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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image of Art Saxby

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