All things being equal, they have a purpose.

What is the difference between brands with purpose and those without?

Customers & Fans

Businesses need customers. They buy but maybe they’re not loyal. Customers change with the trends or simply move on when you’re no longer what they need. They’ll leave at the drop of a hat and are happy to point fingers when mistakes are made. They won’t tell others about how good you are but they’ll let people know when you’ve let them down.

Businesses with purpose have fans. Fans who are willing to commit to the journey, who believe in the business and are loyal through mistakes, recessions, rebrands and handovers. Fans stick around. They’ll be your biggest advocate and they’ll tell their world about you. People inspired by purpose-led businesses are invested in helping the brands they love grow.

Histories & Futures

Having a history is a given. Businesses can have a past and a legacy but they’re not looking forward. They’re excellent at preserving culture but they don’t know how to evolve culture. They can’t speak to a new generation. They do things the way things have always been done. They settle for comfort and they don’t like it when the cage is rattled. They tune out of the present and live in their past.

Businesses with a purpose look to the future. They have a history but they aren’t oriented around it. They know that there is still great work to be done; impact to be made and a better world to create. They honour their legacy but know their overall meaning isn’t found in what has been. Their purpose is grounded in what they do each and every day, now and into the future. They know that what they do today, impacts the lives of people and communities around them.

Staff & Allies

Businesses can have staff, people who work for the business but sometimes it feels more like they get in the way. They cost money. They create problems. Sometimes they’re a pain. Some businesses would view staff as a means to an end, a kind of necessary burden. They wonder if things would be simpler without them in the first place.

Businesses with a purpose see their people differently. They have allies. They know that they’re better together, that fulfilling their purpose isn’t a one person job. They know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They treat people like their ideas, energy, passion and commitment is valuable, and invest in them rather than take from them.

A recent McKinsey study reported that,

employees are agitating for decisions and behaviors that they can be proud to stand behind and gravitating toward companies that have a clear, unequivocal, and positive impact on the world. [1]

Noises & Stories

It’s easy to make noise. Create strategies to be loud. Produce volumes of words without any weight. It’s easy to create a strategy that revolves around being louder than the competition. And it’s easy to sound just like everyone else.

Businesses with a purpose have a message. They have a story, they have something to say, to share. They have a story that people want to hear. The ups and the downs, the joys and the challenges. People want to be a part of their story, to have a role in the grand narrative. The story is big enough for people to join in. Businesses with a voice get cut through, they actually have something to say, something people want to listen to.

Short Sighted & Long Views

Look here. No look there. Opportunity is here, there and everywhere. It’s tempting for businesses to take something now, thinking there might not be something else in the future. They can prioritise a buck in moment, not thinking what it costs later. It’s easy to get stuck thinking in terms of transaction. See the world made up of winners and losers. It’s a short sighted view as it focuses on only what’s right in front of us.

Businesses with a purpose play the long game. They prioritise roots before fruits. It takes an oak tree fifty years to produce its first acorn. They know you can only solve some problems slowly. They think in terms of relationship. They see the world as place of community.

Movement & Direction

Movement is good, but it’s easy chase the latest trends without knowing it. Businesses can flip flop looking for another opportunity, hack or quick path to success. They’ll be tempted to follow the crowd, listen to the loudest voice and go around in circles. They find it really hard to say no. And they find it even harder to say yes. They pursue the allure of success without acknowledging the time it might really take to get there.

Businesses with a purpose know why they’re here. They know why they do what they do. They have a vision, they see an outcome and bring people with them along for the journey. Setbacks are expected but they don’t take them off course. They have values, a way of doing what they do. They’re capable of saying no, and sticking with it. They move in a direction together.

Where to from here? 

Honestly, business and purpose isn’t as clear cut as it might be made out to be. In reality, it’s much more likely a grey dot on a spectrum of black to white. While that’s not an excuse, it is an encouragement to move closer to purpose with each decision, in every area of business. Remember, things take time to change, and effective change is the culmination of numerous small changes in the right direction.

I hope this helps clarify why it’s worth defining your why. Perhaps this has initiated a conversation around your brand, and what role purpose can play. In closing, I came across this in the Harvard Business Review.

“Purpose is not just a lofty ideal; it has practical implications for your company’s financial health and competitiveness. People who find meaning in their work don’t hoard their energy and dedication. They give them freely, defying conventional economic assumptions about self-interest. They grow rather than stagnate. They do more—and they do it better.”

I like that. Purpose is subversive. It’s a little bit punk-rock, it requires a willing going-against-the-grain kind of attitude. More often than not purpose-lead businesses are pioneering, they’re exploring, they’re taking new ground. Both fortunately and unfortunately, having a purpose that isn’t just a marketing slogan will actually require action. 

Again in the Review,

Connecting purpose with the heart of your company means reappraising your core: the strategy you pursue, the operations driving you forward, and the organisation itself. [2]

Purpose has a cost. It requires saying ‘no’ as much as it requires a ‘yes’. If guided by purpose, how your business works will change. It will change how you operate, how you hire, who you hire and what you do with your profits. 

Finding your purpose requires courage. Not just because it’s difficult to define, but because it costs something to then change meaningfully. 

If you ask us, it’s worth every penny.

Marcel McCarthy

Marcel McCarthy

Creative Director