What’s your purpose? Some steps to defining it

What’s your purpose? Some steps to defining it


It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of business motivation – vision, mission, promise, purpose goals, cause, reason to believe, but whatever you call it, the role it should play is pretty simple – it is the foundation of what drives your organisation.

What’s your purpose? To your customers, to your employees, to your partners, to yourself… continuing on with my series of questions that matter – what is that one thing that will always be true about why you do what you do?

Not the products and services or policies and processes that support it, but deep down in the core of your organisation – what’s your purpose?

A purpose is enduring, it is not framed or driven by trend or circumstances. What others say their purpose is isn’t really relevant to you. How they say it isn’t really relevant to you.

Your organisation’s purpose is a deeply personal thing. It may not even feel directly tied to “what” you do today. It should have room to grow and change in it and should still be as relevant tomorrow as it is today or was yesterday and will be in five, 10 or 30 years.

When I talk about enduring purpose I often get asked how to avoid becoming irrelevant – doesn’t that need to change to keep up with changing times? Won’t the brand get out of date?

The key to avoiding that fate is not to change purpose but to stimulate progress. As Jim Collins notes in his book Good to Great: “Enduring great companies preserve their core values and purpose while their business strategies and operating practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.”

I don’t think you can overstate the importance of purpose in defining what you care about and providing an anchor for your brand.

As I noted last week brands are the result of the promises the you keep. Those promises are made and kept via the actions and decisions of the organisation. Those actions and decisions are shaped and driven by your purpose (along with values and positioning).

It’s that simple (and that complex).

By informing the things you will and won’t do purpose gives brand credibility. It allows you to align around what you care about so customers and other stakeholders can see it permeating through what you do and the way you do it.

If you don’t already have your purpose articulated here’s a process to help get you started (courtesy of Jim Collins). Take your current positioning, tagline or any of the company “statements” that you have floating around, or just write a simple sentence describing what you do. To do this gather together a group of people who know the organisation well – the more diverse the better.

Use the statement you have as a starting point and ask – why? Then take the answers and make a new statement. Then ask why again. Keep iterating in this way until you dig below the every day of what you do and how you do it.

The process can take time or you might hit it first time – there are no guarantees.

From experience I will share that some version of “make the world a better place” is probably one “why” too far because every organisation I’ve ever worked with eventually gets to that one!

Once you have your purpose it can transform the way you think about your organisation. And using it as a guide to decisions in your organisation will result in a strong and resilient brand.

See you next week when I’ll look at the third arm of brand foundation – positioning.

Get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Michel is an Independent Brand Analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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