"The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why," said Mark Twain.
I have always believed that brands are a lot like people. Some we like, some we love and some we hope we never have to see again.
A few years ago (and I apologize for not giving credit), someone said, and I paraphrase, if brands were people most would be diagnosed as psychotic: exhibiting erratic behaviors or emotions, thinking in a disorganized manner, switching topics or injecting unrelated topics into a conversation, behaving differently than expected.
Take a close look and I suspect you’ll come across a lot of brands that fit that description.
The brands that I love are like the people I love. Some are just like me, which makes them easy for me to hang out with. I also love brands that push and challenge me, that surprise me, that comfort me, that excite me and those that invite me into new worlds.
These brands have something in common with my favorite people. They live purposeful lives. They know why they are here and the difference they want to make. And if they don’t yet know exactly why, they’re on a mission to find out. It’s how they grow. And in the process, they help us grow.
These brands matter to people. Like our closest friends, they make our lives richer. And not coincidentally, these brands help build the most successful companies in the world.
But purpose does more than build meaningful relationships between brands and people. It makes those relationships last longer. The more you understand why you exist – your purpose – the more clearly you know how to behave.
Like people, brands that know where and when to show up are much more interesting than those people who simply show up to be seen. That person goes from somewhat interesting, to slightly annoying, to someone you actively avoid. The same goes for knowing when to say yes and when to say no. When to evolve. When to make a new product. A new alliance. Even when to go into a different business.
A strongly defined, true-to-your-core purpose enables brands to make more decisions that add up to a consistent point of view, even as the media landscape becomes fragmented. And that kind of consistency builds understanding, trust and ultimately a stronger brand.
A friend in need...
Even the best brands get into trouble. And thanks to social media, it’s happening more and more. When you’re in trouble is when you will most appreciate having a purpose-driven brand. I believe people walk away from companies, but they forgive meaningful brands. Just like we forgive people we know and believe in; we have a harder time forgiving those we don’t.
Many companies believe that consistent executional details can build a brand. But purpose isn’t defined by aesthetics. My friends that see me in gym clothes (not too often), cocktail attire, business clothes, jeans. My houseguests have been known to see me in pyjamas. But who I am – what I believe – doesn’t change because of what I’m wearing. For a brand, purpose isn’t about brand guidelines or fonts, color palettes or style guides. In fact, the more you depend on executional elements to define your brand, the weaker your purpose might be.
Purpose is about substance. It’s about knowing what matters to you and what doesn’t. It’s about having the courage to be true to what you believe in, no matter where you are or who you are with.
Being purpose-driven is hard work. It takes commitment. And authenticity. It requires bravery. Purpose-driven brands are constantly evolving. Always a work in progress. Never finished.
Purpose is also comforting. It’s confidence-inducing. It’s attractive. It gives a company a soul.
While people celebrate birthdays, brands should celebrate that other most important day Twain wrote about. The day you know why you exist.
Happy Purpose Day! The day your brand’s heart started beating.