Belief Beyond Function: How to Activate Purpose in Your Product

Steve Whapshott
Mar 2 · 6 min read
Two inter-connected circles. On the left, a solid green circle represents the “functional” aspects of a product or service. On the right, a larger blurred blue circle represents the more abstract and emotional aspects of “belief” in a product or service. The two circles blend in the middle with a connecting black line.
Two inter-connected circles. On the left, a solid green circle represents the “functional” aspects of a product or service. On the right, a larger blurred blue circle represents the more abstract and emotional aspects of “belief” in a product or service. The two circles blend in the middle with a connecting black line.
Finding the balance of function and belief. The rational with the emotional. The tangible and the intangible.

It’s never been easier to launch a new product. According to Harvard Business School, annually more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched.

But with this fast-track to launch comes a hard truth: of the 30,000 new consumer products launched, 95% fail.

The competition for customer attention has never been greater.

The market is flooded — all with “the next big thing” — ready to grab at your attention.

The effect is a sea of product and business mediocrity.

What’s led to this state of the market? And what can you do to avoid “industry norming” and stand out?

It’s a confusing market for today’s consumers.

Their attention fought for in every waking moment of their everyday lives. Their data gathered and shared willingly or unwillingly with prospective sellers. Products projected upon them by brands in time (increased rate) and money (increased spend), all desperate for their attention.

You only need to glance at Instagram to see how “paid for” ads have infiltrated a culture of photo sharing, turning a once personal expression into a business-driven need for attention.

This isn’t news to most. It’s the common cycle of good products in the modern digital world. Once swallowed up by the tech sharks, these fledgling products get flushed through, souls bleached and DNA reprogrammed — with new tentacles and stitched-on features — ready for a new lease of commercial life. We industry-folk are equally part of the factory. Helping brands to hit their KPIs, drive “growth”, meet customer “needs”, and ultimately get on the radar of investors.

The commercial sense is outweighing the customer sense.

Business has become obsessed.

The modern-day business cycle has warped the perception of what good looks like:

Obsessed with speed.

Sprint, sprint, sprint!

This widely adopted process risks damaging your brand as your products become “normed”. The process has its place but often at the expense of speed is consideration and emotion. You risk becoming another cookie from the commercial cutter.

Obsessed with single department KPIs.

Take off the blinkers — walk around.

Working with blinkers on results in siloed organisations, separate KPI’s and everyone telling a different story. The result is in-fighting, lack of ownership, no consistency and poor communication.

Obsessed with quick, short-term wins.

Snap out of that finite mindset.

Demands to first please stakeholders or investors creates a quick-win culture and results in a reactive business whose main focus is to beat a rival rather than building your own brand story.

Where in these is the power to do good?

Where is the focus on a cause greater than ones-self?

How can you rethink your approach to start obsessing over the right things?

No purpose, no people. No cause, no connection. The future begins with empathy.

What you understand about your customer is key to any great product, service or brand. And understanding the next wave of customers will be key to sustainable growth.

Gen-Z are fast coming of age as the new primary consumer for many. As this happens, so too is their influence on shifting the mindset for your market. A mindset that is driven by creating change for the better.

And who can blame them? Being brought up on a (more-widely recognised) burning planet, frustration with the establishment, and societal uncertainty — they’re empowered to take a stand.

“85% of Gen-Z believe brands should be about something more than profit and 70% would rather do something meaningful than make a lot of money” – Wunderman Thompson Intelligence Report

The world as we know it today is built on many traditional beliefs and pillars of society. And as this new audience of change-makers begins to uncover, it’s not how they see their own narrative playing out. In the next 10 years, the common belief is people will care more about the products they use and increasingly, the story (people, values, beliefs) behind them than ever before.

So now is the time to listen carefully, make note and take action.

What this means for your product and brand

The power is in the hands of your consumer.

Everybody can say (and most do these days) they are customer-first. But are they really? Understanding usability and accessibility with customers is one thing. Understanding a story, a feeling or a belief is another. Those set up for success are the organisations willing to transform in a way that challenges the status quo on the inside and out.

1 — It’s no longer enough to be product-led.

It is no longer enough to simply test with users. It is no longer enough to just have a well designed product interface.

Action > Activate purpose into your products.
Be clear how your products exist to fulfil your brand purpose and how that connects to your greater cause. Think about how you qualify new feature ideas or measure the success of existing products performance by including purpose-led metrics. These things matter.

2 — Your product is one expression of your brand story.

There is an opportunity to tell a greater story for a greater cause. An opportunity to connect with customers in ways that support their own journey and make them true advocates of what you do.

“77 percent of consumers buy from brands who share the same values as they do.”
– HavasGroup

Action > Double-down on what you stand for.
Don’t be afraid to stand-out. To be known for your greater purpose. With authenticity comes appeal. From appeal comes confidence. From confidence comes your unique personality. Your product is an invitation to be a part of something much greater so make the message clear by connecting product design and product marketing.

3 — Standing (and fighting) for something isn’t always easy.

If Patagonia’s only differentiator was the quality of their garment thread, they’d be a fraction of the size, making a fraction of products for a fraction of the market. And more importantly to the business, the employees and their customers, making a fraction of impact on the world. Growth to them is as much about responsibility as it is about profit. Now that’s no easy route. It takes hard work and determination to stand for something but you will be rewarded for doing so.

Action > Don’t let fear get in the way (– take risks).
Following a greater cause can mean venturing into uncharted territory. It can mean asking difficult questions and making difficult decisions. It can cause frictions with colleagues, stakeholders or investors. But these are the decisions that will generate purposeful growth. The kind of growth you read or dream about. Growth with one hand on people’s heart and an eye on a better future for them.

4 — Find value in purpose as well as profit

One of the big stumbling blocks for organisations is the legacy operation models that are ingrained in the business. For them, fighting for a greater cause is like attempting to squeeze a huge peg into a tiny hole.

Action > Change your measures of success from within.
Revisit your business goals to make sure your measures of success reflect the journey you’re on. Find the metrics that work for you, that drive your teams and support your customers on their journey. It’s this change that will bring people together, and this change needs to happen at the top.

5 — Increased speed isn’t always the answer

The age-old balancing act of speed versus quality. There’s a time for both but don’t allow one to overwhelm the other. Like great partnerships, they work best together.

Action > Take a moment — think slow.
Take time to focus on improving the quality of your product experience and do fewer things, but better. This will help strengthen why you do what you do by keeping your message focused and avoiding confusion and poor execution. When measuring quality, less is more. If you talk in metrics, think of it as increasing value per user rather than increasing the number of users. If you get the first right, the latter will follow.

Now is the time to fight for your greater cause through your product.

Growth is about more than just numbers and velocity. It’s about meaningful connections and emotional integrity. Emotional integrity enables a strong culture to develop, increasing your ability to connect with customers. This is the positive growth we crave.

A brand purpose isn’t just an output of a strategy workshop. It’s the belief in why you do what you do — put into action to enable and empower your customers. It’s this action that can be referred to as the product of your brand. Therefore your product represents the action you are taking to make a difference for your customer.

So make it a good one.



Creative Director, Product Design at Idean UK.

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Steve Whapshott

Written by

Creative Director / Designing products with purpose and brands with bold futures @IdeanUK

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Steve Whapshott

Written by

Creative Director / Designing products with purpose and brands with bold futures @IdeanUK

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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