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The Value of Purpose

Guest post by Morgan Wells

“Customers buy the why before they buy the how. You get paid for who you are and not what you make. Community can only be built around a shared vision.”- We First Social Branding Blueprint, 2012

A recent interview study of Harvard MBA students suggested young leaders are reconnecting with purpose and redefining what it means to succeed. As one of the Passion & Purpose1 co-authors put it, “the days of signing up for a 20-year, pre-configured journey to the top are over.” Rather, in our age of social connectedness, economic uncertainty and technological hyper-drive, the next generation of leaders is struggling to define its path, and discovering a different connection to life’s purpose along the way.2

When the most recent Edelman goodpurpose® report asked respondents whether they’d be “more likely to buy products and services from a company” if they knew it supported a “good cause,” the majority (by an average of more than 65%) said yes.3 Participants said they would favor a purposeful brand in ten of the 13 countries surveyed.4

Clearly purpose is alive in business discourse, but when you think through the renewed importance of purpose to your business, there is still more to consider.

For decades, brands enjoyed the luxury of broadcasting messages to a captive audience and using carefully crafted advertising generating sales for brands. Since their audience was not as media-savvy as consumers today, they didn’t really need to focus so heavily on the why behind the brand. Nowadays, however, consumers are deeply informed through the web and widely connected through social media. As such, brands must shift their communication posture, moving from celebrity to chief celebrant of their communities. In doing so, purpose has a new and powerful role to play connecting with customers around shared values.

If I were asked on a survey whether purpose is important, I’d answer yes, and I’m willing to assume most others would, too.5 After all, purpose is a good thing, right? That’s self-evident. But how often do we stop to think about what that purpose means for our businesses? Is purpose just an idea in our heads, an artful mission statement pinned to the wall, or a fashionable word to throw around at meetings? Or is it an authentic and persuasive marketing strategy that demonstrates your commitment to what your customer community cares about and our shared futures?

Take a moment think about the purpose of your business. How clear is its definition? How distilled is it into simple, human and emotional terms? How connected is it to your personal values and the vision you have for your company? How is purpose building your customer community, profits and a world you want to live in?

To explore how well you’re defining, articulating and sharing your company’s purpose, opt in to receive a free ‘Defining Your Purpose Worksheet’ PDF.

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1 Diversify Your Dreams’ by Daniel Gulati. 2 Passion and Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders by John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, W. O. Segovia, Harvard Business Press Books, 2011. 3 goodpurpose® 2011. 4 goodpurpose® 2011. Sample included respondents from: Brazil, Canada, China, France. 5 From a research design perspective, we should be mindful of the effects of the survey situation on the data. Self-reported connection to a concept like “purpose” seems to logically skew toward the affirmative.

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Simon Mainwaring is an author, blogger, speaker and founder and CEO of We First, a social branding consultancy. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he is a member of the GMI Digital Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, AdAge's Power150 and is an Expert Blogger for Fast Company.

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