Every business’s goal is to make money for one reason or another. But if that’s the only reason you’re in business, you’re going to have a harder time making said money. Brands today need something more than just enterprise to succeed. They need deeper meaning — a.k.a. purpose and vision.
Sometimes called a mission, your purpose and vision is the foundational belief about your brand. It’s your company’s reason for existing (beyond money) based on a particular set of values and world views. It’s also the cornerstone of any good brand strategy.
This might seem limiting or confusing, and some founders and CEOs may even see it as “fluff,” but it can actually be the saving grace of some brands. That’s why we created this blog. To help you not only understand the value of your brand positioning but also to teach you how you can discover and utilize it in your business.
Why Start with a Purpose?
The short answer: Your purpose will act as your true north.
“I like to solidify brand purpose first because it sits at the very core of your brand building efforts,” Frank says. “Your deeper purpose and vision should remain relatively constant as your brand grows, which means it needs to be timeless. You’re not focused on capitalizing on trends or even positioning here; you’re thinking about establishing brand values around a central belief.”
Frank interviewed our CEO, Tyler Pigott, to show this point in action:
“On a business and brand level, a clearly articulated purpose acts as a decision-making device. It becomes a filter to make tough decisions easier, resulting in choices that create a focused, consistent and authentic brand that establishes and solidifies its place in the market over time,” Frank explains.
“Not only that, but company purpose is a compass of inspiration and direction for the people on your team. People want to attach meaning to what they do, and plenty of studies show that we work more productively when we can.”
So purpose goes beyond external branding. It also gives teams a deeper sense of meaning. Plus, it often helps attract better talent, which is a major factor in sustainable success because having better people gives you a better chance of beating competitors over time and carving out your market share.
Unless you’re a smaller business that started out of a pure passionate interest or desire to accomplish something specific, finding your purpose might seem difficult. However, there are select questions, exercises and frameworks that can help you find it.
Places to Look for Purpose
Sometimes, the hardest thing is knowing where to start. Especially for larger organizations that have been around for a while or for whom the CEO is not the founder, purpose can be hard to identify. The following are a few places to begin your search.
- Origin or Founder Story. Even if they’re no longer around or involved, knowing how the company was born can be an inspirational narrative to pull from. Often, a business and brand is a reflection of the founder’s values, so it’s a promising start point.
- Customer Focus. If the customer or an unmet market need is at the cornerstone of your business, translating that same functional narrative into your emotional sense of purpose is a great idea. A good example of this is a business that focuses on helping veterans get jobs. The purpose might be something around “ensuring every veteran can use their skills to build a great life for themselves and their family.”
- Cumulative Values. Maybe your company really ebbed and flowed over the years and has morphed into a sum of its parts. Do some internal research on the common denominators throughout your teams to identify a universal sense of purpose.
- Previous Mission/Vision. Even though purpose should be relatively consistent over time, it can still shift and even require changing to meet the current landscape or cultural moment. Consider using an outdated or initial mission or vision statement to drive one that’s more fit for who you want to be moving forward. Patagonia is a prime example of this. Their original mission statement was “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They have since really doubled down on their environmental efforts, which have become the core focus of their brand. That reflects in their updated mission statement: “We're in business to save our home planet.”
Don’t feel like you have to embark on this journey alone, either. Pull in team members, stakeholders and anyone else invested in your brand as you work to discover your purpose. The more you can collaborate with other members in your organization, the more likely you are to reach the true purpose of your company and thus build a strong brand.
Questions to Ask
Teams often already hold the information that’s key to identifying strategic brand elements, it just takes the right cue to extract them. Here are a few questions you can ask to identify your purpose and vision:
- Why do you exist beyond money?
- What do you want to be known for?
- How do you want to change the world for the better?
- What's your opinion on what needs to change in your industry? What are you doing to change it?
- What do you want your business to do for people over the next ten years?
Purpose-driven brands are ones with quality answers to these key questions. They’ve identified their target audience and are dedicated to building customer loyalty by creating an emotional connection with their customers.
Think about Nike, which makes athletes feel unbeatable. Or Dove, which makes their clients feel beautiful no matter what. These are companies that know exactly why they exist beyond profits, and what social impact they want to make, in addition to consistently taking the initiative to change their industries.
As you ponder these five questions, don’t be afraid to find some brand purpose examples from big names like Amazon or Apple or another company you admire. Don’t copy their mission — that won’t help your brand at all — but use their success as inspiration to help you hone your brand vision.
Fill in the Blank
After gathering some thoughts from the above questions and exercises, attempt to narrow down the direction of your purpose statement by articulating it with the following framework.
This tool is taken from The Big IdeaL model, originally derived from the world-class agency responsible for an endless list of remarkable brands — Ogilvy.
“Early on, don’t get too concerned with word-smithing,” Frank advises. “Getting the wording figured out is important, but the difficult part is making sure the idea that sits in that blank is true, inspirational and emotional. So be sure to make that the focus.”
Do you want to be a brand that focuses on sustainability, activism, boosting your customers’ self-esteem, fighting climate change? There’s no end to the purposeful possibilities. You just have to find one that reflects your brand’s values and that you can weave into the fabric of your marketing strategy.
What’s Your Purpose?
This is the heart of the matter: Without a purpose and vision behind your brand, you won’t resonate on a deeper level with your audience. Your brand needs a heart and soul. So go through these exercises and really think about how your brand affects your customers now, and how you want it to affect them in future.
Once you've determined your purpose, you'll need to create space for your brand in the market. Learn how to differentiate yourself from competitors in Frank's next lesson on brand strategy.