A brand's one purpose is to provide purpose to its employees

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To build a strong core, a brand's highest priority should be instilling its employees with a larger sense of purpose, says Brand Union's senior manager of development.

Every day, we hear about brands that are impacted by global forces. Industries are being disrupted and companies are changing. But despite this seemingly pessimistic outlook, these changes give brands a unique opportunity to help create a brighter future by renewing people’s sense of pride, positivity, and purpose. 

That process starts from within. Brands are all created from the same core—the employees who build and embody them. Therefore, to build a strong core, a brand’s highest priority should be reciprocity, in the form of instilling its employees with a larger sense of purpose. Customers might ultimately help "keep the lights on," but without a strong, permeating sense of purpose among an organization’s employees, brands will find themselves without customers, or won’t keep them for very long.

What’s in a brand?
The brands that most strongly come to mind do so because they have delivered consistent, repeated interactions over time—Apple thinks different, GE puts imagination to work, Nike just does it. They have an intention, a vision, and are crafted and finessed. AHarvard Business Journal study noted that 89 percent of executives believed purpose drives employee satisfaction, while 84 percent said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform and 80 percent said it helps increase customer loyalty.

Brands with purpose
Across industries, many brands have leveraged the power of purpose to not only drive growth but also to, in some cases, combat specific world issues. Patagonia, for example, is on a mission to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." This purpose resonates throughout their entire organization—from product development, sustainable manufacturing and supply chain management to HR policies.

Similarly, IBM has strengthened its brand purpose to give employees meaning and inspiration in their lives. IBM has reinforced the value of their product and service offering, and has given employees something to aspire to, and to innovate towards. Not to mention, they just recently announced a program to pay employees to find creative ways to solve the world’s ills.

Then there’s Airbnb, which realized the value in providing an experience that offers a sense of belonging for members traveling around the world, and is now the second most valuable brand in the hospitality sector. The company’s meteoric rise was only made possible by exuding its brand purpose throughout all of its behavior.

Why should they care
At a foundational level, communicating purpose is about giving employees a reason for caring. It not only points an organization in a direction but tells a story about why that path makes sense and provides a roadmap for how to get there.

For employees looking to foster brand purpose within their companies, it is important to take these steps:

  • Be honest and ask yourself: Why does my job matter? Answering this may be the key to understanding yourself, your values, and how those values mesh with those of the organization.
  • Be clear on your personal ambition for the organization. What do you feel is its future goal?
  • Decide what you would tell your family members if you had to explain why your daily activities make the world a better place. This will make your search for purpose more personal.
  • Share your thoughts and ideas with leadership or HR representatives. This will make them aware of your purpose, possibly giving it a chance to take hold as part of the larger brand purpose.
  • Start articulating the value you bring and the importance of what your organization does. Purpose starts with one person, anywhere in the organization, and can reverberate and spread at a surprising rate if it resonates.

Companies looking to encourage and instill purpose in their employees should also take these key steps:

  • Ask what good does your organization put into the world and why does it matter that your brand exists.
  • List the reasons why customers should care about your organization.
  • Decide what you actually care about. What are your values and what is your overarching mission?
  • Share stories from your customers detailing how they would describe your purpose. While outside the brand, their intimate perspectives always help to illuminate and deepen an understanding.
  • Query your employees and colleagues for their perspectives on the brand’s purpose.

The world we create
While newsfeeds are clogged with articles discussing the nuances between generations—broad stroke claims about what’s typical of millennials or Gen Z—there is a common denominator at play. We all want to feel as though we are making an impact with our lives. We want to contribute to organizations, causes, or companies that have a purpose. Imagine a society where we all have a higher level of motivation because our work-led purposes are more pronounced and resonant. In this world filled with stronger, more humanistic brands, we’d have stronger communities, and we’d each feel a bit more confident and proud of the future we’re creating.

MacLean Fisher is senior manager of development at Brand Union.