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Bm - Marylee Sachs - 16th decembre 2021

It's no secret that "purpose" has become a pervasive concept in the business community, with some commentators fearing that it teeters on the point of losing its meaning. But, in my experience, purpose is not the problem, it is the relationship between business and purpose that needs to be rejuvenated.


In recent years, the conversation around purpose has been completely subsumed into the conversation around brand, and that's where mistakes are made, and pointless ones.


Because the truth that continually seems to get overlooked is that it's your business, not your brand, that needs purpose.


The crucial difference

At first glance, it may not be expressly clear why it is so important that we differentiate the conversation between brand purpose and business purpose. But making this differentiation clear could be a crucial step in helping companies identify and act on their values, rather than focus on the story they tell about their values.


The problem with "brand purpose" is that it is often reverse engineered into a business as part of a consumer-facing marketing strategy. It's reactive: it responds to ever-changing goals in the corporate ethos, so it can never truly provide businesses and leadership with the clarity and vision they need to build success, not just when it comes to profitability, but also success. longevity.


Business purpose, on the other hand, is critical: It's more than a message that informs your communications, it's the reason your communications exist in the first place.


Simply put, it's time for companies to stop using "brand purpose" to conveniently fit certain criteria or align with social trends. Purpose must be built into your company, from the ground up.


An internal metric, not a virtue signal

Organizations with a business purpose as a guiding principle have stronger foundations and therefore a significantly longer lifespan. Both are agile and firm in their core beliefs.


Delta Airlines is a great example. I recently interviewed Delta CEO Ed Bastian about the role purpose has played in helping the airline adapt to changing times, as part of a panel for BritishAmerican Business. As a longtime advocate of purpose, Bastian looked at how the pandemic has tested and affirmed the importance of Delta's purpose: connecting people.


"Our purpose has always been to take good care of ourselves, to take good care of our customers, to provide real value to the world." -Ed Bastian, Delta CEO


For Bastian, purpose served as a lens for the decisions he and his board made throughout the pandemic. In an effort to be a guiding beacon, Delta successfully prevented any staff from having to be laid off during the pandemic. The airline also made the decision to keep middle seats empty in the interest of customer comfort and confidence, longer than any other US airline. According to Bastian, "Even though we blocked middle seats for over a year, we had more revenue on our planes than any of our big competitors here in the US that were selling their planes."


Delta's decisions during the pandemic highlight the very crucial difference between business and brand purpose: Bastian was operating based on the fundamental principles that define his business and values, ensuring that safe travel and invaluable connections were not promoted in the "theory" through brand communications. Rather, Delta's purpose as a thoughtful facilitator of connection was developed in the way the business actively operated.



Staying faithful and standing up

For another example of a business that focuses more on what it does than what it says, we could look to Crocs, a company that perfectly illustrates how business purpose can authentically drive brand success.


Crocs has always done what it says on the tin: they are all purposeful and very unglamorous: shoes that are functional (some might say ugly), comfortable and sustainably made. The brand has earned a reputation as the go-to shoe for people who didn't have to look great but had to be on their feet all day: nurses, chefs, or commuters stuffing around the backyard.


Then a few years ago, Crocs suddenly became a surprise hit with the fashion crowd. In 2016, Christopher Kane debuted a Crocs collaboration during his London Fashion Week SS17 show, and the brand forged partnerships with the likes of Balenciaga, streetwear label Alife, and the rapper Post Malone.


But Crocs didn't need to change their identity to be cool, in fact, it's Crocs' strong and unique sense of self that has made it such a surprising success in the streetwear space.


Having a clear purpose gave Crocs the North Star it needs to stay true to itself, ensuring the brand can withstand scrutiny. Whether by a nurse, a chef or a rapper, Crocs, as a product and as a brand, always does exactly what it promises.


A promise you can keep

So, what is the lesson every brand needs to take to heart from Crocs and Delta?


It's as simple as this: Purpose is only truly effective when it's fully functioning as a foundation for a business on all levels.

The purpose is never fully formed if it is simply a tool to join popular conversations, even important ones. Successful companies, no matter what they stand for, approach purpose as a promise they make to themselves first, so they can deliver on that promise to their customers and to society at large in the long run.


Image cobert: Jean Cont