Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Julie Barrier

A Brand is Just a Brand – Unless It Has Purpose

We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why even be here?” — Steve Jobs, Co-Founder, Apple

Over the past several years, I have seen companies put more effort – meaning, more time and money – into their brand, and it’s starting to pay off. According to the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2015 report, the brands in its Top 100 list are now worth $3.3 trillion, which represents a 14% increase over last year. The report, which is published by MillwardBrown, also notes that building and sustaining a valuable brand is essential to business success because of market disruption and the changing consumer mindset.

But what about purpose? Where is that in the brand equation? Well, it turns out that purpose is pretty important too. MillwardBrown says that having a clear brand purpose accelerates the growth of brand equity. “Stand for a purpose” is one of the ten action points for building and sustaining valuable brands in the Brand Z report, which also advises that “…every brand needs a purpose beyond making money.”

“I save lives.” — A Mayo Clinic employee

At the Great Place to Work conference a few years ago, Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, spoke about “The Power of One.” An article in Forbes provided highlights of Noseworthy’s keynote, including his remarks on how the culture at Mayo Clinic helps employees recognize their individual role in achieving the organization’s purpose.

I was particularly impressed with a story he shared about how a staff member told visitors that her job was to save lives. The notable fact behind this remark is that this staff member was not someone who was directly involved in patient care; she was a custodian. Even to this day, this story moves me, just like it did the first time I read it and got goose bumps.

I admire Dr. Noseworthy’s belief that such clarity of purpose helps his entire organization bring meaning to their work and understand their value. I believe if all CEOs led their people in this way, business would boom! Employee engagement would skyrocket; customer satisfaction and loyalty would soar; and people would lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

“Before P&G can serve the world’s remaining consumers profitably, we can reach them altruistically.” — P&G

When a company closely connects its purpose to the brand, chances are it will advance its competitive differentiation, expand its market perception and value, and engage and inspire employees. Most importantly, customers will relate to it on a more personal, human level. But the benefits of purpose don’t end there.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, there is evidence that for-profit companies with a strong sense of purpose achieve better financial performance. Even banks are getting on the purpose bandwagon. An executive from Wells Fargo noted that its purpose-behind-profits approach has helped the company consistently outperform its less-purposeful peers. Similarly, in the book, Built to Last, the authors say that organizations driven by purpose and values outperformed the market 15 to 1 and outperformed comparison companies 6 to 1.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

When I look at the Web sites of the top 100 brands, I often see  their company’s purpose revolving around a set of causes that have a global effect upon humanity. Many of these causes involve health, education, and environmental sustainability initiatives both close to home and in other countries.

But I wonder – how are companies linking their purpose to the brand? Whose job is it to ensure that brand and purpose are closely intertwined – and that these purpose-driven causes are fully embraced throughout an organization?  There are certainly brand managers in place today, as well as people who run corporate social responsibility efforts. Both are important, well-established roles.

What about purpose managers? Where are the people who elevate a company’s vision through focused storytelling efforts that show the world what a company’s purpose is? Who are the people that inspire others to think about the “why does this company exist” question? There are certainly lots of people who know the “what” and the “how,” but few can talk about the core purpose of a company.

I believe that for a sense of purpose to positively influence a brand, it must be embodied and championed by every single employee. And for that to happen, senior management must lead by example, with passion and consistency – and bring employees, customers, partners, shareholders, press, and analysts right along with them. Then, when everyone is on board – perhaps with a purpose manager facilitating the charge –a company’s vision and purpose can spread naturally, confidently, and authentically.

“Today, people care as much about a company’s purpose, value, and global impacts as they do about its products, packaging, and prices.” — Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP

The company I work for – SAP – has a bold, aspirational vision and higher purpose: to help the world run better and improve people’s lives by reducing complexity. Our CEO, Bill McDermott, calls this our “enduring cause” and he regularly discusses how important this is toour company, our employees, and our customers.

This enduring cause is what we stand for. It’s the “why” behind what we do. It’s championed from the top of our ranks and shows up in a variety of ways, including our initiatives in health, youth, and sports. It’s through our enduring cause and these initiatives that we hope to contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest problems and make a positive impact on people’s lives around the globe.

This article originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here.

Assigned Tags

      Be the first to leave a comment
      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.