Do you find that the pressures of running a business can become so overwhelming that you end up focusing only on the here and now, keeping going with client work and losing something of your core business personality in the process? Have you recently set off on yet another new project that diverts you from your mission?
Maybe an outside investor or advisor is encouraging you down a path you don’t feel entirely comfortable with? Perhaps you can’t articulate why, but you know in your heart of hearts that it doesn’t feel right.
In this post, I’d like to explain how two key brand strategy linchpins, working in unison, can help you stick to what you want your business to be. Aligning brand purpose with brand vision will give you the drive, determination and confidence you need to reach your goals and build the sort of business you really want.
A helpful way to look at it is to imagine that stating your vision sets your North Star, the point on the horizon that you want to navigate your boat towards. To start heading towards that point you’re going to need a really good motor, and that’s where brand purpose comes in. It’ll not only get you to where you want to be but it’ll ensure you do so with self-belief and passion.
In this way, doubling down on defining an authentic purpose and vision for your business gives you clarity, focus and direction. Think of it as being blinkered, but in a good way – unwavering and determined rather than narrow-minded and uninterested. You’ll be giving yourself permission to turn down work that might sap your energy and kill your spirit, and ensuring you can do more of the work you love, with clients that will help you and your business thrive.
I’m aware that the term ‘brand purpose’ can be divisive. There are those who swear by it as the holy grail for enabling brands to connect with customers on a personal level and, at the other end of the scale, there are a number of well-known marketing industry figures including Mark Ritson, Byron Sharp and Bob Hoffman who, some provisos notwithstanding, view it as an industry construct that is largely meaningless.
My view on brand purpose is that it’s more complicated and subtle than either of the above extremes: Your purpose has to be far more than a hook aimed at reeling in your customers – it should act as a powerful clarion call for your team. What you’re essentially looking to do is to express the reason you exist, the contribution and impact your work has on others. At The Co-Foundry, we choose to work with purpose-led founders and charity chief execs and find that the whole ‘define your purpose’ question can be answered relatively easily, linking back, as it does, to why the business or organisation was established in the first place.
Brand purpose, the way I see it, doesn’t have to be a lofty ‘force for good’ statement (although if that’s what you can genuinely go for, then great), it can be just as powerful as something more humble. The one thing it does have to be however, is real and authentic. Don’t let it ever become something you hide behind, make it something you can step into and live by. After all, can you really claim to be saving the planet if what you’re doing is flogging more widgets? And yes, you can align your purpose to the UN’s SDGs, but you damn well need to prove that that’s what you’re doing, not just say that you are.
How it works
My purpose for The Co-Foundry is quite simple – to help those that strive, go on to thrive. It may be a humble aim but it really puts some welly in my motor, helping me pick who I want to work with (sorry big corporates, you’re not on my list) – clients who are ‘small giants’ (as coined by Bo Burlingham in his book, “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big”). In other words, if profit is your sole motivator, count me out.
So, on a day-to-day basis, my purpose acts as an over-arching strategy that helps me define my tactics: who I want to work with, who I market to and how I build all the toolkits and solutions that will help my clients thrive. It also means I don’t get pulled in directions that take me away from that purpose.
Envisioning the future
Your vision is the aspirational partner in the purpose/vision pairing. As a North Star it doesn’t have to necessarily be achievable, but it also shouldn’t be so wild that it becomes nonsensical. To my mind, two-word visions smack of not much more than hot air. I had a client once who wanted their vision to read ‘Advance humankind’ (with their purpose being, ‘to drive the evolution of the human species’) – don’t get me started on that one!
If your brand values shape the day-to-day behaviour of your business and your brand mission shapes how you measure success on a month-to-month basis, then the vision for the brand is the year-to-year guide.
Stewart Steel, Good, brand consultants
Your vision should be something that stretches you, something that’s just a little out of reach but is easily understood and tangible while being open enough to apply in a rapidly changing world. The key is not to let your vision limit your ambition. For example, if you were an electric car company, you’d want to be thinking long-term, looking to include the term ‘transport’ but not the far more specific, ‘cars’. You might, after all, want to diversify into electric bikes or an as yet uninvented form of travel or even eco-flight!
Putting purpose and vision together
Mutually reinforcing, a clear-eyed approach to defining your brand purpose and brand vision, provides a robust framework that brings your future into focus. In fact, I’d argue that it’s well nigh impossible to build a brand without knowing where you want to go with it and what your underlying motivation is.
So, what are you waiting for? Set your aim and chart a course towards fulfilling a vision that stays true to what you stand for.