What is Purpose & What Does it Look Like in a Business?

A picture looking at the distance from the top of a mountain

We all seek to live a life of purpose, something that provides us with a reason to get out of the bed in the morning. No matter our purpose, however big or small, it is meaningless without action. This is no different for a business. While the core purpose of a business is to be economically successful, they can exist to create both economic and social value. And in fact, many businesses are realizing that purpose is profitable. The social and economic “shared value” drives greater results through employee and consumer engagement and action.

In our hyper-competitive and increasingly connected consumer marketplace, we are moving from a transactional business-consumer relationship to an emotional business-consumer relationship. Given this growing trend, it is important to understand what purpose is, and the role it plays in business.

What is Purpose?

Purpose should not be a marketing tactic or a one-off donation or volunteer effort. While these may be good charitable practices, they are not a business’s purpose. Consumers see right through cause marketing that lacks authenticity, it breeds a distrust while wasting resources. But an authentic commitment to your purpose, does just the opposite.

Purpose, should be action-driven and infused throughout the organization and its people. Your purpose should be your brand’s reason for existence beyond profit, and a challenge to the entire company and its stakeholders to do good in the world through the mechanism of a business. Purpose should be actionable, measurable, and the driver moving your business forward. A fully purpose-integrated business takes time and commitment but can come with great rewards.

Where to Start?

Purpose needs to start but not end with your mission statement and brand values. A simple mission statement is seldom put to work in a way that evokes employee or consumer emotion or action. Therefore, your mission statement should act as the launching point for your purpose and based on something that can be translated into impactful-action. Your purpose should also make sense to your brand. Choose something that is a natural fit with the products and services you offer and partner with people and organizations that are just as excited about your purpose as you are.

Start from the top down. Your leadership has to be passionate about your purpose, otherwise no one else will be. Leadership has the power to set the tone and direction for your purpose. Make it a big deal when your business launches its purpose, because it is. The more you integrate your purpose internally, the more it will reflect outward.

Building and integrating purpose into your business takes time, especially if you have a larger, more established brand. You may be met with skepticism at first, but consumer trust will build with time, honesty, and consistency. Integrating a new purpose into your business may mean re-branding, new consumer messaging, updated products or services, and even new policies. However, the way to look at purpose is an investment in the future success of your business, its employees, and society.

Spreading Purpose Throughout Your Business

Your business’ purpose should align with what your business does, such that you can make a positive impact on the world by leveraging your products, people, and talents. For a company redefining its purpose, goals may start off small and grow with time and resources. However, at its fullest, purpose should be always on, always communicated, and considered at all levels of the business, by all stakeholders.

Employees must be educated on the purpose, goals, and how they fit in. To create authentic purpose, the people that make up the business must be included. Use their talents and skills to help activate and grow purpose. Some companies create ongoing employee programs, volunteer opportunities, and initiatives. Rewarding and recognizing employee efforts keep engagement and enthusiasm strong. Regardless of their role, employees should feel proud of the work they do and feel that they are working towards something bigger than themselves. Leadership involvement needs to be visible as well. This sets the example that purpose is a priority and will facilitate faster adoption and stronger engagement.

Measurable Impact

Impact must be measurable — and that quantifiable impact, and the emotions that impact creates, is what should be marketed. Measuring your impact will tell you exactly where you are making an impact and who you are reaching.

Purpose is as much about sparking passion among employees and consumers as it is making a difference in the world. Marketing the impact of your purpose can improve your business’s reputation and build consumer and employee trust and loyalty.

Measurement affirms the value of your activities to shareholders. Sharing strong KPIs with shareholders instills confidence in funding decisions, which can create more opportunity for growth. They can also help you with decision-making in underperforming areas moving forward. Analyzing impact with other company KPIs and metrics allows you to see the affect purpose has on sales and other areas of business.

When a consumer buys a product, they hope to buy an experience, lifestyle, or a feeling. More brands are embracing purpose in an effort to outpace competitors and win consumer hearts and dollars, but not all are doing it for the right reasons, leading to consumer fatigue. Authenticity and transparency are more important than ever, and for this reason, purpose must start from the company’s core and radiate outwards. Purpose can’t simply be a mission statement or campaign but has to be the business’s aspirational reason for being. Purpose is showing your authentic and relevant meaning in the world, beyond just profits.

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