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How to Consider What Your Purpose is

How to Consider What Your Purpose is

October 4, 2020

Business has changed radically since 1962 when Milton Freidman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, that there is “one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

The new digital environment has changed the forces that drive business. The economic changes, new technologies, increased globalisation and radical socio-political shifts, and now the Coronavirus epidemic, mean that organisations are moving away from pure profit-focused business towards business being a force for good. Aligning yourself to worthwhile causes or focusing your brand around a purpose is the holy grail of branding nowadays

If you’re in an industry which intrinsically has a social impact so that you can do what you do in a more sustainable way you can readily demonstrate purpose. It is clearly going to be easier for such a business to find a purpose in its business model.

Greenwashing, that is, making unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly will do more harm than good for a business though. It goes without saying that in looking to find a purpose for what you do it is essential to be authentic.

It is a bad idea to build in a purpose if it just isn’t there because it’s not going to be enough to just state your purpose – you have to prove you mean it in everything you do and say. Your words and actions must align with your purpose, and that’s the hard part. So, it’s best to just not use purpose in your business unless you can be completely wholehearted about your choice.

So, with that caveat that being purpose driven, let’s consider why it matters to find a purpose behind what you do, and how to go about doing it.

This emphasis on purpose has something to do with the millennial generation. They see corporations as less permanent and reliable than their predecessors because they came of working age during the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath and grew up in an era in which start-ups have gone from nothing to valuations in the billions seemingly overnight. So they have new attitudes towards work. They expect more flexibility in the workplace, to progress faster in their careers and to be able to switch jobs more regularly.

C-suites find themselves caught between shareholders wanting them to adapt quickly to maximize profits and head off the competition, and employees who no longer see themselves as in a job for life and customers whose expectations have shifted.

Study after study urges companies to be purpose-driven. For example, according to a report by Ernest & Young, businesses today are finding that doing good also means doing well. Apparently, companies with an established sense of purpose – one that’s measured in terms of social impact, such as community growth, and not a given bottom-line figure – outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times between 1996 and 2011.”

Therefore, given that there is all this evidence that a business with purpose is more successful stakeholders in organisations want to identify a purpose beyond the balance sheet: one that contributes a positive impact in the wider world.

So, purpose has become one of the major planks to think about when establishing your brand strategy. Yet it is a very difficult exercise to do. I have a few thoughts to guide your thinking on how to tackle this for your business.

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek picked up on this theme of purpose in his best-selling book Start with Why which sets out to demonstrate that a purpose-driven team achieves so much more.

In the book he explains that most people know what an organization does, but few know why they do it. Sinek’s Golden Circle envisages starting from “Why” before moving on to the “How” and “What”.

So it has become de riguer in business circles to identify your ‘why’. Identifying a purpose or cause is important so it can motivate team members who are involved in the business, and also move customers to choose you over your competitors

A purpose that your team members can get behind needs to be a high-level aspirational reason for existing and acting in your business. Purpose is different from your mission in that the mission is all about what you’re trying to do with this business. Your values and beliefs influence the way you do everything, they’re your worldview. Values impact the approach you take to what you do. They’re also relevant to your purpose, but your purpose for existing is something separate.

Most purpose-driven leaders can articulate their mission– but many mission-driven leaders cannot articulate their purpose. Purpose is different from mission in the sense that it is the meaning behind your existence, the reason you do what you do.

Knowing and communicating “the why behind the what” in everything you do, not only creates higher motivation and engagement in your team members but also buy-in from your customers. apparently

Your values are bedded in after the purpose – values are how you behave to achieve your why according to Simon Sinek’s ted talk. Values are the how you achieve your mission.

Purpose-driven organisations stay core to their mission by always keeping the “why” in mind. They keep their company’s purpose at the centre by communicating a message of how they add value and enhance the lives of others.

The way this works for example, if you’re a florist whose purpose is to spread joy, is that flowers are just one of the ways you might do that. If the world around you is changing and impacting flowers, then you could consider how else you can spread joy. So, it’s very valuable on a personal level to work out your purpose, what drives you, why you do what you do.

I have personally found it quite an elusive exercise to identify my purpose. Sometimes I have thought I’ve identified my purpose only to find that what I thought was my purpose, was more like my mission. Rather than explaining my reason for being, the WHY we exist as a business, it really only reinforced WHAT we focus on as a business. The reason wasn’t the equivalent to a florist discovering that their purpose is to spread joy.

Looking at Well-known Brands

I’ve tried looking at well-known brands for inspiration.

Nike’s purpose is to bring inspiration to every athlete in the world. They say, if you have a body you’re an athlete. In other words, we are all athletes. Nike’s purpose says nothing about their product. Their slogan Just do it, is a great way to instil this inspiration. Their purpose is much bigger than their products. 

Ted’s purpose is to spread ideas. They look for ways to make this purpose come to life. 

Mayo’s purpose is to inspire hope and contribute to health – this is much bigger than the services they offer.

Coke’s purpose is to inspire moments of optimism and happiness.

How to inject purpose into an organisation is key because the next generation of millennials want to join a purpose. They’re not just looking for financial rewards. They want social and emotional rewards from the work they do. They want to work for companies whose purpose they believe in.

Only 15% of employees have an emotional connection to the company they work for. In small companies most are focused on the business problem – and are passionate about solving the problem. They have a founders’ mindset. It’s easier to have that in a smaller organisation than in a big company.

While we are led to believe that consumers also want to see a purpose-driven enterprise in order to buy, Byron Sharp’s work, How Brands Grow doesn’t support this view. People are busy, their reasons for buying a brand are varied, and more likely to be based on what is in front of them at the moment when they’re looking to buy, and whether they remember your brand. They are not going to take the time to look into your purpose and mission because they don’t care that much about the meaning that brands try to inject. Or rather they probably don’t notice unless your product has an obvious social impact which a particular buyer is particularly focused on seeing before they will buy.

This makes logical sense to me, because when clients chose us as to do an intellectual property audit, or to register a trade mark for them, I doubt very much they’re influenced by whether we have a purpose or whether we are contributing to charitable causes. Instead they’re primarily concerned to see that we have the right expertise for their needs.

If we identified a social cause that can be activated in an authentic way to manifest that the purpose of our service goes deeper than solely generating sales, I really doubt it would motivate buyers to choose us.

But apparently research exists to show that consumers value brands that support charitable causes. It seems 39% of consumers buy into integrated cause strategies such as “sell one, donate one” of brands such as TOMS shoes.

This takes me back to the importance of only choosing a purpose that is authentic to you. If you decide to run with a cause bear in mind that it’s unlikely to inspire your team or your buyers if you just use this as a marketing stunt.

When and if you identify your purpose or a cause you can get behind, then find a way to implement it internally so you build the brand from the inside of the organisation out to the external world. That entails fleshing out your purpose in longer explanatory narratives, along with your values statements so that people within the organisation can get a good understanding of what you stand for and believe in and what conduct is appropriate for them to demonstrate when they represent the brand.

If you can’t identify a purpose yet, then my suggestion is to just use mission and purpose as interchangeable terms. Then one day if you do identify a separate purpose you can add it into your brand book. Certainly, Airbnb has made its brand purpose/mission that of belonging. They don’t distinguish between their mission and purpose.

Personal Fulfilment

Personally, I have been interested to try to identify my purpose, what fulfils me, out of sheer curiosity. For example, I know that I never intend to retire. I can’t think of anything worse than stopping work. I’m driven to do what I do by something, so I try to understand what this it, to know my purpose. Purpose Is Innate to The Human Condition.

Studies have shown that living a life of purpose leads to better health, overall happiness, and enjoyment in life.

We all want to dedicate ourselves to a cause greater than ourselves. Doing so contributes to our need for significance and meaning, so it is satisfying to work out your purpose, regardless whether it’s going to increase the sales of your business to have a purpose you can articulate. It might just help in getting greater clarity about what you can uniquely deliver in the world.

So I have been curious to learn what drives me to continue to want to work forever. Looking at others, it’s clear that I’m not alone. Something is driving many people to work, beyond making money.

For example, Warren Buffet’s business is investment management so of course it’s about making money. But that doesn’t mean he’s continuing his work because he wants to make more money. Indeed, he is giving away at least half his wealth to the Bill Gates Foundation.  There is clearly a purpose behind why he does what he does, otherwise he would retire instead of continuing to work in his 90s. He clearly loves what he does.

As Steve Jobs put it, doing work you love is important.

You’ve got to find what you love . . . Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work”..”the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Finding out what you love to do is part and parcel of getting really clear about your purpose and is the reason it takes quite a lot of introspection to think through.

One way I approached purpose when I was thinking through the Azrights brand was to look at the UN’s global goals for sustainability.

That’s because Daniel Priestley’s Key Person of Influence Program supports the Global Goals by encouraging the businesses that pass through the program to choose 2 Global Goals that they can get behind and support.

The UN Global Goals were set in September 2015 when the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which build on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. That Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development.

The 17 sustainable development goals to transform the world are as follows:

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

The 2 goals that naturally align to what my business does would be Goals 9 and 16, innovation (which Intellectual property is all about) and justice which fits with us being lawyers. However, for a long time, I didn’t follow Daniel Priestley’s suggestion because I just couldn’t choose these 2 goals over other goals, such as no poverty, no hunger, and climate change which are hugely important. I just couldn’t opt for Goals 9 and 16 over these other problems, but on the other hand, solving these problems is not what my business is all about so having those as my purpose just wouldn’t fit. I could have simply chosen some causes to contribute to financially and approached the exercise as a Social Corporate Responsibility exercise. But I wanted more, I wanted to understand what drives me.

The thing with a lot of the exercises you need to do as part of your branding, is that you tend to progress them incrementally. Your best thinking at one moment in time, such as when you undergo your visual identity, is not set in stone. You need to keep thinking about your brand beyond branding in order to make the best use of the concepts of branding. 

So, I kept revisiting my brand strategy, and recently when I was thinking about my purpose again, I had a flash of inspiration.

It dawned on me that everything I’m about as a person, what drives me, and which drives my business is education and learning. As a business we have always created a lot of content, team members contributed to our blogs, did the research for the 2 books I’ve written. I’m now writing another one which is all about branding rather than purely about IP, all in the quest to learn more, and then to educate the market so businesses don’t make some of the disastrous mistakes I’ve known them to make. Essentially I want to help them to be more successful in their businesses, to be smarter about branding, and take IP into account during branding so they make better choices. Indeed I want the brand to act as a road map in their business journey.

That points to putting the purpose of the business as education and learning. It’s aligned with Goal #4. I can get behind Goal #4 because in many ways education is the key to addressing other problems including hunger, poverty and climate change which matter to me a lot. If everyone had access to education and learning, it would enable them to lift themselves out of their circumstances.

Education as a Driver of the Azrights Business

In my business educating the market is not necessarily the best idea from a pure self-interest perspective because when we handled disputes in law courts, the fees we got far exceeded what we get from work like IP audits, or international trade mark registration or oppositions in the EU or IPO offices, or drafting legal agreements. So, in many ways you could say that educating the world about IP pitfalls to enable business owners to avoid making mistakes that could lead to court disputes, was not really in my self-interest. But I was driven to do it, primarily because that’s my purpose. I have an innate need to learn and educate.

I didn’t actually feel inspired by litigation work. I much preferred supporting clients to think about their IP and brand strategically, and set up their businesses on strong foundations. That’s why we took advantage of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s rule changes around what solicitors can and can’t do in November 2019. We ceased to be a regulated law firm in March 2020, and are now an ordinary business. We also offer various branding services dealing with the design side of the work by partnering with creative agencies.

This insight gave me my an aha moment for the brand purpose of Azrights.

The UN goal #4 seeks access to education for all. They focus on inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all, eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities. In addition, the proposal calls for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

So, the next step for us is to embed this purpose into everything we do as a business.