Have you noticed that company purpose and values are having a moment?
This stems from a few things combining at once:
Gen Z and Millennial workers demanding better from their employers than did previous cohorts. They refuse to settle.
The collective suffering of the past few years. Companies are stepping into a moral function previously the domain of public servants and religious communities.
Customers embracing their power to express their own purpose and values through their purchase decisions. They can “vote with their dollar.”
In sync with this trend/movement, leaders are getting serious about identifying and living their purpose and values. And I hope that this enthusiasm endures, because purpose and values are leadership tools too seldom utilized.
Companies with genuine purpose and values engage and enliven customers and employees. We go from being part of a business that makes crayons to one that helps parents raise creative children. From a business that sells outdoor gear to one that champions the planet.
Defining purpose and values gives everyone in the company a noble North Star. This can be a business’s superpower.
The problem is, it’s only a superpower when formulated with care. Done poorly, purpose and values are vague and blah. When you look at purpose and values statements, you see the same platitudes over and over:
With words that mean so little, why even go to the trouble of this exercise?
Ambitious leaders often want purpose and values that are more gutsy. They want to stand for something distinctive.
But how? How do you identify your purpose and values in a way that eschews bland and embraces brave? The task feels lofty and amorphous. How does one even begin?
Brand strategy is a methodology for identifying your business’s purpose and values.
Rather than starting from thin air, use brand strategy as your methodology for determining your specific purpose and values. Brand strategy answers the questions: What kind of business are we, and what kind of business do we want to be? What do we want to mean to customers?
Brand strategy is a precise process that, among other things, distills your business’s promise and character so that you can build with accountability. Your promise and character are, effectively, your purpose and values.
Purpose and values reflect the “why” of your company. Brand strategy sparks this by beginning with the “why” of your customer. This enables your purpose and values to be fueled by customers – fueled by commerce itself. They become your North Star to stay accountable and vibrant and true.
When you identify your brand promise – your purpose – instead of it being a dull, rudderless purpose, like “make the world better,” it will instead be a sharp, constructive purpose like “make healthcare human again.”
Pinpoint your purpose – your particular promise, your unique song – so that everyone can play it in concert. Volvo’s song is safety. Etsy’s song is celebrating the soulful artisan. Slack’s song is team collaboration that is both effective and fun. Nike’s song is shoes that win the race. Nordstrom’s song is phenomenal customer service.
When you identify your brand character – your values – you are claiming the particular way that you show up, human to human. Instead of committing to something generic, you commit to something specific to you. For example:
Bland, flat, imprecise → Bold, human, granular
Authentic → Frank (but not tactless)
High integrity → Kind (but not self-sacrificing)
Quality → Curious (but not naïve)
By identifying your company’s brand character with fidelity and precision, you uncover values that mean something beyond the cliché. In living these, you earn trust. You facilitate bonding with customers and with employees.
As with any choice of strategy, brand strategy closes doors. By choosing the things that fall inside your purpose and values, you are also choosing the things that do not.
This choosing of focus can feel scary for leaders. And the fear of choosing can heighten with the knowledge that, once you do choose and make explicit your purpose and values, there is nowhere to hide. Your North Star is crystal clear for all.
This clarity, though, is brand’s very power. After all, if you were a customer or employee, wouldn’t you more likely connect with a business that goes to the trouble to get clear on why it uniquely matters?
So, how do you ignite your leadership courage?
Choose to stop hedging. You internalize that you owe it to your business, customers and employees to choose. You grasp that you cannot be all things to all people, and that it's also a choice not to make a choice. You recognize that the act of choosing alone unleashes power.
Get highly empathetic to your customer. You listen deeply to your customer to discover the nuanced layers of the problem you solve.
Define your brand strategy, which articulates your business’s purpose and values unambiguously, so that everyone can advance them with focus.
If you find yourself yearning for bold purpose and values – good for you. Purpose and values can be your superpower. And if you find yourself wanting this, but overwhelmed by the loftiness of the task, consider using brand strategy as your concrete methodology for arriving at purpose and values that resonate.
Brand strategy is the exercise of defining your business as its best possible self, so that it can become more of that. By knowing and embracing your purpose and values, you bring to life why your business matters.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.