Last month I blogged on the purpose of a business and the problems that can arise when organizations lack a clear sense of purpose, or when they define success narrowly in financial (shareholder-centric) terms. Today’s post focuses on business purpose and its links to corporate brand strategy.
In the context of brand strategy, purpose energizes the organization’s “heart” — the intersection of corporate strategy, the organization’s shared values, and its fundamental reason for being. Purpose is the “zen of the brand,” in companies wise enough to define and be guided by a clear sense of corporate purpose.
Purpose as the Essence of Corporate Identity
Purpose animates the brand, infuses it with meaning, shapes and inspires the motivations of employees. When employees identify with the organization’s purpose, when it gives meaning to their work, customers benefit. The brand promise will be grounded in something meaningful and enduring – something that should outlast the cast of characters who lead the organization at any given point in time.
For the world’s best-loved brands, employees who closely self-identify with the purpose become passionate brand evangelists; the company, its products and the people behind them inspire cult-like loyalty among the customer base. Among yoga aficionados, Lululemon, a designer and retailer of high-end yoga gear, comes to mind. Nordstrom was once like this, as was BMW.
Apple was like this in the early days, when I worked on their marketing team. It’s painful to leave a job with a company that’s infused with a strong sense of purpose, particularly when your self-identity gets intertwined with the company’s mission. When you leave an organization like that and end up working in “normal,” run-of-the-mill companies, it can feel like Paradise Lost… Nothing is ever quite the same.
Beyond the “cult of Steve,” beyond its “cool factor,” one of the reasons why the Apple brand has had such powerful resonance among global consumers is the lasting power of its guiding purpose – and its enduring impact on two generations of Apple employees. Despite occasional missteps, Apple has enjoyed a long tradition of delighting its customers.
A clear and meaningful purpose, one that inspires employees to do their very best, can be a source of long-term competitive advantage, even when product generations come and go. This has certainly been the case for the core Disney brand.
If you want a more academic rationale for this premise, check out Richard Ellsworth’s Leading with Purpose, a well-researched book on the subject of corporate purpose and its impact on corporate performance.