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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Does Your Brand Have A Purpose & Can It Can Inspire Innovation?

pur·pose (pûr'ps) n.

1. The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. 2. A result or effect that is intended or desired; an intention.

I’ve lost count as to how many “P’s” there are now in marketing & branding. . .five, nine, fourteen? The number can be debated, but regardless of how many exist, I would advocate that one of the most important “P’s” to consider with today’s evolving consumer is PURPOSE. In a rising sea of sameness, successful brands are often the ones using purpose to differentiate themselves from competitors as consumers become increasing selective and savvy. So, what is brand's your purpose, how do you define it, and how can it help inspire innovation throughout your organization?

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THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL OF YOUR BRAND? PROFIT. If you didn’t answer profit, you have to stop and ask yourself, can you maintain your brand without generating a meaningful profit? The answer is no. Brands or companies that don’t understand that profit is the number one objective of every enterprise need to go back to the beginning and understand that more clearly. It does amaze me how many brands have to add “profit” as part of their mission, vision or value statements when it should be easy to understand that without profit, your brand doesn’t exist. Profit isn’t your purpose, but your purpose clearly has to accept the need to generate a profit.

However, at a starting point, a brand should be able to generate a profit with the commitment to “do no harm” in the process - to people, to the community, to the environment. While that sounds like a "no brainer" statement, stop and look at many companies and brands out there don’t necessarily fall into this category. Conversely, more and more companies today are moving upwards from “do no harm” and upgrading to a mantra of “do good while doing well”, or maybe even started on that foundation. In reality, we may come to a point in time where this becomes an expectation of the new consumer.

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WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF YOUR COMPANY Said more plainly, how do you generate a profit. Again, this seems like a pretty obvious question with a pretty obvious answer. But companies can easily lose focus when they don’t understand the basic foundation of why they are in business, what function they serve to their customers, whether providing a product or a service. This isn’t your purpose, but brands that don’t understand their basic function or value to the consumer need to spend time defining this before moving forward.

This is where it gets more complicated. Once you understand that your number one objective is to generate a profit, hopefully doing so functioning in a manner that rewards your community with value added, and you have a clear focus on your function, its time to ask “what purpose does my brand serve”.


Stop and think about this for a second. . .

  • If your answer starts with brand speak and starts with something like “to provide superior quality and high value”. .STOP. Every brand should focus on quality and value and saying that you are going to do so does little to distinguish your brand from the competition.

  • If your business model simply can’t see itself beyond the practice of duplicating what is already on the market but competing by trying to do it cheaper. .STOP. Chances are, someone will soon “out cheap” you and you go from having little value or purpose, to none.

  • If you start with “do things differently” and you start to get more vague from there. .STOP. Because your purpose won’t be easily defined, and more importantly understood by those who have to make it come to life.

  • If you define your purpose as “Giving back to. . .”, well, PAUSE for a second. Championing a cause, or even giving back isn’t necessary when it comes to purpose, though there are examples of brands, Tom’s as an example, that are founded on the purpose of giving back. If giving back is part of your purpose, it has to be done with intent, in a meaningful way to your brand, and in an authentic manner.

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Your PURPOSE is what makes you unique, it’s why consumers will not only choose you but keep coming back to you. It has to be hard to duplicate and it always evolving. It has to be easy for both your consumers and your associates to understand. Something your associates get sticky with and support through their direct and indirect actions. It has to relate to your core business, work to make it stronger, and form a foundation built on authenticity. If you define and execute your purpose effectively, it will in most cases transcend price. And drive a culture of innovation and loyalty on both sides of the transaction.

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Dove sells soap, at a profit. Pretty easy to understand their profit model and function as company. However, their purpose goes much deeper, "Dove believes that beauty - feeling and looking your personal best - is the result of proper care. Dove always aims to deliver products which tangibly improve the condition of skin or hair and give a pleasurable experience of care, because when you look and feel beautiful, it makes you feel happier. It’s a feeling every woman should experience every day." This purpose is woven into their actions, their branding, their marketing.

Starbucks sells coffee, within a side of community and acceptance, and a healthy does of profit. Howard Schultz is a classic "rags to riches" story, which drives purpose throughout his organization. Whether standing up for diversity, fighting hunger, supporting his associates to give to others through service, or supporting the college education of so many who work for Starbucks, purpose shines through every cup. It shows in the interactions that customers have with engaged associates. And helps to set the company apart.

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HOW PURPOSE DRIVES INNOVATIVE THINKING. Airlines have been in the news lately, and not for the best reasons. Each have the goal of making a profit, though some are better at it than others. Each airline’s function is pretty clear, move people from Point A to Point B. Safely I would add. But when you look at who is successful in this space, it is those with a clearly understandable purpose that their associates are charged with and excited about putting into action. As an example, consider Virgin Atlantic (and prior to Alaska Airlines purchase, Virgin America). Richard Branson's purpose when he purchased his first plane over two decades ago was to “challenge the status quo and put people first”, both those who work for him, as well as those who travel Virgin. This definition of purpose understands that he is in business to make a profit, understands that their basic function is moving people from Point A to Point B. But Branson set out to find a way to accomplish this while adding fun into flying and have travel be something that people looked forward to.

This purpose encourages the entire Virgin organization to “fly in the face of ordinary” which is why they look at ordinary items like safety videos and boarding passes in disruptive ways; a safety video that is so shockingly entertaining that it has millions of views on YouTube when the average flyer doesn’t watch the safety video of their carrier when they are captive on the plane. A boarding pass that has been thoughtfully designed to fold and fit neatly in your pocket. Purpose.

Yes, Richard Branson provides plenty of theatrics; it is hard to imagine a legacy carrier like United or American Airlines with a CEO who dresses as a female flight attendant, encouraging its flyers to “get cheeky” on airlines, or rides into town to pitch new gates in a Cowboy hat & boots. However with a more limited budget than one would think, Virgin has disrupted the airline industry through executing to its purpose and the safety video and boarding passes referenced above, cost no more than the typical elements at competitor airlines. These innovations were created by associates and partners who understood that their challenge was to “fly in the face of ordinary”, “challenge the status quo”, and to “put people first.”


So, what is the PURPOSE of your brand? How does it set you apart from your competition? Do your associates embrace your purpose and does it help guide their actions? Can your customers clearly see it in every transaction, on their way to advocacy? And does it drive your culture towards greater innovation? Questions worth asking.

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