"When you're surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible." One of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s most memorable quotes is also a business principle that has helped organisations like Apple, Google, Virgin, Ikea, Red Bull, and Zappos take on the world and win.
"Without a common belief system inclusive to everyone in the organisation, 'purpose' will never be more than a sound bite and will never take root," says Terry Tyrrell, global chairman of Brand Union. "Organisations that are truly purpose-driven have moral compasses where true north means they intuitively know the difference between right and wrong. They also tend to be very profitable, and attract and retain the best people."
He cites outdoor clothing brand Patagonia as a great example of a brand with an authentic purpose. The company talks about 'building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis'. Campaign headlines of 'Don’t buy this jacket', urge consumers to think twice before buying.
"The company’s double-digit year on year growth is testimony that having social and environmental purpose matters when it comes to purchasing decisions," says Tyrell. "Consumer consciousness is increasingly moving from ‘what is the product and how will it benefit me?’ to ‘How was it made, and how will it affect everyone?’ They are increasingly voting with their wallets, recognising that their choices can affect the choices of others."
The link between brand purpose and business growth was highlighted in research carried out by the BrandZ team at brand consultancy Millward Brown. They analysed growth in 95 brands ranked in both the 2006 and 2016 BrandZ Top 100 world's most valuable brands listings. Those with the strongest purpose grew their value the most, by 142 per cent for the top third, compared with 28 per cent for the brands in the bottom third.
However, having a strong, authentic brand purpose will be ineffective unless it is clear to the outside world. There is no mistaking the purpose behind Wires a new line of fair-trade, wire-crafted sunglasses that combines British design with Zimbabwean wire craftsmanship to tell a story of place, heritage and community, inspired by skilled wire craft dating back to 15th century Africa.
The idea is the brainchild of designer Yair Neuman, who says: "Wires is also about creating a more human industrial revolution, one with zero waste. By using locally sourced materials and specialist African craftsmen to hand make our sunglasses frames, Wires is providing local jobs and a sustainable income."
A combination of word of mouth, social platforms and traditional media is used to communicate the Wires brand purpose to the wider audience, as well as brand advocates who like wearing them, and can present the story in a more personal, visual way.
Neuman adds: "Our customers are interested in the Wires brand, especially the sustainable design, indigenous knowledge systems from ancient cultures, and job creation, and we try to communicate these characteristics through the product's design and the people themselves."
To be truly authentic, the purpose behind a business brand has to manifest itself internally, and form part of the values and culture of the organisation.
"Brand influences culture. Culture influences operations. Operations provide the right structure to get everything right," says Michael Di Paola, operations director at Manchester brand agency Studio North. "Brand creation can’t be done by marketing and PR departments alone. Instead of a silo approach with different departments handling their respective parts, every single employee, from shop floor through to board level, has a critical role to play in delivering a brand promise."
Joint brand promotional campaigns have become a popular and highly effective way of boosting brand awareness, and have been used by some of the world’s most famous brands to great effect; think Spotify and Starbucks and BMW and Louis Vuitton. Many start-ups and small businesses use the same tactic, partnering with other small firms to co-promote their brands and products to reach new customers and ultimately grow their business.
"Brand promotion partners can help streamline and amplify your brand message," says Bryan Adams, founder and CEO of digital agency Ph.Creative. "But if you hire suppliers with conflicting values, you are setting yourself up for failure."
Brands must remain authentic in the face of easy cash outs, which today’s savvy consumers will spot very quickly. "If you are partnering with brands just because it provides you with a windfall of cash, consumers will see past this and view your brand as ‘cosmetic’," adds Adams. "This is a basic demonstration in not staying true to your brand values."
Living the brand purpose internally as well as externally will also help the organisation to attract and retain talent. The best people have their choice of employer, and increasingly are choosing companies that live their brand purpose.
Simon Conington, founder of global talent resourcing firm BPS World says: "People like to be proud of the company they work for. Whether it’s a well-known name or one that does good work in the local community, that brand has to be an honest reflection of the company, as employees now champion a company’s identity through social media, and are effectively your brand ambassadors."