As trust in companies continues to decline, and the needs of consumers and employees increasingly evolve, many innovative organizations are now turning to purpose as a means to bolster their growth and outmaneuver the competition.
While these innovators aren’t the only ones that understand the power of a shared purpose, the vast majority of companies have yet to effectively integrate it across their organization. According to Harvard Business Review’s The Business Case for Purpose, while 84% of executives believe an organization that has shared purpose will be more successful in transformation efforts, and 81% believe purpose-driven firms deliver higher-quality products and services, only 37% of executives believe that their own business model and operations are aligned with their company’s purpose
Only 37% of executives believe that their own business model and operations are aligned with their company’s purpose. Harvard Business Review
The successful integration and implementation of purpose, both inside and outside your organization, is directly related to your company’s ability to grow and compete in the digital age. And despite the increasing popularity of the business purpose concept, many companies are getting it wrong.
Purpose is not a veneer
Your company’s purpose is not only what you’re here to do (beyond making money), but the reason people — both customers and employees — connect with and believe in your organization. Purpose goes way beyond what your company sells or solves; it’s about who your company is.
73% of people care about the company, not just the product, when making a purchase. BBMG
Purpose does not mean making a charitable contribution from sales and it isn’t necessarily comprised of altruistic, environmental, or social do-goodery, but it does need to be authentic. It’s the foundation for building a company that people want to work for and do business with.
The way purpose shows itself inside your organization is inextricably linked to how you’re perceived on the outside, affecting everything from the happiness, engagement and retention of employees, to word of mouth, loyalty, advocacy, and even customer acquisition and retention.
85% of purpose-led companies showed positive growth of at least 10% annually. Harvard Business Review
Your organization needs to do a stellar job of communicating your purpose to the outside world. But because consumers now easily see through marketing, no matter how strategic and clear the message is, purpose cannot be faked. Purpose is not a veneer.
72% of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose. EY
Externally, purpose is most easily communicated through your marketing content, but it’s more deeply felt by the consumer through your approach to sales and customer experience. In other words, regardless of what your company “says,” how your company and its employees interact with the outside world—your customers and your community— can be the dividing line between success and failure for an entire company. Especially when things fall apart.
Take Chipotle for example.
In a nutshell, the company’s purpose is food with integrity. Not just sourcing, preparing, and serving whole food, but disrupting the fast food industry and how it typically operates.
And although their advertising is very clever and human and full of personality, when you dive deeper into their organization, you realize that their purpose isn’t just something they serve up on the surface in their marketing, it’s something that comes from the core of their organization’s soul. It’s in their DNA.
Purpose, not product-focused
Chipotle’s marketing isn’t just about burritos and the stuff they sell. Videos like Scarecrow and Back to the Start took a stand back in 2013 against how the fast food industry typically operates and sources its food. Chipotle holds free festivals each year like Cultivate where people gather in their local communities to celebrate good food, music, and connect with each other over ideas and values.
Chipotle has sponsored a Food for Thought column on the Huffington Post to build awareness and hold the conversation about how food is grown and the effects this system has on our world. They’ve invested in programs and better ways of working that encourage their employees to self-manage, which in turn empowers them to be better leaders.
For Chipotle, these efforts aren’t just marketing campaigns; they’re exhibitions of their purpose. This is how they’ve operated from the start. And even though their struggle right now with food safety issues is real and threatening the durability of the company, they’re working relentlessly to get back to their purpose and live their promise. Not only testing new ways of preparing their food to be safe and full of the integrity they promise, but also pioneering food safety systems for the rest of the fast food industry to learn from.
Chipotle is a shining example of how to communicate your purpose to the outside world through sales and marketing, through every single touchpoint, because they are purpose-driven through and through: leadership, strategy, operations, and employees.
Patagonia is an equally shining example of a company who effectively markets and sells from purpose. They use their business not just to make money but to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Again, why they truly exist isn’t just apparent in their marketing, it’s not product-focused, and it’s not a PR facade.
Patagonia’s approach to sales and marketing has everything to do with externally communicating their purpose and this has taken many forms. Of late, a new revenue stream where Patagonia will offer store credit for used, recycle-worthy Patagonia clothing and, in turn, refurbish and re-sell the clothing online.
An additional reincarnation of their purpose to wreak less harm on the earth and encourage other corporations to do the same can be seen in Worn Wear — a movement to encourage their customers to buy less stuff, and instead get more out of what they already have. All of these actions are a clear representation of why Patagonia exists as a company; it’s their true DNA. All of this meaty and meaningful content that also happens to be their marketing.
And although financially, Patagonia is thriving, they’ve had their share of actions that conflict with their purpose. Using materials in volume that have been proven to do more damage once released into public waterways than plastic grocery bags. Yet once they were informed of the problem, they ran tests to verify and researched new yarn and fabric construction that would alleviate the shedding that caused the environmental damage.
Similar to Chipotle, Patagonia shared their learnings with the apparel industry in order to partner and find a solution on an industry-wide scale, not just to save face. Their hope is that other companies will take advantage of the technology and processes they’re pioneering, effectively increasing impact and further utilizing their organization as a means to make progress towards their purpose.
Purpose is certainly not the only factor that contributes to a company’s success or failure. Product, culture, brand, strategy, leadership, and even convergence, competition, market pressure, and economic shifts all play a part in their fate. However, an expertly articulated and executed purpose will give your organization a fighting chance. Not just to more profit and bigger market share, but to better employees and customers who will advocate on your behalf, even when your company blows it.
Customers no longer believe what you say. They will, however, believe what you do as long as it’s also felt through the experiences you provide.
Purpose lies at the heart of your business model. It should drive your growth strategy, focus, culture, and your way of operating. When purpose starts there, your sales and marketing naturally becomes a meaningful conversation that truly engages the people you want in your customer base and together, through your company, you become a vehicle for greater change in our world.
Clarifying and applying purpose to your sales, marketing, and customer experience
One of the biggest fails with purpose inside organizations is implementation. Many companies invest the money to identify or clarify their purpose, but when it comes to living it in the day-to-day, communicating it through their actions, or how they market, sell, and connect with their customers, purpose gets lost along with its benefits. Much like a mission or values statement, it becomes nothing more than the words stenciled on a wall or penned in an employee manual — read once, if you’re lucky, at onboarding and then forgotten.
Your sales, marketing, and customer experience teams play the biggest role in living the purpose of your company because they are integral in communicating what’s on the inside to who’s on the outside. Consider taking these steps in your organization to effectively clarify and implement purpose for increased growth and competitive advantage:
1. Clarify the purpose of your organization
The first step in clarifying your company’s purpose is understanding what purpose isn’t. Your company’s purpose is not your vision, mission, or values. It is not your brand guidelines or PR strategy, a tagline or a trend. It’s not corporate responsibility. And most importantly, it’s not giving a bunch of money to charity (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not purpose).
Your purpose is aspirational and belief driven, much broader than your products or services, and lies at the heart of your business model. Ultimately, your purpose improves the lives of your customers and your employees.
Ideally you want to clarify your organization’s purpose by pairing a cultural tension — a problem in the world that your company is looking to address — with who you are at your best self (this is an Ogilvy and Mather’s tool that Arielle Jackson explains well here).
For Dove, their purpose is to help women feel good about their bodies, not just sell soap. This purpose is relevant, meaningful, and it’s the key to connection and what drove a $1.5 billion dollar increase in sales. So it’s really important your teams are clear about what purpose is or isn’t so that they can effectively use it to understand your customers and talk with them through their acquisition and retention strategies.
2. Deconstruct your customer’s journey by actually talking with your customers
Once you have clarity on the purpose of your organization, take a look at how that connects you to your customers. Work for a deeper understanding of your customer’s journey — not solely through analyzing sales funnel drop-off rates, demographic or psychographic audience data, but by participating in actual conversations with customers in real life. Make the effort to understand what they’re thinking and feeling at every stage.
When your sales, marketing, and customer experience teams can bridge the gap between the purpose of the company and how it aligns with your customer’s needs and removes their unique roadblocks you crack the code to earning a coveted connection that leads to word-of-mouth: amplification, advocacy, loyalty, activism.
3. Connect your team’s purpose to your organization’s purpose
As a leader, there are two questions to be answered here: 1) What does the organization as whole exist to achieve? In other words, what is the purpose besides making money? 2) What role does your team play in achieving that purpose?
Your teams need to understand how their daily contributions matter to the overarching purpose of the company. Especially when they’re pushing hard on things that seem meaningless; understanding how purpose relates to strategy and their day-to-day can go a long way for efficiency, output, and morale. In short, meaning matters to your employees.
4. Adjust the communication of your purpose externally
Finally, in order to effectively communicate and connect with your customers, your sales, marketing, and customer experience teams especially need to understand that the conversation is not just about your product, but also about your purpose. They need to be perceptive, strategic, and creative in how, where, and when that conversation takes place.
A well articulated and implemented purpose gives your marketing team a more focused approach to creative ideation, execution, and outreach. Often brand guidelines and historical data isn’t enough fodder for brilliant campaigns and relevant content. If you take Dove for example, there are thousands of ways to talk about the importance of helping women feel better in their own skin, and only a handful of ways to talk about soap.
When your sales and marketing force changes the conversation from product to purpose, you open up the opportunity to connect with exponentially more people — organizations, influencers, media, communities — who either are or know your ideal customer. Not only that, but now your sales force is empowered because they’re no longer just pushing a product or service, they’re selling something much more meaningful.
Business purpose is a parallel path
In order to get your growth strategy right in the digital age, you can’t just tell people your organization operates from the purpose of your business. You have to prove you’re on a parallel path between what’s happening inside your company and what you’re exhibiting on the outside.
Internally, purpose should be part of your business model. It should come in the form of authentic leadership and from employees at all levels; not top-down management mandates. It should be at the center of decision-making for growth strategy and overall company direction. It needs to be the source of innovation because it is the key to differentiation and competitive advantage. Most importantly, when done right, purpose should be the backbone of your culture, effectively driving how your teams self-manage, collaborate, and work together on a day-to-day basis.
The truth is, customers no longer believe your marketing alone. In order to earn and keep your customers, you must know how to effectively exhibit and fight for your purpose through your actions and the experiences you provide. That’s what will create the conditions necessary to achieve sustainable growth.
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