Are we witnessing the re-birth of Purpose?

The world is in crisis – acute in 2020 – but the signs have been here for far longer. Societal inequality, environmental catastrophe, the quandary of capitalism. We are all activists now.

People are telling brands and businesses very clearly that they want brands to act. We, the people, want leadership brands to lead. We want capitalism to become responsible. We want brands to help right the wrongs that we see all around us.

Big statements for business and brands to grapple with.

So how to respond?

Well, look to your purpose. Purpose is no longer a polite set of words that sound acceptable in a corporate report – it’s an imperative. Here’s why:

Firstly, let’s set the record straight on Purpose.

Purpose has always mattered,
Has always delivered for business,
And for society.

To put it simply, purpose-led businesses are proven to perform better. They attract the best talent, keep them motivated and energized, and win loyal customers in a transient world. The bottom line is this: purpose drives growth.

Knowing this, some of the most valuable brands have always been truly purpose-led from their foundation, others have used purpose to transform their businesses and reputations over time.

The Enduring Actionable Truth – but it’s difficult, because it is difficult and multi-layered.

At Landor, we see purpose as essential. It is enshrined in how we build brands through our Brand Driver Platform. We see it as the enduring truth and the north star that will out-live any brand strategy or positioning. It’s for the long term, and it becomes your reputation.
We believe brands are a platform for action – and your purpose is your ultimate guide to how to act.

Getting to purpose for any business should feel difficult and personal – it is the leaders legacy, and what the world will hold up to you when you make decisions. It is political, It is high stakes.

Branding’s pariah?

The whole notion of purpose has received some pretty bad press in the last few years. (If you’ve seen W1A, and you’ve watched the satire-purpose films, we don’t need to say anything more.) We would argue that it’s not the purpose that’s to blame, but a lack of understanding of its fundamental role in both business culture and society.

A quick copy of your category convention, a word play that sounds good but hasn’t been engaged with at a strategic level, without discussion of the implications, will just never cut it. Perhaps those purposes should be called-out.

In this era of extreme transparency, of activism, of corporate responsibility, if you’re going to establish or renew a purpose, then it needs to be taken seriously.

Fuelled by crisis, Purpose is back.

People are now telling brands and businesses very clearly that, in this time of uncertainty, they want brands to act. We want leadership brands to lead. We want capitalism to become responsible.

It’s no surprise really: we have all witnessed the state retreat and business become part of our countries’ leadership. So, in crisis, of course we’re going to turn to business to help, to guide, and to care.

  • 93% think brands should stand up and help
  • 67% think companies should donate supplies
  • 54% think companies should donate money
  • Only 4% think brands should do nothing
    (source WPP responding to COVID 24 March 2020)

But how to stand up and help? How to act and be authentic? That’s exactly the role of your brand’s purpose.

Remember, the strength of purpose is that it is human and emotional. That is why it is so needed now, as business and business leaders realise this is the side they need to show. We need to see what a company really believes in, beyond the profit margin; what it thinks about society, community, the environment, diversity and inclusion. It is all part of purpose, not just sales.

We need Purpose to be authentic, ownable and future facing.

As your enduring truth and ultimate belief as a business, purpose is the lens that we should all be looking through to help us both navigate this multi-layered crisis and rebuild when we move to recovery.

This isn’t cynical ‘pay back’ for good deeds. This is about responsible capitalism made real. When businesses can flourish, so can people, societies and the planet. When you’ve built a purpose that recognises its fundamental role (and delivers on it) then it becomes very powerful indeed: for leaders, for your people, and for society.

Purpose requires conviction and belief. It needs to come from the heart of the business and be championed by the leadership. If there’s no belief, there’s no point.

Restarting with Purpose

As we enter the restart phase from immediate crisis, and as businesses and brands begin
to grasp how central their role is in both society and their shareholders lives, it’s time to use purpose to help each business build its own, authentic future, ready for today’s fast changing context and the future.

Stronger businesses strengthen society; an empowered society helps drive innovation, inclusivity, and commercial success. There has been much talk about how we will collectively build a better future post-Covid. The one thing we do know is that purpose will be key.