Your brand purpose, also known as “your why”, is usually summarised in a meaningful statement about why your brand exists beyond making money. However, brands often fall into the trap of creating a purpose that’s poetic rather than practical. This is the very reason they rarely look back at what they wrote. It’s not useful, but it can be.
What you say and how you say it will never matter as much as what you do. Purpose is your north star. You can’t follow it if you don’t understand what it’s asking you to do, and you won’t be motivated to follow it if you don’t understand why it matters. Treat your purpose like an instruction. It should be clear, actionable, and contextual, not whimsical or ambiguous.
Take Sony’s purpose for example, which is to “fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology.” If I worked for Sony and was told to go and fill the world with emotion, I’d have no idea what I was supposed to do or why it mattered that I go and do it. Without the clarity to move boldly, I’d probably just stick to my day job.
The true purpose of all brands
The purpose of every brand is to solve a problem. That’s it. A practical brand purpose simply needs to state the problem you will solve through your product, service, and actions. As for why it matters, this will be the pain you remove or the gain you provide by solving the problem. Try asking yourself these questions:
- Why does your brand need to exist?
- What struggle would people face without you?
- What are people unable to get from other brands that you can give?
- What would people miss out on that they want or need if you didn’t exist?
The problem you solve is the lens through which you should filter all decisions about your product, service, and actions. When your purpose reminds you of the problem, it helps you determine whether your choices will help to solve the problem, not make a difference, or make the problem worse. This is what makes your brand purpose an asset, and not something you only look back on once every few years.
A practical example
Let’s compare Sony’s statement to how the Ministry of the Environment articulates the purpose of national parks: “National parks aim to protect Japan’s exceptional natural sites and preserve them for future generations so the latter can experience these with the same sense of wonder and joy as our generation.”
“Protect” and “preserve” are things we can do, and it clearly states how these actions will benefit people. Can you see how it’s far easier to think of actions that will protect national parks in Japan vs actions that will fill the world with emotion? A poetic purpose may have some surface level appeal to the outside world, but it will come at the cost of being useless to you and your team.
Purpose in action
Although it’s important for your brand purpose to be practical, you’ll feel more compelled to commit to it long-term if it’s aspirational too. Anchoring your purpose to a large-scale cause or community that isn’t receiving enough attention is a great way to increase your impact and value. Value is created when a problem is solved, so the bigger the problem, the greater your value. But to do this, you need action.
Actions can help to solve a wider problem that can’t be solved directly through your products and services. For example, Johnny Pawlik of Mantra Media wanted to create the first genuinely ethical marketing firm, and he lives this purpose by working exclusively with ethical companies, offering his team extensive support, and using his platform to promote ethical business practices. One action at a time, he’s filling the gap for ethical business in the marketing world.
Not only is he working to solve the problem, he’s working to solve it better than anyone else. Not with a single grand gesture, but with hundreds of small decisions that quickly compound, putting Mantra Media ahead of everyone else. It’s work that most people wouldn’t do, but I’m sure Johnny would be more than happy if everyone attempted to match his ethical efforts.
I’ve defined my purpose – what now?
Your purpose will be converted into your brand’s mission, which defines how you will solve the problem through specific and measurable actions. Most brands will write their mission as a statement similar to their purpose, but again, I’m more concerned with doing things in a way that’s actually practical for you. If you’re ready to take the next step, I’ll show you the most effective way to write your brand mission.