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Marketing and Comms
5 Ways to Turn Your Purpose into a Competitive Advantage

An intentional purpose will be unique to every company — based on your history, culture and the role you play in your customers’ lives. But, based on our interviews with leading purpose-led companies, here are five common themes that can inspire your own ‘purpose advantage.’

In today’s market, your brand is every action it takes — from the way you treat your employees to how it interacts with consumers, other stakeholders and the world. The good news? Operate your business as a unified whole, drive it from a core belief and fuel it with purpose, and it evolves into something much greater than the sum of its parts.

The goal is to make sure you have the right purpose and let it inspire the actions you take inside and out. Such actions lead to extraordinary plus points — such as an engaged workforce and consumer base, better innovation and stronger stakeholder relationships, and increased revenue and brand equity.

Pitfalls arise when a brand takes action that is in conflict with or disconnected from its brand purpose; but this doesn’t mean you have to be perfect from day one. When Chipotle laid its stake in the ground to stand for Food with Integrity, that didn’t mean they were GMO-free or had sustainably sourced every ingredient from day one. Or, when Patagonia made the commitment to do no harm, it didn’t mean their products were immediately free of issues. Both brands considered purpose a declaration of where they were going. Your purpose can, too — as long as it is fed, strengthened and proven by your actions every chance you get.

In our book, The Purpose Advantage 2.0: How to unlock new ways of doing business, we identified the following steps brands need to take to turn purpose into a competitive advantage:

  • Create an emotionally charged and intentional purpose

  • Identify sustainable actions that prove it

  • Communicate those actions inside and out

  • Measure and optimize those actions to keep refining your purpose

An emotionally charged, intentional purpose will be unique to every company — based on your history, culture and the role you play in your customers’ lives. But, based on our interviews with leading purpose-led companies, there are some common themes that can inspire your own ‘purpose advantage.’

  1. Story or brand origin: Reach back into your company archives; study your founder or review your narrative. Think IKEA: “A better life for the many people” is based on a statement its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, made in the 1940s — while the brand was still a furniture company based in rural Sweden. The statement reflects the humble, early roots of the company while hinting at its modern focus: sustainability.

  2. Enemy: Who or what are you against? Sometimes naming your foes as part of your purpose statement can be a powerful way to rally your crew. “This will do” is the purpose statement of minimalist Japanese retailer MUJI as it battles over-consumption.

  3. Brand change: Sometimes it’s not the enemy you need to name but the change you want to see in the world. Tesla’s “We exist to accelerate the planet’s transition to sustainable energy” does just that.

  4. Participants: Consider how your brand enables others. By focusing on its stakeholders, REI’s purpose of “awakening a lifelong love of the outdoors” unites its customers and employees in shared pursuits.

  5. Brand tone: Archetypes have long played a role in storytelling and establishing tone for brands. From the Hero to the Jester, archetypal characters can help define the tone of how you bring your purposeful change to life and give your statement the edge. Think Patagonia’s shift from its first purpose, “Do no harm,” to the heroic-rebel nature, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” (Note: For a complete list of common brand archetypes and how they can bolster your purpose, download a copy of our book here.)

Challenge yourself to frame your purpose through these key themes and the prompt questions that accompany them. It may be the start down a path to animate your purpose statement with actions that resonate with all stakeholders. While you can begin by brainstorming in a group, the real work of purpose refinement generally happens in smaller, or even individual sessions, and can take multiple iterations.

A key way to pressure-test your purpose statement is to ideate actions your brand could take to prove its purpose. What your brand stands for, and the actions you take to prove it, provide a necessary memorability consumers draw on when they make purchasing decisions — because standing for something more than just the bottom line is both a competitive advantage, and one of the most powerful ways to connect to modern consumers.