Mark Waite of Cohesive Communications outlines exercises to follow if you’re struggling to find your brand purpose
Your business purpose isn’t framed by what you do, but why you do what you do. A truly authentic and productive purpose is imaginative, expansive, and ambitious. Ours is ‘We help innovators discover and use their purpose and so amplify their impact.’ We often shorten that to:
We tell stories on purpose
Whatever shape it takes, genuine purpose encompasses beliefs and values that are important to you, your stakeholders, and your hoped-for customers. It might feel like a cause worth fighting for, or your part in a narrative that’s bigger than you are. Following a purpose turns a smart business into a great one.
Without purpose, how do you stand out in a sea of same? After all, it’s pretty certain that what you do will not be unique. How you do what you do could give you some differentiation. But why you do what you do. Now, that’s a story that no one else can tell. It’s as unique as your fingerprint. It’s why you’ll come to matter to the people that matter to you.
So how do you capture the cause or passion that motivates you to overcome adversity and the values and beliefs that help you strive for better? Here are some steps you might try to get closer to your purpose:
- Ask your customers
How you show up in your customer or client relationships can be really informative. Ask the right questions, and your customers often describe your purpose for you from a unique and valuable perspective. Here’s a useful questionnaire you can use, borrowed from the team at Valuable Content – here. Their words can be difficult to hear because they won’t echo your marketing ‘spiel’ but they’ll talk about the experience of partnering with you. How it was for them, the good stuff that happened, why it mattered, and importantly, how it made them feel.
- Find your values and re-engage with your cause
Values can feel like unwritten rules. You intuitively know them but may have never articulated them. It’s likely that the values and beliefs you hold dear in your personal life are mirrored in your professional life, driving you to operate your business in a way that fits with your ethics. Write them down. It helps to make them concise and to the point. Then try ranking them in order of importance to you.
If you’re less sure of your business values, make a list of any unethical, unkind, cynical behaviours or practices you’ve observed – the ones that really get under your skin. Then, for each negative example, write an opposing positive one. What you’ll create is a long list of values that mean something to you.
- Make your purpose your story
Go through your customers’ testimony. Listen carefully to those moments that are the most meaningful for them. Ask yourself ‘what actions did we take?’ in those moments. What were the impacts? Who benefited? How did we make them feel? How did I/we feel? Those are the insights that will get you to your ‘why’.
Why statements are often written in the form ‘We do __________ to benefit____________by________. A good tip is to stick to simple language. You’re not creating marketing copy.
You’ve also captured the raw ingredients of your values and beliefs and this is where you look for insight into your ‘how’. How you’ll behave, as you accomplish your why. The standards you’ll hold yourself to. The skills and experience you’ll bring to bear.
When you’re comfortable with your why, and how, you can begin to apply them practically. A good place to start is re-crafting your About Us in the order of ‘why’, ‘how’, and finally ‘what’. By putting the three side-by-side, it becomes immediately clear that your ‘why’ is the real differentiator. Better still, try an About You. This is the same story, but told from your customers’ perspective.
Galvanised by those first inklings of purpose? It’s never too soon to start to live it. Share it with your team first. See if they recognise it in action – a powerful test. Share it with your customers. Hire people who resonate with it. Use it as a compass to guide you. Trust in it. It won’t lead you astray because it’s the true reason you’re doing what you do.