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“Brand purpose is just a bunch of touchy-feely crap.”

I have been the recipient of this sentiment on a number of occasions. Usually, it’s not put in such a direct manner. But the message is the there just the same.

It could be any number of reasons that a leader might see embracing a purpose as a distraction at best. In my experience, it could be because they are in a market where competition is minimal (a rare situation — but I’ve seen it.) Or it could be that they are preoccupied with vexing operational issues that make them feel like they’re just trying to keep the wheels from falling off. Or perhaps, my favorite, they are just uncomfortable with the messy human stuff (I find this among CFOs or other leaders who are more comfortable with spreadsheets than with people issues).

For these leaders, it’s just touchy-feely crap.

I’m not a let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya kind of guy. I don’t feel comfortable asking someone to invest in something that may have, at best, some vague connection to the financial success of the organization.

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What I am is fascinated by human behavior. And how passion can take an ordinary offering and transform its success. I am awed by organizations that have nothing significantly greater than their peers but blow away those peers by clarifying and activating a purpose in everything they do.

Here’s how that happens. A brand purpose connects with a fundamental human need that we all have to feel like we are making a difference in the world around us. When we introduce a brand purpose into the workings of our organization, it acts as a catalyst on many fronts.

  • In a study from Rutgers University, “Over half — 58 percent — say they are willing to accept less pay in order to work for an organization that shares their values, and 45 percent say they would give up 15 percent to have a job that seeks to make a social or environmental difference in the world. “
  • In a post on Forbes.com, research shows that “Ninety-one percent of consumers would switch brands if a different one of similar price and quality supported a good cause.”
  • In their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, Harvard professors John Kotter and James Heskett detail that, “…firms with shared-values–based cultures enjoyed 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth, 1,200% higher stock prices and significantly faster profit performance, as compared to companies in similar industries.”

People would trade compensation for purpose. As consumers, we all will opt for the purpose-driven option when given the choice. All of which explains why purpose-driven organizations outperform their peers.

So go ahead and make purpose one dimensional by calling it “touchy-feely crap”. Your purpose-driven peers won’t mind at all.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here, on Linkedin, and at dansalva.com.

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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