Brand purpose is trending in today’s era of distrust as customers search for meaning before handing over their money, but how can a company pinpoint its purpose? The journey to finding your company’s why starts with yourself.

What is your purpose in life? It’s a bold question, but one that every individual and business should answer as we move into a more transparent, socially conscious world. The figures back this up. Research carried out in 2017 by communications and marketing agency Havas Media found that people would not care if three quarters of brands disappeared tomorrow. Yet the brands that people do care about reap the benefits – meaningful brands outperform the stock market by more than 200% over a 10-year period. It pays to have purpose, writes Editor Farah Khalique.

What is brand purpose and why is it trending?

Your company’s brand purpose tells your customers why you exist. Nike, for example, sells great running shoes to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete”. Brand purpose is so crucial to a company’s success that some are putting purpose at the heart of their business; snack giant Mars has created a new role of Global Corporate Brand and Purpose Director.

The concept isn’t new, but it has taken centre stage as a reaction to world events. A succession of data breaches has eroded customer trust, and figures show that customers want businesses to restore trust and bring about positive change. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer found that more than half of people think that companies that only think about themselves and their profits are bound to fail. Six in ten agreed that CEOs are driven more by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the world. However, 64% believe that a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. The message is clear: customers want to know what companies stand for and how they make life that bit better.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Thought Leader Simon Sinek put purpose on the map with his now-famous Ted talk, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”. This 18-minute talk, given in 2009, was an overnight success, and his accompanying book flew off the shelves (read our review of his follow-up book, Find Your Why, on page 63 of HomeWork magazine). He coined “the golden circle” which consists of three rings: Why, How and What. The inner, most important ring – Why – is your company’s purpose. It is flanked by How, which is how the business fulfils its core purpose, and lastly What, which is the actions the company takes to achieve its purpose. Sinek says, “The goal is not just to sell people what you have, it’s to sell to people who believe what you believe.”

He roots his popular theory not in marketing or psychology, but in basic biology. A cross-section of the human brain shows that it is split into three: the neocortex and the middle two sections that make up the limbic brain. Our neocortex is responsible for all rational and analytical thought, as well as language. This corresponds with the outer What segment of the golden circle.

Our limbic system, on the other hand, is responsible for our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. Unlike the neocortex, it has no capacity for language but is where we make all our decisions. This part of the brain correlates with the inner Why segment of the golden circle, and is key to winning over customers’ minds, hearts and wallets.

Sinek says, “When we communicate from the inside out we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behaviour, and then we allow people to rationalise it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from. You can sometimes give people all the facts and figures and they say, ‘I know, but it just doesn’t feel right’. If you don’t know why you do what you do, how will you ever get people to vote for you or buy something from you?”

Finding your why

It was Socrates who said, “People make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” The journey to discover brand purpose starts on an individual level. Find your own why first.

Finding Your Why Workspace Ben Renshaw Author of Purpose
Ben RenshawAuthor of 'Purpose'

Author Ben Renshaw spent years soul searching to find his why, even backpacking across India in search of spiritual leaders. His years of self-study, followed by work with some of the world’s biggest brands like Sky and Sainsbury’s on leadership-development programmes, inspired him to write his book, Purpose. A how-to guide on finding your purpose, it was published by Workspace customer LID Publishing, based at The Record Hall in Hatton Garden. Purpose is “your true north, your big why, why you do what you do,” says Renshaw. “It brings meaning, a sense of direction and a sense of belonging. What I’ve noticed in my work is you have a purpose and it translates itself into all roles in your life.”

Renshaw’s advice is to identify when you are at your best – recall the times in your life when you were truly fulfilled and at peace – and understand why. “Growing up I loved sports. That for me was all about passion. Then I loved travel; that was about curiosity and learning, and then I loved writing, which is about creativity. Define the activities and make meaning of them.” By identifying your own purpose in life, you can then carry this over into your business life.

Businesses can use this newfound knowledge to win over customers, boost sales and attract the best staff. An advocate of the power of why, Simon Lee is the Founder and CEO at app developer Glance, a Workspace customer based at Cannon Wharf Business Centre in Surrey Quays. His company has worked with big-name brands like Chanel, Universal and The Times, as well as start-ups bringing in disruptive new technology. He uses Simon Sinek’s Start With Why with clients to help them understand why their product matters. He says, “If they are building it just to make loads of money that can work but it is not the best approach. What problem is the product solving, why does it matter? Before looking at what a product does and how, look at why it exists in the first place.”


Ben Renshaw'Purpose'

The benefits of finding purpose can trickle down to the bottom line: purpose-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times between 1996 and 2011, according to stats from author Raj Sisodia’s book, Firms of Endearment.

Finding purpose-driven staff

The trick to being a purpose-led company through and through is to hire employees who are purpose-driven. Typically, a company looking to fill a role will sift through CVs to find people with the right skill set. Glance takes a radically different approach.

Lee says, “We look for people with a very strong sense of purpose because we know that they are driven, and look at positions we could put them in. We want to know why they get up every day and go to work. Once we get to the group-stage interview, people tell us what they’re passionate about. We haven’t even looked at CVs at this point.” Every new starter at Glance also gets a copy of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

How can a business attract purpose-driven people? The key is to make the company’s brand purpose clear. Workspace customer Medair, based at Kennington Park, is very clear in its mission as a humanitarian organisation inspired by the Christian faith to relieve human suffering in some of the world’s most remote and devastated places. Each life is worth the extra mile. This is inspired by an expression in the Bible: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with them.”

This strong sense of purpose to go the extra mile is evident in the charity’s aid- delivery efforts. The process of delivering aid in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 was particularly challenging because the roads across the island had been destroyed, preventing NGOs from driving to coastal communities on the far side of the island. Medair’s workers went the extra mile; they managed to hitch a lift with aid supplies on a Dutch naval vessel at the main port. The ship sailed around the island, and then Medair’s workers used smaller speed boats to deliver medical aid to those hard-to-reach coastal communities, providing enough supplies to treat 4,000 patients. Adrian Gannon, Head of Engagement at Medair UK, explains, “We were able to bring relief to that side of the island at a time when no one else could.”

The NGO makes sure it attracts the right people by running a special orientation and evaluation course for all prospective staff called the Relief and Recovery Orientation Course. They experience the challenges of working in the humanitarian sector through practical simulations and learn about Medair’s values, projects, and country programmes.

Furthermore, companies that mark themselves out as having integrity can attract employees that also show integrity, says Katie Hill, Executive Director at certification provider, B Lab UK. Certified B corporations balance profit and purpose. A survey of 92 B Corps in February 2018 found that almost half reported that employee candidates were attracted to the company because it was a registered B Corp. “Businesses that are committed to going beyond making profit attract a different sort of employee,” says Hill.

The benefits don’t end there. More than two thirds surveyed believed that being a B Corp is likely to contribute to future business growth. The verdict is clear: it pays to have purpose.

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