It is no secret that “purpose” has become a pervasive concept in the business community, and some commentators fear that it is on the verge of losing its meaning. But the problem is not the purpose, it is the relationship between the business and the purpose that needs to be rejuvenated.
Over the past few years, the conversation about purpose has been completely subsumed into the conversation about brand, and that’s where the mistakes and missteps are made. Because the truth that seems to be continually overlooked is that it’s your business, not your brand, that needs purpose.
The crucial difference
At first glance, it may not be expressly clear why it is so important that we differentiate the conversation between brand and business purpose. But clarifying this differentiation could be a crucial step in helping companies identify and act on their values, rather than focusing on the story they tell about their values.
The problem with “brand purpose” is that it is often reverse engineered into a company as part of a consumer-oriented marketing strategy. It is reactive: it responds to constantly changing objectives in the social zeitgeist, so it can never provide companies and leadership with the clarity and vision they need to generate success, not only in terms of profitability, but also longevity.
Business purpose, on the other hand, is critical: it is more than a message that informs your communications, it is the reason your communications exist in the first place.
Simply put, it’s time for companies to stop using “brand purpose” as a means to conveniently fit certain criteria or align with social trends. Purpose must be integrated into your company, from the ground up.
An internal metric, not a virtue signal
Organizations with commercial purposes as a guiding principle have stronger foundations and, therefore, a significantly longer life span. Both are agile and firm in their core beliefs.
Staying true and standing
An example of a business that focuses more on what it does than what it says, we might look at Crocs, a company that perfectly illustrates how business purpose can authentically flow into brand success.
Crocs has always done what it says on the tin: they are all-purpose and very unglamorous, functional (some might say ugly), comfortable and sustainably made shoes. The brand has earned a reputation as the ideal shoe for people who didn’t have to look good, but had to be on their feet all day: nurses, chefs or suburbanites wandering around the backyard.
A few years ago, Crocs suddenly became a surprise hit with the fashion crowd. In 2016, Christopher Kane debuted a Crocs collaboration during his SS17 London Fashion Week show, and the brand went on to forge partnerships with brands such as Balenciaga, urban clothing label Alife and rapper Post Malone.
But Crocs didn’t need to change its identity to be cool; in fact, it’s Crocs’ strong and unique sense of self that has made it a surprise hit in the urban fashion space.
Having a clear purpose gave Crocs the north star it needs to stay true to itself, ensuring that the brand can stand up to scrutiny. Whether worn by a nurse, a chef or a rapper, Crocs, as a product and as a brand, always does exactly what it promises.
A promise you can keep
So what is the lesson all brands should learn from companies like Crocs? It’s as simple as this: purpose is only truly effective when it fully functions as a foundation for an enterprise at all levels.
The purpose is never fully formed if it is simply a tool to join popular conversations, even if they are important. Successful companies, no matter what they stand for, approach purpose as a promise they make to themselves first, so that they can deliver on that promise to their customers and society at large over the long term.
If you want to leave the branding work in good hands, Acorn can help you. Shall we talk?