Who are you? Why are you here? What do you do?
These are the questions of purpose, questions that people ask themselves on an intimate level, and have for quite a long time. But how often do you ask these questions of your business?
What’s interesting about the current climate in business and marketing is that these questions are becoming central to how we function across the entire enterprise. “Purpose” and “purpose-thinking” is all the rage right now—and for good reason. From “purpose-driven” personal growth tools to the millennial workforce’s quest to have their careers and purchases explicitly connected with social change, the question of purpose for businesses (and especially marketers) has never been more urgent.
Overall, I believe this conversation to be a good thing. My sensitivity in this discussion around finding your purpose is not to make this out to be something distinctly “other,” or to fall into the trap of thinking that purpose can be invented or engineered by a marketing firm or branding agency.
Every brand has a purpose, whether they know it or not.
The challenge lies in finding that purpose in the DNA of your organization and placing it in the right setting so that the workforce embraces it in an authentic way. Let me explain.
The Diamond in the Rough.
Finding your organization’s purpose is actually, to some degree, a misnomer. You don’t “find” it in the same way you “find” your lost smartphone charger or car keys. You also don’t “find” it in the sense that once you do, your job is done. The process of moving from ambiguity to clarity for your brand’s purpose is much like finding a diamond in the rough and then working to bring out that diamond’s best features by giving it the right cut, shine, setting, etc. You’re starting with something that’s intrinsically there but needs to be refined and articulated well enough that it drives the behavior of everyone in the company.
So how is it really done? How do you discover and refine your purpose and own it in a way that’s authentic to the overall brand? Here are three things to think about as you take on this challenge:
Audit like a pit bull. Perhaps the most important element in establishing your purpose is to take an unflinching and wide-sweeping audit of your brand from top to bottom. This includes explicit and implicit channels and is driven by a desire to really understand what’s underneath the bedrock of your organizational identity. The keys to success here are fearlessness and honesty—on everyone’s part—and they require actively seeking input from employees, customers, partners, and other key stakeholders. This is essential.
Look beyond the numbers. As CMO, you must know that I love numbers and metrics. I’m a huge fan of analytics and am always looking for that perfect mix of the creative and analytical. When it comes to purpose, you must be attuned to the ways in which values are perceived and communicated beyond the numbers. You must be empathetic to how your organization’s values are lived out (or not) by your employees and, oftentimes, this is a soft metric and not a hard set of numbers. Look for the story behind the data.
Push integration over addition. I can’t stress this point enough. One cannot simply summon a taskforce, produce some research, and spit out some mission language that will be added to the employee handbook. This is not the approach. You cannot bolt this on. Purpose must mix like water throughout your organization and must be integrated into every aspect of life at your business; otherwise, it’s just a flimsy marketing gimmick.
Let me explain it this way: You will know when your organization has a clear and focused purpose when everyone in your organization acts as marketers because they believe in the purpose. In other words, the test of success is also the goal. It’s purpose in action. I can’t lay enough emphasis on the fact that reaching this level of organizational alignment cannot happen without involving employees and stakeholders throughout the journey. This is what will separate the authentic from the artificial when it comes to purpose.
I want to tell you bluntly that this process is hard, sometimes brutal. It’s a difficult process as we work to understand, dissect, solidify, and communicate the kind of across-the-board brand purpose that impacts nearly every customer on every continent. But it can also be rewarding and sometimes even fun. More importantly, now more than ever it’s absolutely essential for everyone from the boardroom to the marketing suite.
Purpose. It’s what drives us, makes us who we are, and what gives us the motivation to be the best we can be. This is a topic of conversation I hope to speak to again this spring, but for now, live with purpose and let me know your thoughts below in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter at @marstarke