Philippa Cross and Hannah Zimmerman
Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
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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
to how it interacts with consumers, other
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
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
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
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
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
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.
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
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.
Participants: Consider how your brand enables others. By focusing on
REI’s purpose of “awakening a lifelong love of the outdoors” unites its
customers and employees in shared pursuits.
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
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
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.
Published Jan 26, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Formerly working in the advertising world in Kansas City, Hannah Zimmerman has now married her past experience with her passion for sustainability. When she isn't chasing her four-year-old daughter or helping companies along on their sustainability journey through consulting, reporting, communications and certifications, she is working on her master's in Sustainability through Harvard.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.