Mural by Kristel Lerman, Around The Corner From 2723 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA

All In The Family (Brand)

What Purpose Based Strategy & Shared Purpose Mean to Brands

As a global culture, we’ve developed an expectation for collaboration and mutual benefit with the brands to which we grant our loyalty and trust. We want brands to present authentic and relevant opportunities to engage and work towards a common purpose. Just as we’ve experienced a shared purpose among family members for the well being of the whole family, a company must foster that same belief among employees, customers, suppliers, investors and all those whose lives are touched by its operations.

A clear and well-communicated purpose is crucial. According to Deloitte’s 2013 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture survey, companies with a strong sense of purpose have a history of strong financial performance almost 40% higher than those that don’t, as well as 50% higher customer satisfaction and 300% higher employee satisfaction. Companies are founded to create value that improves the lives of potential customers in some way. If customers respond positively to this value, the lives of employees, suppliers and investors are improved as well. The manifestation of this value is the company’s core purpose. Purpose based strategy is an inclusive approach, which aligns the wellbeing of the company with the wellbeing of its stakholders, enabling shared purpose, and strengthening relationships akin to the bonds found between members of a family.

Core Purpose Before Shared Purpose

What’s the core purpose at your organization? Take a look at your Mission Statement. It most likely says that because you believe in something; you use certain tools or concepts in order to do something specific, a purpose. Not all mission statements are constructed in the same way. Many jump straight to purpose, to answer to the question, “why does your brand exist?”

Answering this ‘why’ is arguably as important as anything you do for an organization- if the organization is sincere about a focus on the long term, it provides a foundation for all future decision making. “If we were founded to do this, then this brand extension makes sense/doesn’t make sense.” Ideally, the organization’s founding members (and even better the community it serves) craft this purpose together. This would mean core purpose was shared across the organization at some point (aka: shared purpose). If your purpose is a big enough idea, it should have legs for the long term. A big idea as a core purpose also creates a fertile ground for shared purpose — that is, an organizational purpose universal enough to serve as a core purpose for others outside your organization as well.

You can create core purpose, but it’s up to the crowd to manifest shared purpose. Core purpose serves as a beacon for others and invites them in to join you. Shared purpose emerges as others join your core purpose.

Family Brands Are All Unique, but All Share Purpose

My family includes and transcends the natural borders of the people who share my ancestry or last name. I believe that ‘family’ starts and ends with shared purpose: blood may be thicker than water, but love’s thicker than blood, and your family are the people who take care of you. We may come from diverse backgrounds, but we’ve all got some version of family, blood-related or not. The tissue that connects each of us to the other members of the family is shared purpose.

Shared purpose inspires individuals to come together with a spirit of mutual benefit when working towards the wellbeing of the collective family.

For the sake of clarity, whether it’s your brand community, tribe, friends or blood relations, I’ll often refer to this nuclear group, who shares purpose, as ‘family.’ Forces associated with family are loyalty, trust, self-identification and authenticity. Do these forces sound familiar as a Holy Grail for brands? If they don’t, they should. Our identity as a member of a family is tightly intertwined with shared purpose.

Purpose Based Strategy in the Family Brand

Family members organically serve a shared purpose driven by loyalty, trust, self-identification and authenticity. Each member of the family looks for ways to contribute to the long-term welfare of the family itself.

While you’re traveling around the place you call home — be it thriving metropolis or vibrant township — think about the common understanding of this ‘Family’ brand; the place, the common desire for its wellbeing. This is shared purpose. The New Yorkers I know authentic self-identification, expressing loyalty and trust for the NYC brand above all other city brands.

You can invoke shared purpose in NYC (and sometimes get out of a jam) by highlighting the fact that “we’re all New Yorkers.” This is due to the implication of what it means to be a member of the NYC family brand. This is the True North that guides all New Yorkers, regardless of inter-borough competition, to self-identify as New Yorkers with pride.

In families and friendships we act on this shared purpose in many ways, but there’s an implicit understanding that service to the family is an investment for the long term. If a member of the family brand needs help, they ask for it (without an expectation for quid pro quo, more like the expectation for Karma) and contribution to the shared purpose manifests organically for members of the family brand.

Sometimes Your Purpose Must Evolve

Sales at McDonald’s continue to slow and shrink. In the first quarter of 2015, the brand reported fewer people coming in to eat and an erosion of the business.. Why have so many people left this brand’s community? Thinking about the McDonald’s brand, I recall a clean, happy place my family enjoyed together when I was a kid. Does this perception of the brand align with what McDonald’s intends to achieve through its brand mission, “to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink”? More or less, it does, when I think about the brand from the perspective of my childhood experience within a different social context.

Today, I don’t take my own kids there. Why? I want my kids to be healthy, and that means we need to feed them nutritious food. If you visit McDonald’s new ‘Full Menu Explorer’ and sort for the major meal items: ‘Burgers & Sandwiches,’ ‘Chicken & Fish,’ ‘Salads,’ ‘Breakfast,’ and ‘Snacks,’ 75+% of the items are either deep fried or burgers. As an adult, within society’s current definition of nutrition, this view into the McDonald’s brand doesn’t represent nutrition to me. Would it be a clean, fun, happy place, smacking of nostalgia? It probably would. But, can it become my favorite place to take my family? Not unless something evolves.

As it turns out, I am not alone. An informal conversation with members of the community at my children’s school indicates the brand doesn’t represent nutrition to other parents, either. Together, the other parents and I share a purpose of nutrition and health for our children. We also share a perception of McDonald’s that doesn’t include nutrition and health.

Think globally and act locally is a fundamental tenet for shared purpose. Locally, McDonald’s consistently adjusts its menu to offer items that suit the local tastes. Globally, society is concerned about nutrition. How much better could McDonald’s perform if they were to adopt nutrition as part of their core purpose and then act on the shared purpose of nutrition and health with their global community, while maintaining a practice of adjusting menu items for local tastes?

Here’s an important question for the decision makers at McDonald’s: would they feed their families a consistent diet of McDonald’s? If not, then why not? Loyalty and trust are two-way streets. McDonald’s core purpose can evolve to share the purpose of providing its community not only with “favorite place and way to eat and drink,” but more specifically focusing on the nutrition in what their community eats and drinks. There’s no more important local customer validation than adoption for the family, and it seems as if families want nutritious food.

Done Right, Your Purpose Guides the Family to Achieve Shared Purpose

If you open the door for shared purpose, why not make sure that door leads down multiple pathways, which give people a choice? This is what Patagonia has co-created through their partnership program with eBay. Patagonia was founded with a purpose to respect the environment. They’ve clearly defined and telegraphed this purpose, amplifying and sharing their mission with the community they serve: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This has guided the brand to co-create a marketplace with their brand community, in partnership with eBay, called “Common Threads.” Bring us your tired, well-loved clothing for repair. If you don’t have any, we’ll supply it. Fix it and you can keep it,” where the Patagonia family is given a choice of pathways to sharing purpose: “reduce, repair, reuse and reimagine.”

Do you think the decision makers at Patagonia outfit their families consistently in Patagonia gear? If so, then why do you think this is? Is the brand sharing the purpose of using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis? They certainly seem to be doing so. Has the market responded positively? “Since 2008, Patagonia has doubled the scale of its operations and tripled its profits.”

TOMS is another example of shared purpose acting as True North and guiding the brand to achieve increased loyalty, affinity, self-identification, and trust with its community. The TOMS mission statement articulates a core purpose with broad contemporary appeal: “With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.” Towards this end, TOMS has co-created a marketplace from maker members of the TOMS family, where customer members, sharing in the purpose, can shop by cause, region or brand. Every product offers dual pathways to supporting causes or regions.

TOMS does well by doing good, but has also mobilized a strong brand community through collaboration based on shared purpose. This community, incidentally, supports the purpose either by collaborating to expand and enrich the product offering, or participating in the purpose through purchasing the products.

Amplification of Shared Purpose

Once you know your core purpose, the way to telegraph that purpose and invite people to join you is akin to a lean marketing approach:

· Alignment of Purpose: Align core purpose throughout the company, beginning at the senior leadership level. Just as in the family metaphor, shared purpose begins at home. Align each leader’s individual core purpose with the core purpose of your organization to create internal shared purpose.

· Definition of Brand Promise: Distill those attributes that matter most to your constituents into a concentrated 3–5 word promise on which your brand will consistently deliver. You can’t keep a promise when you don’t know what promise you’re making. Use the brand’s points of parity, differentiation and market context to define the value your brand promises to deliver across all constituent touchpoints.

· Mapping Delivery of Brand Promise: Create a visual map of all brand touchpoints across all brand constituents to determine opportunities to deliver the brand promise. A brand is only as good as the promises it keeps. Use the map to identify opportunities where you either under-deliver, or don’t deliver at all, on the promise you’ve made.

· Prioritization of Opportunities: By mapping constituent touchpoints, you will gain a deeper understanding of the constituents receiving value, both whom and how much. Always keep your word, but you cannot be everything to everyone. Use the deeper understanding of delivery to prioritize which opportunities matter the most so that you can prioritize those opportunities first.

· Collaboration with Communities: Alongside those prioritized opportunities, develop collaborative programs and crowd initiatives where you can apply the resources of the brand to support shared purpose. Relationships are two-way streets. If you expect loyalty from others, you must be loyal in return. These co-creative and collaborative programs and initiatives will lead to innovation and the best value possible for members of your family brand.

Now That You Understand Shared Purpose, What Good Is It?

What specific benefits can be achieved through shared purpose?

· Be Authentic: More than ever before in society, due to our broad access to participate in the media, there is an appetite and expectation, both personally and professionally, for authenticity. The core purpose upon which your business was founded is an authentic purpose. The trust issues faced by Wall Street are due to a consistent focus on the purpose of maximization of shareholder profits. Although profits can be maximized as a result of authentic core purpose, maximization of shareholder profits is not a core purpose upon which a business can be founded for the long term. Authenticity breeds consistency and creates the foundation for transparency and trust. Core purpose is the only way to ensure authenticity throughout an organization. It’s True North for all.

· Ensure Relevance: Shared purpose comes from shared understanding, a.k.a. relevance for both parties. When you consistently communicate your purpose with authenticity, and have worked to engage through that purpose so that community can form around it, these communications will maintain consistent relevance. This is an evolution beyond the one-way broadcast communications model, where messages were pushed at audiences through mass media channels. These one-way models reached a large portion of the target audience, but the lack of actual communication with, rather than to, an audience, made relevance a hit or miss proposition. Unless there’s actual engagement and conversation, relevance can be a crapshoot.

· Keep Your Promises: A brand is only as good as the promises it keeps. The only path to define the promise of any brand is through a defined core purpose. This should remind us of the adage, “Tell the truth, it’s simpler, that way you don’t have to keep your lies straight.” It’s axiomatic that you cannot keep your promises unless you know what they are. The good news is that all you have to do is lead with your true core purpose- then you’ll always know your promise.

· Collaborate: We are entering the time of the collaboration, or sharing-driven, economy. This economic reality holds the promise of less waste, more innovation and stronger relationships between brands and the communities they serve. At a time when a brand like AirBnB facilitates home rental, and Lyft facilitates catching a ride, with total strangers, the trust generated through a shared purpose becomes an essential currency for business. Communities that have formed around these brands must act together in much the same way we’ve experienced families working towards mutual wellbeing- through deep collaboration driven and defined by shared purpose.

· Develop Loyalty: The highest form of loyalty for any brand is through self-identification: regarding the brand’s welfare as one’s own. Self-identification with a brand’s authentic values can build towards the type of strong relationships one finds in the family. Of course, we cannot self-identify with a brand unless we have a personal understanding of what it means to be the brand. What’s its core purpose? What’s its True North, which serves as a beacon to guide us? We cannot self-identify, or share in a mobilization with others who are part of the brand, unless we are all guided by this understanding.

· Facilitate Useful Innovation: Core purpose leads to shared purpose, and necessarily serves as a foundation for the value your brand has promised to deliver to society. With a well-defined brand promise, people within the organization should be able to quickly grasp the distilled points of parity, differentiation and market context for your brand. When an individual knows the brand promise, the distance between innovative idea and execution of that idea is collapsed due to the common understanding of the value the brand promises to deliver.

· Break Down Jargon Barriers: When you speak with those who share your purpose, you speak in a common language defined by the shared purpose. Those who work in high performance marketing teams will be familiar with the refrain: “No jargon, otherwise we’re just talking to ourselves.” Jargon creates barriers, rather than strengthening relationships, due to its ‘insider’ nature. Let’s be inclusive, get rid of jargon and speak to people like people.

The Bonds That Tie Generate Value That Persists

Just as all people gravitate towards their version of family, there is a nearly universal appetite to be part of something larger: According to the 2015 CONE Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, “91 percent of people expect companies to do more than make a profit…consistent with 2013 results, global consumers consider a company’s CSR commitments when they look to which companies they want doing business in their communities (84%).” Shared purpose unifies the interests of the individual with the interests of the collective.

It’s not possible to hold as much potential individually as we do together. Diversity of perspective breeds creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation lead to superior and differentiated value.

The metaphor of sports works well in business due to its orientation towards team, which necessarily works well for shared purpose. Athletes need their teammates, even for individual sports: coaches, family, equipment suppliers, etc. We become part of something larger when a core purpose is shared.

With shared purpose joining diverse members of a community, deep collaboration is possible. When deep collaboration happens between a brand and the diverse members of its community, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts, and relevant, useful innovation is possible. The core purpose upon which the business was founded becomes richer as the products of that purpose grow in value to the community served by, and sharing in, that purpose.

It’s all in the family.

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