The long-term value of Brand Purpose: How Purpose shaped 4 organizations

A Brand Purpose is an articulation of the reason why your organization exists. It is an answer to the question “why do you do what you do?”

In this way it is the most simple expression of your Corporate Strategy made tangible for your audiences.

This is why it must not simply describe what you do. A good business strategy cannot simply describe a company’s operations. It must answer what it is about those operations that is different and will resonate as valuable with customers and therefore make money and increase the value of the organization over time. By only being clear about what you do and not why you do it, you leave yourself vulnerable to the only real certainty we have in business and in life; that everything will change.

Take Polaroid for example. It went bankrupt in 2001. They were so focused on what they did (manufacturing instant cameras and film) that, as the world and technology shifted beneath them, they were left without direction in uncharted territory. Instead of focusing on their “what” (their cameras), if Polaroid had been clear about “why” (helping people capture moments), is there any reason Polaroid could not have ridden the social media wave and become Instagram, Facebook or TikTok.

What is the business value of a Brand Purpose?

It is a little reductive to suggest a good organizational purpose alone can save a business. But that is because the true value of an organizational purpose is that it never stands alone. It does not sell product. It is far more pervasive. Done right, it should guide everything from how you operate and how you make money, from the products/services you bring to market and sell, to the way you choose your distribution channels and who you hire.

Purpose guides action. It distills what you will and (perhaps more crucially) what you will not do as a company. This is why, at Northbound, we call a company’s foundational brand strategy a “Brand Compass.” Because it provides a true north to guide thoughts, words and actions, even when other frames of reference are obscured.

In doing so, it aligns your employees to an intention and outcome, builds a shared vision and belief (the building blocks for culture), allows for greater freedom of exploration and innovation within a clear framework, reduces need for micro-management and training (or cost of failure to train/execute), it powers greater consistency in the customer experience that leads to faster conversion and reduction in attrition or churn. It also creates value by increasing customer/prospect affinity and stickiness, so that time and cost of acquisition go down, and customer loyalty and word of mouth go up.

ROI is a great metric for marketing, but the wrong metric for Brand Purpose. Brand is a net multiplier for business value and the way to ensure your business is sustainable long-term.

When CVS Caremark rebranded to CVS Health in 2014, they articulated their brand purpose as “helping people on their path to better health.” According to CEO Larry Merlo at the time “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products is simply the right thing to do, as it’s inconsistent with our brand purpose.” As a result CVS removed tobacco products from their stores. What was the ROI on this? It cost them $2 billion in lost revenue annually. But that’s a bad metric to measure how important that purpose-led action is for their business operations as the world changed and tobacco products are increasingly banned, and their sale marginalized.


What is the human value of a Brand Purpose?

If Organizational Purpose isn’t just about doing good. Integrity to your Brand Purpose isn’t necessarily about “doing the right thing.” It is about delivering on the promises of your strategy. It’s about being true to your word. It means aligning every action your company takes, internally or externally, with your stated intention. You can map your organization’s activities, both internal operations and revenue generating activities, and gauge your “Brand Integrity.” Namely how aligned are your actions in each area of your business operations to your Purpose.

Now when you do this, you truly align your business around delivering a human value for people. Even if your Purpose isn’t necessarily about doing good, this is when you can really have a net positive impact in the world. Not by purpose-washing or green-washing, but by doing what you do best that helps people with a problem.

Microsoft is a fantastic example of this. Their goals are ambitious but not divorced from a human reality. Their stated mission is:
“to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

In a real sense they don’t talk about their machines, software, or their cloud operations. They also don’t talk about changing the world or saving the planet. They simply want to empower everybody to do a little more, or a little better. An ambitious goal, but human-centric and totally achievable. Which leads me to my final question.


What makes a good Brand Purpose?There are a few characteristics of a good Brand Purpose. If you’re looking at your Purpose there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help shape and guide your thinking?

  1. Is it true?
    Is it an accurate and authentic summary of why your organization does what it does?
  2. Is it simple? 
    Is it clear and easy to understand? Is it focused enough to be tangible and provable?
  3. Is it human?
    Does it distil the human value that is delivered for people? Or does it focus on products/services (or worse, what you do for shareholders)?
  4. Does it drive action?
    Is it a compass or guide for actions and behavior

An example of a GREAT Organizational Purpose in action:

Aegis Living is a brand at the forefront of Senior Living Care. Most companies in this industry focus on providing evidence-based medical care delivered with a veneer of sepia-tinted sunsets. But Áegis is concerned with making people feel loved, treating them like family, not patients.

Their brand purpose to “embrace possibilities” positioned Áegis not as an end-of-life care provider, but as a luxury hospitality brand providing an enriching lifestyle for people entering a new phase of their life. The new positioning and resulting operational activities and marketing campaigns helped Áegis establish what it stood for, both to its employees and the people they serve, creating a consistent brand experience as they expanded into new markets.

Let’s put it to the test:

  1. Is it true?
    Demonstrably, yes.
  2. Is it simple?
    Painfully so. A call to action for residents, employees, and society at large.
  3. Is it human?
    It does not talk about care facilities or medical outcomes. It focuses exclusively on the value it (i.e. the freedom and joy of “possibility”) Áegis provides for people.
  4. Does it drive action?
    Absolutely! Crucially giving clarity on how the brand behaves and how the brand does *not* behave.

An example of the change a clear Purpose can bring.

Aegis Living

Brand Purpose isn’t the only thing that makes a business successful. It isn’t even close. But it also isn’t peripheral. The true value of Purpose is in its net-multiplier effect when the organization's activities are aligned with their stated intention. Get it right and Purpose acts as a guide and yardstick for everything from product development to hiring practices, creating a shared vision and belief among employees and increasing clarity, perceptions, and loyalty with customers. You can bet that, at the heart of every well-run or successful business, there is sharp clarity on the human value of why that business exists.

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