On purpose

Published 04 Jun 2013 Tim Burley

Organisations with a clear sense of purpose (why they exist, beyond the need to make money) invariably have more interesting stories to share. Purpose has been a big part of what we do here for some time, it sits at the heart of ‘Meaningful Creativity’ and is a key reason behind our agency’s name.

My own ‘purposeful’ journey started when I read a book by Nicholas Ind called ‘Living the Brand’, first written in 2001. Later on, Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ further strengthened my belief through his TED talk and book of the same name.

The drive to embrace purpose within organisations made perfect sense to me as someone seeking meaning through my own work. And although our approach here at Believe in has evolved through our experience, those original ideas are still central to much of our strategy work with clients today.

Recently, it seems as if purpose has really taken off. Last year Wolff Olins identified purpose as one of the 5 key behaviours driving the future of business in their Game Changers report. Last month at The Next Web (TNW) conference, keynote speaker Jonathan McDonald delivered a passionate argument for purpose grounded in hard business metrics. And last week Deloitte launched a major new survey report entitled ‘Culture of Purpose: A Business Imperative.’

So why is it that purpose is suddenly a hot topic? Does it take a global ‘Big 4’ accountancy firm to finally validate what creatives have been saying for years? Does the world patiently wait for someone to translate these ideas into ‘business-speak’ before sitting up, paying attention and saying “we really ought to get ourselves some of that”?

The biggest argument for addressing questions of purpose is always the positive impact that it can have on employees – those people who connect your products and services to the world, and who define the experiences your customers (hopefully) enjoy.

It’s always worth remembering that what your customers think of you can never be better than what your employees think of you.

It’s never a quick fix, it requires commitment, focus and (crucially) evidence to influence a culture, but when people understand that the reason your business exists goes beyond simply creating value for shareholders, the effects can be truly transformative.

The first case study I ever read for creating remarkable businesses through purpose was in ‘Living The Brand’, and it featured a Californian sportswear and equipment company I’d never heard of, called Patagonia. In the intervening years they’ve become a staple of marketing case studies (along with Apple and Innocent), but their ubiquity hasn’t lessened the impact of what they’ve built. The original trailer for the book is here, and while it shows its age, it still makes a powerful argument that feels as relevant as ever.

 

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