Can you turn a purposeful act into a purposeful business?

It’s hard to imagine a year more difficult to predict than the one that’s just begun. 2020 changed the way we interact with everything and […]

It’s hard to imagine a year more difficult to predict than the one that’s just begun. 2020 changed the way we interact with everything and everyone, forcing a global moment of reflection upon what’s really important. And when culture and opinion move, it’s not long before brands follow.

Last year saw a spate of companies assuring us we’re all in this together, that they stood in solidarity, committed to make change. Not the spurious ‘change’ of yesteryear, but real, impactful, life-changing change as they rallied together to fight a common enemy.

We saw brands turn the mirror in on themselves to take stock. To examine who they were and how they did business. And to find opportunity to change and to create change.

Brands turned their hand to PPE and sanitisers, retail and office spaces were repurposed, there was lobbying, donations, firings, hirings, stunts, campaigns. But here’s the question that should be front of mind for brand owners and corporates: can you turn your purposeful act last year into a purposeful brand or business this year?

Purposeful acts vs. purposeful brands

2020 saw brands and corporates taking action well outside their traditional affairs, showcasing the positive impact the private sector could make on a world that needed help. Organisations of all shapes and sizes stepped in and purposeful acts were aplenty, but it’s important here to call out the distinction between a purposeful act and a brand with a purpose. Donating millions of dollars to COVID relief funds is great, but it’s not a purpose. Using a supply chain to deliver critical supplies to areas where they are most needed is great, but it’s not a purpose. Committing to overhaul a workforce to be more diverse and representative is great, but it’s not a purpose. A purpose sits above these and within them, it should guide every operation from R&D to Human Resources and it should live unmistakeably in all actions a brand or organisation takes, philanthropic or otherwise. Differentiating in this way is imperative because purposeful acts from non-purposeful brands and organisations doesn’t drive brand equity like purposeful acts from purposeful ones does.

The case for purpose in 2021

The objective of a purpose is to strive for something bigger than the organisation or the brand, and if 2020 showed us anything it’s that the day-to-day challenges facing a business can shift rapidly. Unprecedented stressors on supply chains, business models and business structures, as well as technological, economic and political changes only increased the need for a purposeful ‘North Star’ – a mantra to serve as a constant for an organisation navigating unpredictable times. But it’s not enough just to ‘have’ one, you must live your purpose, too, using it to guide daily decisions that drive your brand or organisation forward, no matter the challenge in its way. As Navy Seal-cum-Management Consultant Jeff Boss outlines in Forbes: a purpose should be challenging, but not overwhelming; clear but unfinished; rewarding when it succeeds, consequential when it doesn’t. In a world of uncertainties, it’s no mystery that purpose drives profit. Steadfastness is attractive, to employees, to investors, to consumers. Be sure of yourself and others will be sure of you.

Purpose in the real world

The most successful purpose-led corporates and brands are those who put their money where their mouth is when times are tough. They’re the ones that prioritise the care they promise to their customers and communities, to the environment, and to their own employees. They are the ones that that lean in, and stay in. Take community-driven brand, Avon and its group of partner companies launching the #IsolatedNotAlone campaign in support domestic of violence survivors, the incidence of which has tragically increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Or the nation’s public servant, the BBC, creating and broadcasting curriculum-based content for kids being home-schooled. Using their purpose as the linchpin, they were able to authentically create impact whilst still staying close to the core value they add to people’s lives.

A company or brand with a strong purpose can flex its actions and not lose itself in the process. It can communicate creatively about its values and beliefs, and not run the risk of losing its audience. And it can maintain relevance when new challenges and challengers inevitably arise.

We’re not here to try and predict the unpredictable, but we are here to build hardy brands that people love to love. Brands who live their purpose in the real world, and continue to do so whatever is around the corner. If you’re interested, then get in touch – we love a challenge!



Ruby Gurdon