Purpose vs strapline
Did you know that Nike's purpose isn't Just Do It?
It's actually Breaking Barriers (You can read more here if you're interested). Their strapline isn't the same as their brand purpose. Now, let's leave whether they actually live up to that purpose aside for now and focus on why it's not the same as their consumer-facing strapline.
This is a crucial distinction. Think about a core business decision that Nike might be making. It could be a new product line, a potential designer collaboration or a new staff hire. Outcomes based on Just Do It would be a very different set of decisions than ones based on Breaking Barriers don't you think?
I've found that brand purpose can be a bit of a dirty word, (insert any brand buzzword you like here: vision, north star, 'why', foundation etc) and I have definitely seen this label used to justify spending a lot of money for no real tangible benefit.
So, what is a brand purpose and why would you need one? In my experience, if it's done well, purpose can be one of your most effective tools for business focus.
This is because it gives you parameters; a set of objective criteria you can hold decisions against to see if they make sense for your business. I've seen countless teams spend thousands of dollars trying to nail their purpose, only to realise they've been trying to create a strapline, or spend months going back and forth because the core team aren't actually aligned on what they're trying to achieve.
So, for example, what if I told you that aligning your team on a watertight purpose could reduce your team's decision-making time by up to 50%? That seems impossible, right? Well, not if the conversations in your founding team (or your own head if you're a sole founder) go anything like this:
"This user test told us we should build X feature, let's get started on development."
"I'm not convinced that this one response is statistically relevant, we should do more user testing to be sure before we spend time on developing it."
"It doesn't feel like this is something our product would offer, isn't the point of our business to do X?"
You can see how this simple decision can get out of hand pretty quickly. Without a purpose to measure things against, every person or thought can assert their own agenda. And here lies the golden rule about brand purpose.
Everything your business does should clearly link to your brand purpose. If it doesn't, it's either the wrong choice, or you need to evolve the purpose.
So, what does that actually look like for your business?
Here's a real-life example.
Let's say your brand purpose is Nurturing Individual Adult Learning.
You've built a piece of Educational Technology (EdTech) that helps adult learners with specific subjects they might have struggled with in the past. You have two potential features / services you'd like to add to your offering based on some user testing. You know there's demand, so both could be really lucrative.
Feature 1: An enterprise package, offering personalised lessons for professionals within a business context, subsidised by their employer.
Feature 2: A standardised curriculum for each subject, available to download for each member, for a fee.
Now, we can see how both of those could be a great feature. Feature 1 makes a lot of sense as it's aimed at adults, and there's an easy link to improving efficiency in a professional environment, which employers would pay for.
Feature 2 makes the learning material generic, which directly opposes the original purpose of the business (Nurturing Individual Adult Learning). While this may not seem like an issue, it can actually have a big impact on your customer experience and potentially confuse the overall direction of your company.
If feature 2 is really where you want to go as a business, which does sometimes happen, then you need to update your purpose a little, to focus less on 'individual' as this is now not a core component of your offering.
However, you've done your research and spoken to your customer base and you know that this individuality is a big part of why they work with you. Bespoke and individual is core to your USP. In this case, standardising things might actually harm the user experience in the long term, so you should avoid chasing Feature 2.
Having parameters to define your decision making is incredibly helpful. Spending a little bit of time up front to create them allows you to make decisions faster in the long run, creating efficiency and ultimately helping you to create a longer lasting and more successful brand.
Need help defining your purpose? I've helped businesses with brand purpose for the last 10 years and am passionate about finding the right solution for each team. Get in touch and let's see if I can help you too!