Purpose, purpose, blah, blah, blah…

By Gerry Hopkinson, Founder & CEO, Unity,

Purpose. The word of the year? Of the decade? It’s everywhere. People wave it around like a flag, grinning their socks off. Purpose is everything. Purpose will save you. What’s your purpose? Is it authentic? Do you live it? The rant goes on and on (and I’m often the one doing the ranting). It’s enough to make you want to ignore the very idea of purposeful business and I wouldn’t blame you one bit.

But you’d be missing out big time.

Sometimes, an idea so encapsulates a social, cultural and economic shift that it radiates with pure meaning, blinding us with its brilliance and taking over everything else.

I’m old enough to remember the first wave of Internet fanaticism, it was the answer to all of life’s problems. In some ways, it still is, but we’ve calmed down about it in the intervening years.

I think the same thing will happen with purpose as we come to realise it is one of the core strands of any brand’s DNA. Clearly, you still need a great idea, fantastic people, brilliant execution and financial acumen to survive and thrive, but without purpose you won’t grow as fast, or be as resilient, or attract and keep the right people, customers and supply chain.

Stated simply, all businesses and all brands have an effect on the world. That effect may be conscious or unconscious, intended or un-intended but it happens all the same.

Purpose, in a business context is really all about defining the effect a brand or business wants to have and why.

Underneath everything else, purpose is about defining why you exist, what you mean, what you believe and what you want to bring into the world. Of course, all businesses want to make profits and most want to grow, that’s the nature of business. But if that’s all you want, you’re likely to come unstuck, get lost in the woods, fail to inspire, fail to survive the bad times and well, often just fail. Of course, on its own making money is perfectly good. It provides jobs, wealth, opportunity and value but we now expect businesses to do more than make money. We expect them to step up to the challenges we face and make a difference not just a profit.

There is a ton of evidence which shows that brands with purpose outperform the market, have much higher employee satisfaction rates, get the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, can evolve and innovate faster and better and generally kick ass in most ways than you can imagine. If you don’t believe me Google it.

Why is purpose powerful? Because, we are hard-wired to find and embrace meaning. We want to feel that what we do, who we are, how we live matters beyond ourselves. We want to believe in something. When we know why we are here, we radiate happiness and satisfaction. It doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, or question ourselves, but we have something guiding us like a north star, pulling us along and giving us strength.

The same is doubly true of brands. When they stand for something, mean something and have a declared purpose, they build strong values to underpin that purpose, they build a strong culture to enable that purpose and they build strong bonds to share that purpose.

As communicators and guardians of reputation our task is immeasurably improved by purpose. When we know the “why” of a brand as Simon Sinek says, we can deliver the what and how what with greater force and clarity.

Purpose speaks to four communication pathways; employee engagement, consumer engagement, civic engagement and market engagement. Putting purpose at the heart of these conversations means that our campaigns can be greater than the sum of their parts.

One of the things I hear all the time is, “purpose has to be authentic”. My response is, why would it be anything else? Why would you say you exist to do one thing, and then do another? Of course, it has to be authentic. That’s like saying, food has to have calories. Or sentences need to have words.

So here’s a simple guide to purpose:

1 Define it: ask why you exist. What are you here to do and why?

2 Own it: ensure everything you say and do feeds that purpose even if it means you challenge the status quo (most of the time it means you kick the status quo to the curb).

3 Share it: let others know what it is, help your people, partners, customers and the wider community understand why it matters and what it means.

Oh, and enjoy the ride.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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