Purpose is at the core of branding

When your brand resonates with purpose, all the vibes it puts out into the world sync together into a singular tone. People pick up on this. Customers sense that the brand represents higher quality and employees care more about its success, and investors find it to be more worthy. Companies that are genuinely concerned with greater value to their customers, stakeholders, and society — beyond merely making a profit — will win fans that come back again and again.

Employees and customers are not the same

If you’re the owner of a company, you spend a lot of time thinking about its brand: how it looks, the things it says, the tone of voice it uses. This indicates to customers characteristics such as trustworthiness, intelligence, playfulness, coolness, and more..

Identity and culture should be closely aligned as two sides of the same thing. The core, of course, is purpose.

Brand managers must accept that their brand exists in an integrated ecosystem of touchpoints, where the customer chooses how and when they access it. Failing to provide a consistent brand experience will undermine what you stand for in the eyes of the customer. Inconsistency at a minimum implies that you haven’t got your act together, and at worst alienates a customer who can easily find an alternative through a simple Google search.

Purpose helps brands create a desirable first impression, one that can be refined and deepened through customer engagement.

When your company’s purpose is crystal-clear, you can quickly detect if one of your customer touchpoints is inconsistent with who you are.

This is corporate branding: Directed toward customers who (might) buy your products, it’s designed to grab attention, create desire, and open wallets.

Corporate branding og employer branding is connected by purpose.

How do you communicate with your employees? Don’t copy from the customer communication plan. Why? Because your employees are not customers. Not really. They’re far more valuable. Also, keep in mind that the motivations for top talent at your organization may be more complex than you realize. Certainly, the global brand has to be respected — its cachet may woo new talent on a surface level. But deeper down, people have all kinds of reasons why they’re with you. In many ways, employees are just as often concerned about their own personal identities. How they look, the things they say, the tone of voice they use. These things indicate their value, intelligence, social status, position, trustworthiness, and more.

This is employer branding: Directed toward employees at every level, across the organization. It can’t be constrained to the C-suite. All teams need to work in parallel, whether they’re out finding new opportunities, minding affairs in-house, or grinding away on the nitty gritty. Whether you’re working in a public sector business or a nonprofit organization, the problems that creep in from lack of shared efforts are the same — in a nutshell: wasted time, wasted talent, and wasted money.

Within the organization, employees thrive in environments where goals and efforts are shared. When there’s community and pride, individuals and teams stretch themselves farther. This sets a positive example for others nearby, everyone in turn raising the bar ever so slightly more. People are generally happier, more fulfilled, and more collaborative. Your top talent, who are natural overachievers, push harder. They self-initiate. They learn new things. They show off. And they attract other people with a similar mindset.

Having purpose is a precautionary measure. Not even the most trusted employees can be relied on for long-time loyalty these days. But if you manage to convince the right people that your organization aligns with who they are as individuals and what they stand for, it can lead to working relationships that don’t expire before you know it — and those are worth their weight in gold.

Purpose builds bridges between employees and the company, between the company and its customers, and between members of teams.

Purpose builds engagement. Knowing the extent to which all this engagement can benefit a business, there should be no reason to delay in setting these wheels in motion.

The cost of doing purpose

Behind closed doors, executives wonder if purpose-driven initiatives pay in dividends. Leaders who are evaluating decisions against the economics of doing business have to ask “how” and “why.” How much will this cost the company? Why is this important? Who do we need to hire? What outside costs will we incur? How much time and resources will be drawn away from other projects and priorities? Things are going so well, why change now?

At the most basic level, it takes time and brainpower to establish the vision and roadmap. Once defined, it must be put into action. This means developing internal communication plans, nurturing new ways of thinking, funding purpose-driven initiatives, and spending on marketing and public relations to increase impact and awareness. Since purpose is so intimately tied to the brand — what the company stands for and believes in — the rollout may also include changes to the core branding.

Words and action. Internal and external. Domestic and international. Implementation and expansion. There’s a cost to doing purpose at every step of the way.

Spending on marketing and public relations may seem counterintuitive or even self-serving to those who see these kinds of initiatives as purely altruistic. Remember, they are not. With the exception of nonprofits and NGOs, brands are for-profit. Profit is good. Profit is prosperity, it is empowerment, it is better culture, it allows companies to hire top talent, it enables evolution, it offers security, and it is doing the right thing when it matters. Moreover, purpose is not exclusively about philanthropy. Sure, a purposeful company may undertake charitable actions, but it doesn’t have to.

The cost of doing purpose has to be weighed alongside the financial rewards. Evidence shows that brands built with purpose are outpacing those without. In 2017, Havas Media Group did an analysis of 1,500 brands, spanning 33 countries, and 300,000 customers; and the insights were remarkable. The resulting publication, (1) The Meaningful Brands® Report, revealed that brands with purpose outperform in the stock market by 206% over a 10-year span. These brands reported significant increases to their share of wallet (up to x9), and demonstrated 137% greater returns on KPIs year-over-year. Finally, in the largest global study of its kind, profitability and performance has been statistically linked to a brand’s meaningfulness. When the brand cares, customers care.

No purpose — no focus — no brand

The same Meaningful Brands study reported that customers would not care if 74% of brands in the world simply disappeared. This is a staggering number. These brands don’t demonstrate meaningful interests in societal health, personal wellbeing, the planet, or quality of life. Simply put, they don’t care. They don’t play an important role in people’s lives. Therefore, customers don’t care, either.

What happens when customers don’t care? For starters, they become fickle. Slightly less than a third of customers think that brands are honest, which means they distrust a strong majority of brands out there. When your product is on a shelf among others, they all start to look alike. Without differentiation, low price rules. This is a missed opportunity for profit, because, according to (2) Nielsen’s 2016 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of customers would spend more on a product if the brand were sustainable and/or made a public declaration of corporate citizenship.

In the bigger picture, if customers don’t care, the brand will be forgotten and die.

This happens more frequently than you think. People don’t notice when brands disappear, because, well, they don’t care. This is one reason why business leaders need to invest in purpose-driven initiatives during times of prosperity. This is when customers are paying attention, when the organization is operating with top talent and efficiency, and when a brand’s efforts will have the most impact. Waiting until circumstances have gotten dire — such as financial losses combined with lack of customer trust — may be too late.

Purpose is a roadmap for brand change

Despite the benefits of change, the transition from old to new is difficult. And it’s easy to mess up. There’s reward, but there’s also risk. If not handled correctly, change can feel chaotic, unsafe, and arbitrary. There can be fallout, or worse, failure. Communication during transition is essential. People need to understand why the business is going into uncharted territory.

One of the biggest reasons why transition is so hard is because people have a natural fear of failure. Change asks even the most capable employees to step out of their comfort zones, which requires unlearning what they’ve been taught to do, breaking habits, and forming new relationships. New ways of doings things take longer and feel less natural. Implementing change isn’t like turning a light switch on and off — people need to actively put plans into practice. For this, you need motivated individuals who “get” the reasons why things are changing.

If your business doesn’t evolve very often, then you’re going to have a lot of shocked individuals when it does. It’s like suddenly rocking a boat when people thought they were standing on dry land: What’s happening? Why now? Why has this never happened before? Who’s causing this? If you’re a play-it-safe type of business owner, then the culprit will be easy to identify. In any case, this causes instability that will leave people feeling insecure about the business and their own roles.

Another transitional challenge happens when you have high turnover in a management position. It’s common for new hires in management roles to put their fingerprints on the organization. Yes, they should be encouraged to look for areas of improvement; this is, after all, what they were hired to do. But for the teams they manage, change can be disruptive and chaotic. When leadership turnover happens too frequently, with all the accompanying directional changes, people won’t make the effort to adopt any new initiatives. They’ll simply wait it out, dig their heels in, and assume that this new person will be gone as quickly as the last. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t matter how good the manager; if the team is determined to resist, then everyone will fail.

Is your company fit for change? If something disruptive happens tomorrow, would your team be able to weather the storm? Organizations that lack any clear purpose will be met with extreme resistance. Leaders will have to spend valuable time reminding people of objectives and goals. Disagreements will cause teams to actively work against each other. Managers will find themselves reassuring individuals of their value and job security. Fear will take over. On the other hand, organizations with strong purpose will be met with positivity and energy. Internally, employees will support decision making, work harder to seek understanding, and stand up for peers when things get hard. When everyone knows the purpose, they all work more effectively and collaboratively. Leaders can move ahead with a sense of security. Purpose charts the plan; leaders guide the troops. Investors will be fortified by the confidence and momentum. Purpose is like an energy booster and safety net, all in one.

EVRY — leading with Digital Advantage

When Nordic tech giant EVRY realized they needed to transition in order to remain a leader in their field, it became obvious that it was necessary to look within the organization, to start with the core, the purpose. This change from inside out sparked a reinvention of the brand and bought out its unique qualities.

EVRY’s technical expertise has helped to build the back-bone of the Nordic economy over the last 50 years. However, in 2015 profound change was building in the digital space. Businesses had become accustomed to growing their digital assets, now they were seeking new ways to compete through innovation. EVRY hadn’t adapted to market developments to reengage new customers in the face of strong competition. Their owners demanded a turnaround strategy, introducing a new management team, who instigated research into the company’s purpose.

Mission was invited to discuss possible ways forward with emphasis on brand building. We concluded that EVRY needed to be rebuilt from within.

A rebuild from inside out

Through several workshops with staff, customers, and key investors we began with a simple question, “Why are we in business?” We aimed to 1) uncover what motivated EVRY to excel and define its singular, authentic purpose. Through this we could 2) introduce a narrative that demonstrated the value which EVRY creates. 3) The result was tested and benchmarked, and every nuance was considered. We believed this would 4) reignite the culture, helping them to recognize their legacy and true potential. This research ran concurrently with a new business strategy, which addressed the imbalance in services with the aim to strengthen their consulting operation, and build a culture where innovation would thrive.

We applied our four-step process to uncover and activate EVRY’s purpose.

Our research revealed a vein of truth that ran throughout the whole company. The very nature of digitalization demands technical expertise, business insight, rigor, and accountability to ensure solutions perform all the time. EVRY’s grass-roots approach to digitalization made them extremely performance-oriented. Where competitors promised “transformation,” EVRY provided tangible advantage. This was a major motivation factor among employees throughout the organization.

A new corporate brand emerges

We created a purpose statement that resonated with the group management team, quickly green lighting the program, to integrate the concept within the culture and the brand:

Creating Digital Advantage for Tomorrow’s Leaders.
EVRY’s purpose

Two words, “Digital Advantage” succinctly summarized EVRY’s true purpose. This snippet became a short ‘reminder’ that united staff in a common goal to produce high-performance solutions. EVRY’s customers seek out Digital Advantage, in a time when the competitive landscape is facing disruption. Moreover, investors respond to it, as they look for reassurances that their investment is secure with a company driven to compete.

A key component of the implementation of Digital Advantage was a website specifically dedicated to the company strategy. The site effectively explained the turnaround, and how Digital Advantage was at the core. This involved staff across the world in a unifying statement of intent. Management roadshows explained the need for purpose. In addition, Digital Advantage was brought to life throughout the company’s 50 locations, using LCD displays conveying its importance in the context of customer needs. A comprehensive range of visual assets was developed for sales, marketing, and corporate communications. This extends the purpose beyond the walls of the company, explaining the value of Digital Advantage as well as providing the evidence to back it up.

As the purpose program progressed, business improved accordingly. EVRY decided to commence with an initial public offering. Digital Advantage was proving so effective, that it was adopted as the main theme to approach investors with. All financial communications carried the Digital Advantage message, with case studies, client testimonials, and content to authenticate the claim.

The results

EVRY’s purpose has brought a breath of fresh air to all business units, providing renewed motivation. Staff feel united in a direction that renews the company with energy. Digital Advantage is welcome inspiration to customers, demonstrating EVRY’s dedication to task. Furthermore, investors recognize EVRY for its committed performance. These are some of the results (3) over the three-year program:

  • Reduced staff-turnover by 40% across all business units.
  • Improved profitability from NOK — 938 million to NOK + 629 million.
  • Filled 700 new positions; 33% of which are occupied by women, in an industry where only 24% of staff are female.
  • Rose from 12th place in to 4th place in the ranking as (4) “the most attractive IT company to work for in Norway”.
  • Almost tripled the company value on the Norwegian Stock Exchange from NOK 4.28 billion to NOK 11.5 billion.

Transitioning to bottom-up change

Historically, leadership was a strictly top-down activity. Power was organized into a chain of command. Strength went hand-in-hand with respect — to be considered a good CEO, you had to be a commanding leader. Executive-level conversations were kept private and decisions were made behind closed doors. All of this was accepted without question. Employees stayed at one company for their entire careers, and generally did as they were told.

Today, leading is about teamwork, collaboration, and listening. Respect isn’t about being a know-it-all; it’s being able to admit when you don’t know. Employees subscribe to a “question everything” model. Today’s workforce is highly specialized, opinionated, and empowered. People want to love where they work and care that what they do is meaningful. So, in moments of change and transition, they want to know “why.” In modern business such as EVRY, change happens from within. When we think about innovation, we see hands-on problem solving and group ideation. We see big ideas coming from all corners, all skill levels, and all kinds of people. Young and old are working side-by-side, listening to each other and seeking perspective. As organizations evolve to be much more open and collaborative, creative ideas can bubble up from anywhere. Everyone has a voice.

It’s more important than ever to align your company on purpose. Important decision making doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not limited to a handful of top-tier managers. It happens every day, all over the place.

Having meaningful purpose puts everyone on the same page and gives everyone the same road map.

It enables innovation and eases the way through times of transition. As in the example of EVRY, we saw that purpose united staff around a shared goal to produce innovative solutions. Their customers sought out Digital Advantage in a time filled with uncertainty and disruption. And investors responded to it, as they looked for reassurances that their investments were secure. Each group had their own interpretation of “Digital Advantage”, meaningful to them.

Purpose will allow you to create the kind of environment that not only embraces change, but sparks it.


(1) The Meaningful Brands Report, Havas Media Group, 2017

(2) The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, Nielsen, 2016

(3) EVRY Annual Report, 2017

(4) Universum Survey, 2017

This article first appeared in Journal of Brand Strategy, vol.7, no. 3, autumn 2018, and was written by Bård Annweiler. On Mission’s website you can find out what other fascinating issues we write about.