During the pandemic, a podcaster asked Simon Sinek whether people should change their purpose when times get tough. Simon responded that one's purpose should remain unchanged as it serves as a guiding North Star, while the how and what can be adjusted to adapt to changing conditions. Remaining true to his principles, Sinek, the author of "Start With Why”, shifted from giving $150,000 per hour keynote speeches to delivering his content through online training courses when conferences were no longer feasible during COVID. If you agree with Sinek's premise that people don't buy what you do, but rather why you do it, the next question is how to write your own purpose statement.
Crafting effective brand purpose statements: insights from Roy Spence
Start With Why came out in 2009, the same year that Roy Spence came out with a purpose-driven book of his own called It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose. Spence is the founder of the successful ad agency GSD&M, which has worked with clients such as Southwest Airlines, Walmart, DreamWorks, and the United States Air Force. He emphasizes the importance of crafting an effective purpose statement in his book, and shares examples of his own purpose-driven campaigns, including "Don’t Mess With Texas". He does a great job in his book of explaining how to write an effective purpose statement.
Spence says Jim Collins and Jerry Porras got it right in Built to Last when they defined a purpose statement as follows:
CORE PURPOSE is the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work–it taps their idealistic motivation–and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.
Spence explains, “Purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.” And he should know, having penned organization-defining purpose statements like “To give people the freedom to fly” for Southwest Airlines and “To save people money so they can live better” for Walmart.
Notice how these brand 's purpose statements are concise and allude to the businesses they are in without limiting themselves to a short-term strategy or expression of their business model based on how or what they do. We refer to this as the aperture principle. Like the f-stop on a camera, if you frame your purpose too broadly, the image it creates of your brand and business is overexposed and washed out. On the other hand, if it is too narrow in focus, the image is underexposed and too hard to see and appreciate fully.
The transformative power of purpose: benefits for your organization
Spence provides further clarification on why having a brand purpose statement is crucial for your organization.
Purpose drives everything: It will drive all major decision-making and become the determining factor in how you allocate resources, hire employees, plan for the future, and judge your success. Purpose is a path to high performance. It fulfills a deep-seated need that people have and will drive preference for your company.
Purpose fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation. It provides the motivation and direction necessary to create meaningful innovation.
Purpose moves mountains. It can rally the troops to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
Purpose will hold you steady in a turbulent marketplace. It will see you through when times get tough, and the road seems unclear.
Purpose injects your brand with a healthy dose of reality. It is not something you can fake. It’s genuine. It’s real. And it’s something your customers honestly appreciate about you.
Purpose recruits passionate people. It will make your organization more attractive to value-based, passionate people.
Purpose brings energy and vitality to the work at hand. It provides meaningful and sustainable motivation for employees.
Purpose contributes to a life well lived. Work is no longer about a 9-to-5 job to be endured but a meaningful source of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Crafting a memorable brand purpose statement: 5 key principles from Backstory
At Backstory, we’ve found all these reasons for wanting a purpose statement to be true. Follow these five principles for creating a purpose statement that is memorable and motivating:
Keep it short and straightforward. Your purpose statement should be a single short sentence that is easy to remember and internalize. Remember, the purpose of your purpose statement is to guide your team members’ decisions, not sit on a plaque on the wall.
Start with the word “To.” Once you’ve articulated your purpose statement, you can vary how you communicate it depending on the context, but at its most basic form, we’ve found it’s best to simply start with “To.”
Reference whom you serve and the benefits you provide them. Unless you truly serve and impact everyone in the world, reference the people you serve specifically. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your purpose statement, and it will lack focus and power.
Don’t mention how or what you do. If you hear yourself using prepositions like “by” or “through,” you’re getting off on a tangent and moving into your mission statement. Spence explains purpose statements define “why” and mission statements define “how.” You can combine your purpose and mission statements later, but not in the initial articulation of your purpose.
Avoid using “help.” Help is a weak verb; find a stronger way to convey more passion, movement and commitment in your purpose statement.
Examples of purpose statements we’ve articulated for our clients
Having a clear and well-defined purpose statement is essential for creating alignment and driving growth within an organization. BambooHR, for example, has effectively utilized its purpose statement since 2013, which has helped them to grow from just 30 employees to over a thousand employees today. They serve 26,000 customers and 2,500,000 employees across 100 countries, in eight different languages worldwide.
Similarly, SaltStack successfully productized its open-source software for event-driven IT automation, which ultimately led to its acquisition by VMWare.
Vasion, on the other hand, integrated two technology platforms into one unified platform and nearly quadrupled its revenues in four years.
When a company has a clearly articulated purpose statement, it becomes easier for them to attract like-minded employees, customers, and investors, which in turn, helps to build a strong offering and bring it to market. We encourage you to adopt these principles and put them into practice in order to inspire your team and align their decisions toward achieving your organization's goals.
Jed G. Morley
FOUNDER & CEO, Jed is a brand strategist and founder of Backstory Branding where he works with leaders to build brands that scale by clarifying their purpose, articulating their value and codifying their culture.