Why every business and its employees should find their purpose in life and reap the rewards

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.

Workspace gets to the bottom of 'brand purpose' with the help of an expert panel at its latest Workspace Business Insight (WBI) event, A Sense of Purpose, held at Fleet Street. Discover insights from Mike Buonaiuto, executive director of social enterprise Shape History, Alpesh Kandoi, director, global audience development & UK circulation at The Economist, and Ben Renshaw, leadership thinker, speaker, coach and author.

You can watch the discussion from our WBI event, here:

What is brand purpose and why is it so hot right now?

Your company's brand purpose tells your customers why you exist. As thought leader Simon Sinek famously said, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

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 created a new role of global corporate brand and purpose director earlier this year.

Brand purpose isn't new, but the concept is trending as a reaction to world events. A succession of data breaches such as the Facebook fiasco 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 over half of people think that companies that only think about themselves and their profits are bound to fail. We talked about this at the last WBI Dinner.

Moreover, 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.

Finding your WHY

But as our panel of experts goes on to explain, the journey to discover brand purpose starts on an individual level. Purpose is "your true north, your big why, why you do what you do," says Ben.

"It brings meaning, a sense of direction, a sense of belonging, and I think out of purpose you draw incredible resilience, great strength, a lot of energy, passion and you love what you do. What I’ve noticed in my work is you have a purpose and it translates itself into all roles in your life."

Ben'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."

Bosses should find employees whose purpose aligns with that of their company, says Mike. He founded Shape History, a social change communications agency based at Workspace centre, The Record Hall, in Hatton Garden. It helps companies enact positive change and shape history, using a team that has a strong background in social causes. Fast-growing companies that are under pressure are more likely to succeed if their employees are fully engaged with the company's brand purpose, believes Mike.

Mike says, "When you work with people it's important to make that business growth integral to their own personal growth, especially if you're a growing start-up. We have found that to be a great way of finding purpose and meaning, and giving people that through line into business growth."

Social Change even puts motivation ahead of experience when hiring; such is its belief in the power of purpose. It gives priority to those that have an interest in women’s rights, international development, disease awareness and policy change.

Telling your WHY

Your business may already have a fantastic brand purpose but it's hidden. It’s not uncommon though. World-renowned publication The Economist had to get creative when it realised that its core agenda-setting purpose was buried under a fusty image - it used ice-cream to revive its core mission.

Founded in 1843, The Economist's purpose-led mission statement is to "take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."

The Economist has advocated for prison reform, right to die, gay marriages and even legalisation of cannabis. But over the years it wound up being perceived as a magazine about business, finance and economics.

Alpesh says, "That's what we wanted to change. We wanted to bring out that we actually stand for agendas. So, for our marketing, [we went] back to our content. There were a lot of things we wrote about which were very interesting from a consumer perspective. We decided to create these content pieces into experiences."

The company hit the streets of cities like New York, Philadelphia, London, Melbourne and Sydney offering free ice cream. The twist? It was made from bugs. It drew attention to The Economist's campaign about the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing world population and alternative sources of non-meat protein. A serving of grasshopper is equal in terms of protein to a beef patty. The campaign attracted new readers, while also serving the magazine's purpose of pushing for progress.

Data details

When it comes to brand purpose, there are some interesting stats:

  • People are 1.4 times more engaged, 1.7 times more satisfied and 3 times more likely to stay when working for a company with a strong purpose[1]
  • Purpose-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times between 1996 and 2011[2]
  • Meaningful brands connected to human well-being outperformed the stock market by 120% in 2013[3]
  • 9 in 10 clients believe a purpose-driven company will deliver the highest quality products and services[4]

The Purpose Experts

Do you need help finding your purpose? BTL Brands works with start-ups and entrepreneurs to create new brands or bring existing ones to life. Founder Stewart Lewin helps brands find their purpose from BTL's office in E1 Studios, in Whitechapel.

  1.  The Energy Project, What is the Quality of Life at Work, 2013
  2.  Raj Sisodia, Firms of Endearment, 2007
  3.  Havas Media, Meaningful Brands Index, 2013
  4.  Edelman, The goodpurpose study, 2013

Do you want your company to drive positive change? Speak to Shape History at The Record Hall in Hatton Garden.  

Is your company already a force for good? Make sure your customers and suppliers know, get certified with B Corp. B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee. Find the team at Clerkenwell Workshops in Farringdon.

Books and further reading

New Power, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. "Old power" was out of reach for most people. "New power" is made by many; it is open, participatory and peer-driven. Recommended by Mike Buonaiuto.

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl. A Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl devised a therapeutic method which involves finding a purpose in life to feel positively about and then imagining that outcome. Recommended by Ben Renshaw.

Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia. Since the publication of the First Edition, the concept of corporate social responsibility has become embraced as a valid, important, and profitable business model.

Purpose, Ben Renshaw. A handbook for discovering and leading with purpose, extolling the extraordinary benefits of focusing on what matters most.

Start with Why, Simon Sinek. The man who put purpose on the map shares his insights in this New York Times bestseller.

Find Your Why, Simon Sinek. You're sold on finding your purpose, now how do you and your business go about finding it? Learn from the master—watch the original TEDx Talk.

No time to watch the whole talk? Here is an edited five-minute version. Find out more about the man behind the movement and stay up-to-date with his team's latest insights.

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