The Power of Purpose: Can communicators change the world?

Building reputation is difficult, but maintaining it is even harder. If the picture painted by a brand or organisation doesn’t add up with the internal reality, sooner or later society have always found out, but in today’s joined up, socially-enabled world, it’s not just sooner, it’s much much sooner. This was one of the ideas covered by Clare Salmon (Strategist, CMO, NED) who led discussions at a recent roundtable event organised by Fourtold and IncrediBull on the value of purpose-driven brands.

Consumers expecting brands to live up to their purpose has long been a sticking point: for example Midlands Bank claimed to be “the listening bank” and the brand collapsed in the early 90s when it became known as the “we don’t care what our customers say bank”.

So what can organisations do to live up to their moral promises? Richard Parkinson (CEO, IncrediBull) talked about the need for brands to follow a HOPE model: Honest, Open, Prepared, Energetic (& Bold). For example, being Honest would mean understanding what your brand is really like internally: a castle in the sky, full of big dreams and collaborative ideas, or an army-base command and control model.

Matthew Willis (Partner, Fourtold) discussed how to get purpose lived inside an organisation: the obstacles faced and ideas to overcome them. These are his five steps to living your purpose:

1.       Get under the surface

Translate the brand purpose into real behaviours that everyone in the organisation can understand and carry out in their day-to-day work. Understand the existing behaviours that may stand in the way, and plan your strategy for replacing them.

2.       Cross-functional ownership

While we may think about purpose as a brand attribute, a moral purpose has to be lived across the whole organisation. This means that the whole organisation has to take responsibility for it. If it is only understood by one function in isolation, be in marketing, communications, or HR, it has little chance of becoming real. It has to be understood, demonstrated and owned equally in customer services, sales, management, and maintenance functions.

3.       Embed it

Little things can make a big difference when embedding purpose:

  • Systems: make sure behaviours are integrated into everything that affects people, not just internal comms – performance management, recruitment, induction.
  • Symbols – what physical signs you’re giving: if the physical signs given every day in your organisation contradict your purpose, it’s time to think about changing them.
  • Rituals – a lot of the small, everyday interactions:  A brand that claims to be professional might want to consider whether their meetings start and end on time. A company that promises efficiency might want to think about how many people they copy in on emails. On the other hand if you promise personal service, it might be better to ditch the email and either pick up the phone or walk to a colleague’s desk.

4.       Leadership role modelling

The majority of leaders understand that their behaviour is a key indicator for the state of their organisation: both from a public perspective and the internal one.As we all know it can be hard to analyse our own behaviours objectively. It’s our job as comms people to suggest small, specific actions which will demonstrate the desired behaviours and start bringing your purpose to life.

5.       Involvement

So many companies dream up a great new purpose, then spend time money and effort convincing their employees and stakeholders. But we know from our own experience that people are much more likely to support something if they’ve helped shape it. So flip this process on its head: put the effort into involving employees in shaping your new purpose, and you’ll save time and money getting them to buy into it later on.

If you’re thinking about how you can better communicate your purpose inside and outside your organisation, get in touch to arrange a chat.


More from our roundtable: