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A purpose isn’t a set of words, but a journey

Purpose may have become a marketing buzzword in recent years, but to see it as a marketing tactic is to miss the point, writes Alex Lewis, Co-Founder and Strategy Lead at Revolt.

Alex Lewis, Revolt

Co-Founder & Strategy Lead

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The past few months have been a challenging time for any business on a number of fronts. Many will have had to adapt their operation to respond to the unique and wholly unpredictable circumstances in which we find ourselves, ensuring they can still provide a service to their customers. They will also have had to pay heed to the welfare of their employees on both a personal and professional level, as they navigate the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused. And then they must ensure they continue to focus on their external messaging, continuing to communicate to consumers the values and passions for which they want to be known.

Today consumers want to see brands standing for something. In the era of Black Lives Matter, extreme politics, an environmental crisis, the death of George Floyd and everything that represents, a brand that gives voice to a social pledge will endear themselves to customers and win loyalty along the way.

In the past, too many companies have focused their communications on short term ad campaigns that are designed with the sole purpose of shifting product. They tell the consumer nothing about who they are as a business and elicit little or no emotional response.

However, more CEOs today believe their company needs to adopt a broader measure of success.

Purpose may have become a marketing buzzword in recent years, but to see it as a marketing tactic is to miss the point.

Alex Lewis

Developing a purpose

And from Bridging the Gap, Revolt’s recent study of 101 leading UK companies, we have discovered that more are now adopting a purpose that is focused on the positive impact they can have on our lives, rather than solely what they do as a business. Today, 41% of major businesses embrace a brand purpose that is supporting their commercial aspirations yet is helping improve the world in some way.

But that’s not to say all businesses are getting this right. All too often there is a ‘purpose gap’ between what the public seek and what they actually perceive to be reality.

Clearly defining a purpose and then establishing the business’s role in achieving it is critical. Purpose is primarily concerned with plotting the future, then working back to build what’s needed to get there. When it comes to expressing it distinctively, five words can be found in 54% of all purpose statements: create, help, improve, power, make. Yet too many purpose statements remain ambiguous in their intent.

Once it has a defined purpose, a business must have a roadmap that enables every strand of the company to play a part in that journey. Mars Petcare, for example, orchestrates their business around healthy pets, happy pets and welcome pets in service of their own purpose, a better world for pets. Whilst at IKEA all parts of the business fall under the single purpose of creating ‘A Better Everyday Life’.

Understanding their positions on certain issues will allow companies to react in the moment to opportunities and challenges. And it is only by laying the groundwork for the purpose that substantive changes can be made. The loftier the purpose, the deeper the foundations must be.

Communicating that purpose

Communicating this purpose through effective channels, the vehicle, remains crucial to the successful communication of a brand’s purpose. Our research found that 65% of businesses now communicate their purpose externally and 27% are using paid media to do this. This is a remarkable shift away from the attitudes of years gone by when the sole objective of an ad campaign was to showcase the benefits, value or functionality of your given product.

But talking about purpose to customers is only part of the job. Just as important is having the tools in place to ensure that the purpose becomes a true part of the company’s everybody operations. Bringing employees on side and taking them on the journey creates an authenticity that consumers will appreciate and admire.

More companies are now focusing their purpose activities on missions, adopted across the majority of companies as the most visible external representation of the purpose in action. While purpose doesn’t differentiate, the action it inspires does.

Whether it’s shifting policy (Unilever + racism), raising funds to enable partners to make a change (Ariel + biodiversity), or encouraging people to care about an important issue (Honda + air quality), missions represent a handful of proactive movements that a business is uniquely inspired to make a difference against and act as the most significant landmarks on the purpose journey.

Defining and successfully deploying a purpose gives a business the chance to make a positive difference to the world and to the people with whom they interact.

Alex Lewis

The untapped opportunity of internal communications

Keeping the momentum up, adapting to respond to changing parameters, and creating alliances with both partners and staff to carry that message out into the world are all of huge importance. With less than a third of staff feeling fully connected to their company’s purpose, internal communications represents an untapped opportunity for most companies. Forward thinking companies are turning their internal campaigns into external reputation builders through their earned (Starbucks), owned (adidas) and paid for media (Walmart).

A purpose isn’t a set of words, but a journey. One that plays out over a series of steps, often structured independently of one another but undoubtedly interconnected. Purpose may have become a marketing buzzword in recent years, but to see it as a marketing tactic is to miss the point. Defining and successfully deploying a purpose gives a business the chance to make a positive difference to the world and to the people with whom they interact. That is a privilege that should not be squandered.

Guest Author

Alex Lewis, Revolt

Co-Founder & Strategy Lead,

About

Alex is Co-Founder of and Strategy Lead at Revolt. He co-founded Revolt in 2017 in response to his belief in brands using ethics, value, and voice to genuinely enact change. Revolt works with clients in three key ways to ensure actions speak louder than words: as a Purpose Consultancy, an Activity Agency, and a Change Accelerator. Alex began his career at Ogilvy before spending over ten years at AMV BBDO. There he created two of the most awarded global campaigns of the past decade while leading strategy across EMEA.

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