It’s time to accept the truth about purpose.
The debate may rage on about the emptiness of some of the statements or the hypocrisy of some of the organisations or the retro-fitting of some of the advertising.
But as a concept it has clearly won.
Company visions and missions remain, but they now gaze enviously at purpose, with its shimmering Sinek circles.
Personal statements lie lovingly crafted but sadly unread on profiles as we search for that one magic key to our personal fulfilment.
And brand essences cling to the belief that it all means the same thing, what a brand stands for. But that now sounds so static next to those dynamic purpose definitions:
“Why we do what we do.”
“How we’re going to change the world for the better.”
Of course, those two definitions of purpose are fundamentally different.
“Why we do what we do” is inner-directed. It’s about looking inside until you come up with the real reason you get up in the morning.
The idea is to provide internal focus, whether for an individual, a team or an organisation. That then drives strategy and execution.
“How we’re going to change the world for the better” is outer-directed. It’s a higher-order benefit, higher on up the ladder.
It should follow on naturally from what you’re going to do for people and how that will improve their lives.
But it cries out to be communicated. What’s the point of saving the world if no one gets to hear about it?
There is another definition of purpose around:
“What we’re here to do.”
This is something rare in the world of purpose, a touch of humility. A lot of purpose-searching is little more than brands trying to make themselves sound more important. This has its feet closer to the ground.
As a result, I quite like it.
Up until now I’ve been inclined to see purpose as something internal, like a motive in storytelling.
But the more I see of brands communicating their purpose, the more it seems that focusing on your ‘why?’ isn’t enough to engage people. You need to be inward and outward.
Also, there are more examples now of brands doing purpose well. Not just the poster children like Dove, Nike and Patagonia.
Just this week we’ve had McVities with its ‘Be kind to your mind’ campaign and the encouragement to pause for a chat.
And Santander with its new ‘Antandec’ campaign that shifts its purpose from ‘Here to help you prosper’ to ‘See what’s possible’.
Of course, there will always be two acid tests of any purpose.
Do you mean it? And not just you but everyone involved? If not, beware the clanging of the inauthenticity bell, particularly if you’re hailing the next social issue on the rank.
And will it work? Is it as competitive, credible and compelling as any good positioning should be? If not, prepare yourself for the cold, hard stare of the shareholder.
That’s the problem with winning.
It’s like the boss of the first agency I worked at, who said to me once:
“You think when you make it to the top that you’ve made it. But then you realise it’s just a ledge and the only option is to keep on climbing.”