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Purpose-Driven Marketing: The Missing Ingredient When Growing a Brand

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With traditional businesses trying to run more like a startup and startups trying to reach the growth of a traditional business, brands are constantly looking to improve in an effort to keep up.

And whether growing the business, rolling out a new product, or repositioning the brand, there are a few crucial guidelines for implementing that vision—all of which should consider the role of purpose-driven marketing.

Purpose-driven marketing is used to grow and sustain a business, but the overall idea is to help a business understand where it's going and then act effectively.

Here are four questions that will help you understand your company's purpose and its ability to change.

1. What is your business's niche?

This is the first part of purpose-driven marketing: Know your competitors. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Ask the question, Why would my customers pay a premium for my services or product, and is there a way to do it that differentiates me from others?

Unfortunately, answering those questions doesn't come easy, and it is usually difficult for the staff to really see the business from an objective point of view. Often, the best option is to look to an outside resource for insight into your brand's place in the market.

A few years ago, I worked with the Imperial Sugar Company after its bankruptcy. This was a 160-year old, billion-dollar company that had third-generation employees, many of whom had been born in company-owned housing. It was a long-term company that needed some insight on the organization and its market. We realized that the company had been defining itself as purely a sugar company since before Texas was a state, but when we looked at the marketplace, we realized that many of its customers, such as Wal-Mart and General Mills, didn't care about any specific company's sugar. They cared about sugar being delivered the way they wanted, at the right place, and the right time: They cared about the supply chain. So the company needed to redefine itself. Imperial Sugar Company could no longer be just a sugar-making company; it needed to be the best supply chain company in the industry.

How we successfully refocused the company will come later, but for now the takeaway is that fully understanding this sugar company's place in the market from an objective, market-based point of view saved the business.

2. What is your business's purpose?

Taking stock of your business and taking stock of its market go hand in hand. You need to understand your market, but you also need to truly define why your organization exists, what your business's goals are, how big you want the business to grow, and what the business needs to look like to be successful.

This element of purpose-driven marketing is especially important in small business growth because each is so very different from others. Two organizations can look at the same market data and same insights, and they could be the same size and in the same industry. But they should have an entirely different purpose and goal.

Some companies are more profitable staying small to efficiently manage the business, while other companies need a fast-paced, quick-changing environment to thrive.

3. How do you articulate that purpose?

This is probably the most crucial step in purpose-driven marketing, yet it's overlooked. You have to be transparent with your employees and explain why there might be a shuffle in the organization, why you're asking them to do a job differently from how it has been done for the past several years, and why this small change will help the company overall.

Think about it this way: You can pay someone to do exactly what they are supposed to do, but if you want your employees to think for themselves and use their own skills and strengths to the company's advantage, you have to explain the big picture and show why this change is good. Employees have to know the leader has a plan, and they have to know what the plan is, before hopping on the bandwagon of change.

There are four steps to articulating the purpose, and the order matters.

1. The Destination

You need to be able to clearly articulate the purpose of the organization so everyone understands where the organization is going. Sometimes this is best stated as a destination. Help your people see what the future will look like by asking these questions:

  • What will the company be known for?
  • What will customers say about the company?
  • What will competitors say about the company?
  • What will it be like to work for the company once the destination is reached?

2. A Reason

Help your organization see how reaching the destination will benefit the company overall. People need to understand, champion, and, ultimately, drive the evolution of the company. And they won't do this unless they have a reason.

3. Strategy

For people to embrace the destination as something they will help you achieve, they have to believe that the destination is achievable. Employees need to know management has a plan to get there. It is OK to say that you know what steps A and D look like but you need help defining steps B and C. The key here is giving the organization the confidence that comes with a thoughtful plan.

4. Participation

Now is the time to help the employees see how their jobs will be better if they help the organization work toward and reach the destination. This part of the message will need to be modified for different functions in the organization. Helping people understand how they can be a part of something bigger than themselves or their specific jobs can unleash the power of the purpose.

4. How do you implement your vision?

After following these guidelines, it's time for the final element of purpose-driven marketing: Be precise in rolling out your new product, changing the way you do invoicing, or rebranding your company. Are you and your employees still working toward the same purpose?

I've seen so many business leaders focus solely on the final part that their employees become order takers, not team members, contributing no more to the business than a computer.

Remember Imperial Sugar Company? We knew employees needed to understand the company's first priority would be getting the product to customers the way they wanted. Therefore, the role of customer service needed to change drastically. Previously, the customer service department reported to operations, which focused on efficiency. Instead, we had Customer Service report to Sales and explained the goal to become a great supply chain company. Within a few months, the sales staff started changing the way they viewed their jobs. They defined their role as leading the effort to help customers get the product how and when they needed it. Had we merely told Customer Service to report to Sales, the customer service team would not have helped the company be successful in its new mission.

* * *

Purpose-driven marketing is challenging, especially when developing the strategy internally. Analyzing one's own customers and competitors and then recognizing the necessary changes are professional skills that are developed over time and with experience in many different markets.

In this ever-changing marketplace, business leaders are constantly coming up with new ideas to innovate or improve a business; yet, realistically, a business gets only a few shots to make that big change. Create a common goal through a common purpose—you won't have to worry about missing out on your last opportunity for success.


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Art Saxby is the founding principal of Chief Outsiders, an executive-level consulting firm that helps CEOs of midsize companies implement their vision of growth.

LinkedIn: Art Saxby

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  • by Craig Helgerson Fri Aug 2, 2013 via web

    Great succinct insights Art...brilliant move at Imperial. After being in the Evangelical movement now for 30 plus years my blood turns cold when I hear anything "Purpose Driven"...I was an early adopter of the PD model just to see nothing but carnage in the entire movements rear view mirror. I drank the cool-aid that virtually took the Stalwarts of each Church across America to the rail...seems a little light on the love idea hey? I'm not sure if you are familiar with this movement; however, there are several million evangelicals who get a sick feeling in their gut when Purpose is injected into any subject at hand...kind of like not realizing whats happening globally and naming a new marketing program "Jihadest Marketing"...many of us would be reticent to embrace such an ethos...for what its worth...but great content!

  • by Mr. Edgar D. Laurente, MBA Fri Aug 2, 2013 via web

    Informative and helpful. Thank you.

  • by Gracious Store Sun Aug 4, 2013 via web

    It is important o articulate the reason for the existence of your company and your goal. This will help you to develop appropriate strategies to fulfill your mission.

  • by Quinn Mallory Mon Aug 5, 2013 via web

    Craig, what are you talking about? What does whatever you're speaking of have to do with Art's article? I thought perhaps your post was spam as it didn't seem to have any relevance, but there was no redirect link.

  • by Craig Mon Aug 5, 2013 via web

    Sorry Quinn...inside joke (but not very funny) just letting our author know that there has been massive personal and spiritual carnage associated with the term "Purpose Driven" ever since my past hero Rick Warren first coined "The Purpose Driven Life" years ago. Tens of millions of copies of this ethos have been generated over the past 10 or so years...just trying to nicely encourage him to rename the thoughts because they are all good; however, someone came out onto the stage of public opinion and tarnished it...maybe it would make more sense if I used an analogy like name a girls school named "The Bill Clinton School For Young Intern Etiquette and Protocol"...just kind of putting a headwind into marketing some good ideas due to guilt by association with several million evangelical business men and women....hope this helps.

  • by Lakshan Thu Dec 5, 2013 via web

    Great post Art. Purpose is certainly important for organizations who wish to address the long-term growth perspective. I was reading something along similar lines the other day
    It's great that awareness is building on the importance of purpose-driven marketing.

  • by Abhey Mon Aug 25, 2014 via web

    Great Article Art. Your Information on Purpose driven marketing was insightful. i have come across a similar article which explains why Purpose-driven marketing is much more than just a digital marketing buzzword.
    Hope this link helps

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