The Purpose-Driven Brand Defined

Kevin KeohaneSeptember 2, 20164 min

A Purpose-driven brand is one where the organization has consciously placed its ‘Why’ front and center– in how it communicates, but more importantly, in how it actually behaves in its business conduct.

It drives what it will and will not do. It defines what services it provides, what products it sells, what people it hires, promotes and rewards – in other words, how it does business.

Some examples:

  •  Amazon: ‘To enable freedom of choice.’
  •  IBM: ‘Solutions for a smarter planet.’
  •  EY: ‘Building a better working world.’
  •  SAP: ‘Helping the world run better.’
  •  McKinsey & Company: ‘World-changing client impact.’
  •  Unilever: ‘Create a better future every day.’
  •  P&G: ‘Purpose driven innovation.’
  •  The Coca-Cola System: ‘To inspire moments of happiness.’
  • Disney: Originally, ‘To make people happy’ (or in some places attributed as ‘To create family magic’). They may possibly have fallen prey to the ‘edit by committee’ disease with their new version: ‘To always deliver, with integrity, the most exceptional entertainment experiences for people of all ages.’

Many might see these sweeping statements as whitewash (or greenwash), over-claiming or jumping on the so-called ‘sustainability’ bandwagon. There is no doubt that many will attempt this. What makes the above companies different is that they are not simply saying it – they are organizing their business and operational models to explicitly and implicitly deliver on it.

A Purpose-Driven Brand Since 1943

Johnson & Johnson’s credo values drafted by former Chairman and member of the founding family Robert Wood Johnson offers another example:

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and
 patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products
 and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices. Customers’ orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit. 

We are responsible to our employees, the men and women
 who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize
 their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical. 

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens – support good works and charities and bear our fair share of taxes. We must encourage civic improvements and better health and education. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make
 a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.

A Purpose-Driven Brand Is Both Profit And Purpose

Many see the pursuit of profit and a sense of higher purpose as an ‘either profit or purpose’ trade-off. But the leaders – philosophically and in financial performance – are discovering that it’s actually a ‘both profit and purpose’ model. In fact, leaders see them as inseparable:

  •  ‘This is not corporate social responsibility, it’s not cause marketing, and it’s not a strategy for philanthropy; it’s a business strategy. Your philanthropy can come out of it, just like your R&D and HR come out of it. But once you choose your purpose – everything else should come out of that.’ (Jim Stengel, former CMO, Procter & Gamble)
  •  On Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan,’ CEO Paul Polman says, ‘This is not a new project to celebrate. This is a new business model to implement.’
  •  ‘There is no more strategic issue for a company, or any organization, than its ultimate purpose.’ (the late CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson)
  •  ‘It’s not an aspirational vision, but rather a practical way to address the kinds of problems that were seizing the world […] and that still command our attention – from jobs and energy to the environment and the systemic problems of global finance.’ (IBM CEO Sam Palmisano)
  •  ‘We understand our obligation to look beyond our self-interest and engage with the world. We use our global reach and our relationships with clients, governments and not-for-profit organizations to create positive change.’ (Mark Weinberger, CEO, EY)
  •  ‘Companies that will lead in the 21st century define success more broadly than financial performance. They look at their impact on the world – socially, environmentally, and economically.’
(Jim Hagemann Snabe, Co-CEO, SAP)

Excerpted from: Brand and Talent by Kevin Keohane, in partnership with Kogan Page publishing.

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