The Workish guide to creating brand purpose

At a Business Roundtable meeting in August, 181 global CEO’s signed a shared Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. They agreed that companies should “create value, build transparency, support communities, play fair, protect the environment” and, let’s be honest, spend all of Q3 planning for Q4.

Forget the notion of eroding corporate morality; turning people- and world-first investments into strategic objectives, rather than obsessing only on shareholder value, could be the way of the future.

But you don’t have to look far to find skeptics who say that brand purpose is in danger of becoming trendy, if it isn’t already. A fashionable affectation rather than a real business strategy.

Not every company needs a social goal to grow, and when brands ignore relevance and value, they can jump the shark faster than the time it takes a shared workspace start-up to retract an IPO.

As Simon Sinek would tell us, the notion of “starting with why” is useful for individuals. But for companies? Creating purpose while navigating the waves of disruption takes crystal-clear corporate vision. With that in mind, here are some Workish tips to build brand purpose… along with some real, actual advice from a real, actual professional.

To Create Value, Use History as Your North Star

If your brand purpose isn’t focused on saving humanity, fear not: before corporations were first established, icons throughout history created value by focusing on business-related goals. Geoffrey Chaucer’s poems are really about CRM best practices, Leonardo da Vinci penned Inventions to Expand my Coaching Business, and archaeologists recently unearthed a clay tablet reading Stone Corp: Let’s Scale this Fire Thing.

Be Super-Transparent

The Business Roundtable missive recommends leading with transparency when building a raison d’être, which is useful in a world of employer review sites and raw customer feedback on Google+.

But to set yourself apart from the crowd, you’ll have to take things one step further. Consider super-transparency. For example, instead of this: “Connecting the World through Technology”

Try this: “We’re Connecting the World through Technology, but we still haven’t fixed that one bug on the product sign-up microsite. When you enter your cellphone, you can’t click SUBMIT for some reason. Bruce was supposed to fix it before Friday, but he left early to get a new suit and haircut, and now everyone thinks he’s interviewing for that job at Telus. Also, we spend too much time on conference calls, but they’re free, because we use our own technology. You know. To connect the world.”

If You’re Stuck, Use Buzzwords

Whether you’re competing for a new RFP or releasing the latest white paper on data-driven customer acquisition strategy, sharing your way of working through confusing jargon is mission critical.

In fact, as part of this guide, stay tuned for a post-article customer survey via mobile distribution, then click “accept” on an incoming calendar hold for an all-hands huddle, where we’ll unpack our resolve with leadership and run ideas up the flagpole while doubling-down with insights and metrics on the go forward.

And now for some real, actual advice from a real, actual professional:

Workish spoke with Ron Tite, author of the new book Think. Do. Say.: How to seize attention and build trust in a busy, busy world, and asked the question:

How does a business actually begin to create a brand purpose?

“When senior executives want to create a meaningful purpose, they kick it old school, new school, or social school. And none of them work,” says Tite. “Old School kickers bring in consultants to recraft the mission, hire a facilitator to reimagine the vision, and change the CEO’s title to CPO (Chief Purpose Officer).

“New School kickers just spout out the latest jargon overhead in the Millennial Cafe. It usually ends with ‘…something, something, innovation engagement disruption.’

“Finally, Social School kickers wrap their purpose in a flag of whatever social issue is grabbing headlines. They don’t care that they make a multigrain cracker. Their purpose will combine the #MeToo movement, the environment, and Syrian refugees.

“Those may all be nice and fun, but none contribute to a meaningful brand purpose,” he says. “When a business actually wants to create purpose, they move away from talking about what they sell, to articulating what they believe. Red Bull may sell a caffeinated beverage, but they believe that life with an adrenaline rush is a better way to live. Lady Gaga may sell music, but she believes that people should be free to express themselves.

“If the fundamental reason that an organization is in business is to make money, they’ll be too busy with price points, promotions, and cranking out new SKUs to actually sustain a long-term business. Successful brands have a soul. They have a fundamental belief that guides their actions, inspires their people, connects with their customers, and provides for pivots and brand extensions that are more meaningful than ‘Now with less salt.’

“In a sea of prices and promotions, purpose is what people can see from the shore.”

So, next time you’re building a brand purpose, believe in something. Just don’t forget to socialize with leadership, and double down on the go forward.

Sandy Marshall (@MarshallSandy) is the creator of Workish (


David Brown