Why should a corporation concern itself with purpose?

Modern Brand Principle #1: Have a Purpose

The one way to know if you’re a modern brand is to see how easily you and your employees can identify the purpose of your brand, meaning having a reason for being beyond profits. Tesla is an obvious example here, along with the Honest company, Method and their “people against dirty” brand, as well as service-economy brands like, and B2B brands such as WISErg.

CVS Health even came out with a purpose in 2016, helping return its chain to incremental growth in a rapidly shrinking category. They started by refusing to sell cigarettes and then implemented a host of other operational changes and retail experiences. They worked to align their entire brand around helping people live healthier lives and the market rewarded them for it.

Today’s consumers, particularly the very large segment of 20 and 30 something Millennials who hold a great deal of buying power, are not satisfied with superior functionality alone and are shown in study after study to gravitate toward brands that offer a purpose and a point of view on how the world could be better, and how choosing their product or service can contribute to achieving that better world.

Can companies make it without purpose? Of course, but it can leave you vulnerable. Take Uber, which offered a completely new kind of service that was functionally more convenient, transparent within the consumer experience, less expensive, and easier to use (by showing up right on your phone). This put Uber at the very top of the “better” game. And in the “better” game, someone can always best you (think: Lyft). Brands without a purpose must rely on being functionally superior, which we’d all hope every brand is aiming for anyway. Without a driving purpose, at least none that is articulated in a public, compelling way, Uber was left exposed and it wasn’t pretty. A purpose, understood by Uber leadership and employees and contractors, would have been left with a roadmap for how to make the right choices and decisions.

“True purpose resonates emotionally and rises above functional benefits. That said, no one is going to use your product or service if it doesn’t function well or offer something they need or want in their lives.”

Wal-Mart recently jumped on the bandwagon of retailers who are no longer selling firearms to people under the age of 21. Is that purpose? No, although perhaps it stems from them examining their purpose and deciding that selling firearms to a 16 or 18 year old does not align with their values and reason for being. Or, it may just be a necessary PR move in a politically charged debate.

In working with our clients, we use a narrative framework to arrive at purpose, typically standing on the shoulders of classic positioning, with two key ingredients to generating a resonate and culturally relevant purpose:

1. Define your addressable market as the protagonist. If your audience is the hero of your story, what is it they are seeking? What hinders them? What is the mission and ambition of their life?

2. Identify the key dilemma you can resolve for your audience. For Method, it’s the dilemma of having to choose between a dirty planet or a dirty house. They resolve that dilemma by offering the protagonist a way to get both a clean planet and a clean house. Tesla resolves the dilemma of wanting a high-performance car and wanting to reduce your carbon footprint. With Tesla, you can have both.

Identifying the dilemma your brand resolves helps you track the ability of your brand to truly address a real, emotionally-based, highly relevant tension point in the lives of people. By offering a resolution to that dilemma, you become indispensable.

When you establish that your company is up to something more than margins or bottom lines, but that you’re also choosing to resolve a real tension point or dilemma in people’s lives or in the market, you’ll resonate more, stick around longer, and achieve more sustainable, durable growth.

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