Promises, Promises


The demand for transparency, authenticity and purpose has changed the landscape for brands— permanently.

They say that people’s true characters shine through in times of crisis. The same holds true for brands and organizations. So, let’s start by acknowledging the fact that the entire planet has been living in a time of unified crisis for the past (almost) two years. And yes… while we may be “bored” of the words: COVID, pandemic, and the ever-more terrifying “lockdown,” we can’t ignore that this was a real global event, with real lasting implications.

Now, what we will NOT do in this article is recap the trajectory of the pandemic, nor any statistics directly connected to it. What we WILL do, however, is share our perspective on how the pandemic served as an accelerator for deeply rooted social and human needs to be catapulted to the forefront of… well, just about everything!

purpose sustainEven before COVID-19, the digital ecosystem was fraught with a hashtag for almost every social cause. During the pandemic, these social causes received special attention. People couldn’t “consume” as before or distract themselves with retail therapy and social outings. Once you reached the end of Netflix, it was time to focus on what was happening in the world. Social inequities and injustices were spotlighted and people across the globe started to take note of what really mattered to them, to their communities, and to the planet. No one—and no brand—could hide behind pretense any longer. The issues were not new. The access to information wasn’t particularly new, either. But the demand for transparency, authenticity, and purpose was intensified and changed the landscape for brands— permanently.

For brands, the pandemic set the course for a dramatically changed way to consider business success, performance, and sustainability. We’re not talking “mind the gap” here; we’re talking “get ready for a revolutionary leap.” Consumers are demanding to do business with brands whose values align with their own, and employees are leaving (in droves) to find employment with businesses who support them wholly: not just offering a paycheck, but also offering purpose, opportunities for growth and, yes, balance. Businesses must look beyond traditional metrics and KPIs of revenue, gross margin, and market share—and even go beyond NPS. Long term sustainability—both in terms of having a loyal customer base, and in terms of having the talent to actually deliver—is going to be achieved when businesses realize, accept, and operate in a way that is genuinely human.

family planetDelivering on these heightened expectations from both consumers and employees (and for the record, these are not new expectations) requires a good, hard look at why the brand is here in the first place. People—on both sides of the counter—are demanding authenticity from everyone and everything, including the businesses they associate with. That said, it must start with purpose.

- The reason why something is done or used, the aim of intention.
- What a person (or brand) is trying to become.

No brand was born out of the pure desire to make a profit or out of a desire to build the next killer app. Every business is here because someone, somewhere saw a need for something that would make a task easier, or a person happier, or a community better.

Take (what eventually became) General Electric, for example. The inspiration behind GE, Thomas Edison, invented and evolved light bulbs with the purpose of bringing light to cities and homes to expand the social aspect of society after sundown. Today, GE’s purpose is to “rise to the challenge of building a world that works,” taking pride in over 125 years of “pioneering technologies that have spurred world-transforming changes and improved the lives of billions.” This purpose comes to life with everything GE does—from lifesaving medical equipment for remote communities to leading LED lighting solutions for homes everywhere. At GE, the purpose isn’t only reflected in the things it does, but it is also reflected in the way it does them. Employees give GE a 4/5 rating in terms of culture and atmosphere of work on Glassdoor and Indeed—citing specifically a clear sense of purpose, an ability to learn and grow, and a place where one can meet their personal goals.

That’s not to say every brand purpose has to be about pioneering the next great invention and changing civilization as we know it. But you do need to know why your brand exists. Then, you need to clearly articulate that why… that purpose, then live up to your purpose every day. That purpose is the promise you make to both your customers and your employees!jackets colours ofPatagonia, for example, a brand we’ve all heard quite a bit about – specifically because they honor their purpose at every turn – has dedicated itself to the planet. Considering their product line, it makes sense. What you won’t hear in Patagonia’s purpose, vision or values is any mention of ROI, market share and revenue goals. Patagonia is squarely in the business of “saving the planet”. As recently as November, Patagonia made a splash by donating $10MM to protect the environment. And this commitment is not just “talk”, nor is it just focused on customers or external groups. Patagonia offers its employees 2 months off to volunteer with environmental organizations to do something good for the planet. This commitment is felt so deeply among employees that over 90% of them rate Patagonia as one of America’s Great Places to Work!

Ford Motor Company’s purpose is “to help build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams.” Its three focus areas are better lives (through removing obstacles that limit people’s progress), stronger communities, and a healthier planet. What’s remarkable about Ford (and these other examples) is how it aligns the entire organization and partners with its purpose, from frontline employees to dealers to corporate employees. As CEO Jim Farley is quoted as saying, “We all come to work every day in service of something larger than ourselves. Our purpose defines how we serve our customers, our communities and each other, and I’m so proud of how our team embodies it every day.”

As brands that continue to underpin their brand identity (and many of their business decisions) on their history and purpose, the likes of GE, Patagonia, and Ford are the exception—not the rule. Too many brands have lost their perspective, and their purpose is buried in a faded file folder somewhere in the company archives. Don’t worry if you feel this—it’s ok not to be ok.

Here’s what you need to know to start:

Brand purpose is essentially the higher-order reason your brand exists, beyond making dollars. It’s the meaning behind your brand and the soul of your organization. Brand purpose represents something larger than your product or service, and it allows you to inspire and nurture your employees while also creating and fostering deeper connections and loyalty among your customers.

In short. Stop and take a breath. Don’t chase the next app, don’t discount your product, and don’t join the latest social network sensation. Reconnect with yourself first. Gain some perspective, articulate, define (or redefine) your purpose, and create new or evolved customer and employee journey maps that will enable you to keep your promise. The outcome is simple but powerful: When your brand aligns with your employees’ and customers’ values, you make them feel better as human beings, and they’ll trust you. Remember: “When you keep your promise, it keeps you in business.”

What to do?

  • Rediscover your purpose. Take a look at where your business came from. Why did it start? What problem was it trying to solve? What innovation did it bring? What made it different? What did the founders love and how did that love come to life in the business?
  • Articulate your purpose. Take everything you’ve discovered and put it into words. Real words— not jargon. Words that might go on a wall, but more importantly will inspire, will engage, and will create action.
  • Brings your purpose to life—everywhere across the business. Build frameworks for each line of business and each team meant to translate the purpose into decision-making frameworks. Ensure that decisions made across the organization are done as a reflection of the purpose.
  • Measure purpose. Continue evaluating the necessary metrics that demonstrate a successful business (gross revenue, profit, market share) but most importantly, look at the KPIs that drive those metrics such as: employee retention, productivity, customer and employee engagement, and customer loyalty, among others. Those KPIs will be deeply connected to your purpose and will show that a purpose-driven organization can sustain ongoing success more strongly than one that does not understand (or live by) its purpose.

Once your purpose-driven plan is in place, the heavy lifting comes next…

Look for our next article in our ongoing brand purpose series and don't forget to check out our latest content on our Ideas page