Purpose. Is it time to reconsider why your business exists?

Tough times prompt people to think about what’s important. We take a breath, implement changes and shift our behaviour.

Right now, most of us are thinking about the future and making different choices about the way we live. For me, that includes thinking more consciously about the brands I support or interact with and understanding what they stand for. And I’m not alone.

People’s expectations of companies are rising, both from an employee’s perspective and certainly from a consumer’s point of view. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic as society grapples with navigating this collective crisis. As a result, businesses have been fighting to up their game and be more socially responsible to survive in an impossible environment.

In light of this shifting expectation, companies are re-evaluating their strategies as they look to rebuild and move forward.

But as businesses start to adapt how they operate to allow for a new way of working and living, I wonder how many are taking a step back to think about the fundamental reason they exist; their purpose?

Purpose is not a difficult concept to grasp. Put simply, it’s the reason why your brand exists, beyond making a profit. It’s the value you create and a promise that you make to your internal and external stakeholders. But to be effective, your purpose has to mean something to your company. You have to be confident that you can deliver against it.

Brand purpose has been around for an age. And many leadership teams, no doubt inspired by the brilliant Simon Sinek, have articulated their ’why’ well. But few have truly embedded it within their businesses to give them a competitive edge.

Plastering it on office walls, corporate websites and an event slide or two doesn’t count. And consumers and employees alike can see right through a soundbite about being a purpose-driven company if the reality doesn’t measure up; I think we’re all a little tired of the greenwashing that’s sweeping the corporate world.

Right now, businesses have an opportunity to be a force for good. A force for change. But stepping up the plate must be followed by sustained action to make a difference moving forward.

To be clear, despite the obvious importance of doing the right thing and contributing to society in a meaningful way, we don’t think businesses should only exist to serve a “higher” purpose. You can still add value, do good and make money. But having a strong and fully executed purpose can add real commercial value, which is one reason we’re such huge advocates.

Yet so many companies struggle to get it right. We know this because almost 40% of people in the UK don’t feel that they do meaningful work. A well understood and embedded purpose can shift that mindset. It is thoroughly evidenced that people who really understand how their contribution impacts the bigger picture at work are more engaged. They feel more fulfilled, and a fully engaged team leads to a more profitable business.

And it’s not just employees that care. Two thirds of consumers are willing to pay more for purposeful brands. And while I’m not suggesting that every company should consider becoming a B Corp (although wouldn’t that be marvellous), we are passionate about helping businesses grow. And articulating your purpose and critically evaluating how it shows up across all touch points of your customer experience is a powerful tool to driving that elusive sustainable growth.

To have real impact however, you do have to keep it real. And your purpose needs to have substance if it is to be translated into action by everyone in the company.

When embedded effectively, it can be leveraged to build a community. It can help to unite your people, and your customers. Your purpose can drive consistency, inspire loyalty and build trust. It can spark innovation and stimulate new product development.

Purpose should be a north star, guiding your people’s every decision and action. And having an anchor that can create meaning and a sense of cohesiveness in a fragmented world matters right now.

Now is the time to reassess whether your purpose still stacks up. Don’t waste this crisis (thanks, Mr Churchill). Use this moment of disruption to revaluate and redesign, before you rush forward.