Purpose has the power to fuel organizational performance. It’s the answer to the questions: “Why do we exist?” and “What is the difference we are trying to make in the world?” As author and speaker Simon Sinek sums it up — purpose is “why” you do what you do. This goes beyond the basics that most organizations spend time communicating — what they do and how they do it.
To truly impact performance, purpose has to be authentically defined and put front and center. At Baker, we’ve identified several characteristics of an organization’s brand-defining purpose. Your corporate purpose should extend beyond profit, embody a shared pursuit and possess credibility.
1. Stand for more than profit alone
First, the purpose needs to be bigger than profit alone. As stated in the book Firms of Endearment, an organization’s purpose for being “is different from and goes beyond making money.” That doesn’t mean the company isn’t driven to achieve positive financial performance. But, it does mean that financial gain isn’t the sole reason they’re in the game.
For instance, food manufacturer The J.M. Smucker Company’s purpose statement goes beyond the basics of simply making money by selling food products. “Helping to bring families together to share memorable meals and moments” casts a greater reason for existence. Similarly, Disney’s purpose statement moves beyond profit — “To use our imaginations to bring happiness to millions.”
2. Rally others around a shared pursuit
Second, particularly compelling purpose statements also have a shared quality to them. As digital strategist Mark Bonchek notes in an HBR article, shared purpose provides something “for people to participate in, belong to, engage with, co-create, or share with others that aligns the commercial side of the business with social responsibility.” The purpose captures more than something a company does for others. It captures something the company does with others. This means stakeholders are able to join in the endeavor of fulfilling the purpose, which creates a more meaningful bond with the company.
The outdoor retailer REI’s purpose statement is a good example of this — “To inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” This is clearly something that all of REI’s stakeholders can take part in. Those far beyond the company’s walls can take part in creating lives of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Likewise, Whole Foods’ purpose — “bring whole foods and greater health to the world” — is something all stakeholders can take part in doing with Whole Foods, whether they lie within or beyond the company.
3. Possess credibility
Third, though likely cast through an idealistic lens, purpose ought to have a clear sense of grounding in terms of its connection to the company. As noted in Deloitte’s book Designing B2B Brands, “Purpose must be authentic, true to the essence of the organization and all it stands for.” Further, it needs to — in some way — tie into the company’s products and services. If there is too much of a disconnect, the purpose may come across as inauthentic and may negatively impact performance. When properly connected to the company’s products and services, however, everyday communication and implementation is possible throughout the company. Whether you agree with the perspective or not, what the company believes is clear because it’s summed up in the purpose. And when it’s communicated clearly, it clearly differentiates, as well.
Southwest Airlines’ purpose statement marries a higher vision with its tangible company offerings — “To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Charles Schwab also makes a mention of its line of work within its purpose statement referring to the investor — “a relentless ally for the individual investor.”
A basis for your brand platform
At Baker, we use a fresh lens when creating or refreshing a brand. Purpose is an essential piece of the interconnected platform we develop for our clients. “Why do we exist?” is such a simple question, yet its organizational impact is unparalleled. A compelling purpose creates clarity for leaders, employees, customers, partners and vendors, and builds compelling bonds between these groups. It informs the brand platform and provides the fuel for performance that will drive results.