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What is purpose and why does it matter?


Everywhere you look you’ll see that brands are touting how they’ll save the world, one toothbrush, or toothpick at a time. Is brand purpose just another trend, do customers really care about this, and how do you know if you are virtue signalling? 

The world is a bit stuffed and our trajectory is not looking too good. Unfortunately, not-for-profits often lack the finances and scale to make meaningful change and Governments are either bogged down in bureaucracy, or do not have stable leadership to enact long-term change.

Businesses are the problem, and the solution to address our most urgent needs. They have reach, audience and scale to make meaningful change to achieve our sustainable goals. According to Forbes, 88% consumers want brands to be making a positive effect on the planet. So in consumers eyes, you now have to be conscious of the impact your business has on people and planet.

Creating an ethical purpose

In an ethical world, brand purpose is not just the reason your product or service exists, but how it can improve the planet or people’s lives. It’s beyond making a profit and moving into what you are doing for someone else’s benefit. But this also comes with the realisation that as a single business, we can’t change the world, or everyones lives.

To create a successful and impactful purpose, it has to pinpoint a relevant benefit to potential customers and be specific in how you are improving their lives in some way. 

So not only does your purpose have to be specific, if you want to be seen as a brand making a difference, your impact has to be measurable. Consumers are looking for measurable goals, they want to see how you are giving back and returning value to things they care about. Becoming a brand they want in their lives, and helping them feel (and do) good every time they use your product or service.

“Having a brand purpose will have a significant effect on your employees as well, but it has to come from all over the company and be in everything you do.”

Rose Macario, Former Patagonia CEO

As much as purpose helps your customer facing brand, it can also help attract and retain the best staff. Employees are seeking out companies that not only treat them with respect but help them achieve a higher reason for being. They feel they are contributing to the improvement of people, planet and profit and can go on to become the biggest advocates for your company.

How to avoid purpose washing

A purpose is no use if it’s vague as not to be specific enough, or unintentionally too lofty as to go beyond your scope of resources. You should always strive to achieve your purpose, but you are only one business after all, and you can’t literally save the world with your product.

There are also times where businesses have little intention in executing their purpose, which poses a real risk of purpose being seen as an inauthentic marketing ploy and does nothing to tell your audience what you stand for.

Being relevant is also important and you should look for connections between your product, your purpose and the ways you help people or the planet. If what you do is not relevant to your product or business, or just jump on the bandwagon for the latest cause, it can be seen as opportunistic.

Carbon offsetting is another watch-out. Apart from its lack of biodiversity, it disincentivizes any meaningful reduction towards what the planet needs – reduction. Companies can achieve a carbon zero rating, without actually reducing emissions at all. They are just paying to pollute and it’s disingenuous. 

To wrap up, companies that excel beyond a motivational statement weave their purpose into their DNA, design identity, staff culture and business decisions. They think about the 3 Ps – people, planet and profit, the triple bottom line for any ethical business. Becoming a company that people want in their lives and is genuinely creating meaningful change to this world.

Get in touch if you want to chat more about your purpose.

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