Simon Sinek has a lot to answer for.
Although he says he didn’t invent it, he certainly codified an entire industry based around what I might call “belief-based marketing” – the idea that customers will do business with you for reasons other than money.
But don’t all businesses exist to make a profit?
Talk with many a small business owner or solopreneur about their purpose and you’ll be met with a blank look.
Their sole aim is to earn enough to feed and clothe themselves before the money runs out of month.
And then to do it again the next month. Just like any employee.
Most larger businesses too look to make a profit before all else and aren’t too bothered by the imprint they have on the world. I generalise perhaps, but not by much.
I blame Milton Friedman and a rather famous (at the time, at least) article in the New York Times that said the only thing businesses should be concerned with was making a profit and to hell with the social consequences.
Well, no, not necessarily …
But, then along came Peter Drucker – widely considered to be the father of modern management – saying in his famous book Management:
“With respect to the definition of business purpose and business mission, there is only one such focus, one starting point. It is the customer. The customer defines the business.”
Further on, he says:
“Only a clear definition of the mission and purpose of the business makes possible clear and business objectives”.
So there we have it. Not only is having a purpose important – it’s a real advantage that even the most hard-headed cynics would be foolish to ignore.
But you? Why would you want to define your purpose?
After all, isn’t it all not a bit airy-fairy? Does it really matter that much?
Did IBM worry about its purpose when it started?
People care about your purpose.
It’s not an understatement to quote David Hieatt:
For me, the most important brands in the world make you feel something. They do that because they have something they want to change. And as customers, we want to be part of that change.
Having a compelling, emotional reason for what you’re doing is as much for you as it is for your customers.
In 1995, a paper in the Journal of Small Business Strategy concluded:
“… the respondents in this study who displayed higher entrepreneurial drive did view their businesses as vehicles for achieving self-esteem and self-actualisation. Those respondents displaying lower entrepreneurial drive viewed their firms as vehicles for providing basic financial needs.”
It’s for those moments when you get bored or frustrated, when things don’t go well and when you think it might be time to throw in the towel.
What keeps you going? What if you feel like throwing in the towel? It’s your purpose.
No-one starts a business because it’s easy.
Getting going is the simple bit; sticking with it is more tricky. The setbacks and challenges of running a business are often enough to discourage the best of us. Motivation is key: a passion for your business and the problem is solved will make life much easier when the storms come.
So Let’s Get Down to This
To be fair, “what’s your purpose?” is probably one of the hardest and most confusing questions you could ask.
Almost everyone knows WHAT they do and HOW they do it too. But WHY – what is the driving power behind their brand – often has them stumped.
So let’s start with Simon Sinek …
If you’ve not heard of or watched Simon Simek’s TED talk – it’s the second or third most-watched of all time – get across there now for the next 18 minutes and come back to me. You won’t regret it.
The central point is businesses know what they do (build stuff, provide a service), they know how they do it and what makes them unique – even if it doesn’t make them unique, but few know why.
Apple is the poster child for this. Acme computer company (to not name names) says this:
What: “We make great computers”.
How: “They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly.”
“So what?” I hear you say.
That’s kind of what you’d expect of a computer. Well-designed and works as it should.
But Apple does it differently.
Why: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently”.
How: “The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly.”
What: “We happen to make computers”.
Wanna buy one?
The point of this is that it forces you to think “why do we exist?” – and yes, you can get philosophical about it – and “why would someone chose us over the guys down the road”.
That’s all fine and dandy but starts to fall apart when we start applying it to us. I’ve seen enough pained expressions on client’s faces to know this stuff is hard.
Here’s a simple way you can do it
You can just start with the easy stuff, the “What” and the “How”. That’s what I did.
What: I talk with clients, get to the bottom of their message and build it from the ground up.
How: By being a devil’s advocate at all stages and squeezing the best of your message out.
Why: I exist to help businesses to communicate better.
Now you …
Sometimes your purpose is right under your nose
Many a multinational company was built on the back of one. You can use them for inspiration too.
- Dove: We want to help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential.
- Nike: Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.
- Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time.
- The Body Shop: Enrich, not Exploit. Enrich our people, our products, our planet.
You don’t need to have a grandiose purpose like these; you don’t need to save the planet one paper cup at a time, you don’t need to rid the oceans of all the plastic.
Your purpose is personal and it matters to you. Your role is to ensure it matters to your audience.
So what makes you so different?
There’s every chance you’re in a business where everyone does the same thing.
How do you stand out?
I’ve lost count of the number of businesses, often accountants (sorry accountants), that say they’re different because they really care.
As opposed to ones that don’t care, I’d imagine.
Your purpose is important here because you can’t rely on being better, you can’t rely on being cheaper – that’s a fool’s game anyway.
Have a look around at other people in your industry or those close to it?
What are they doing?
What are they not doing?
What do customers hate about your industry?
That’s where you’ll find gaps. That’s where you’ll find your purpose and what makes you genuinely different.
Of course, you won’t please everyone
And that’s a good thing.
Indeed you shouldn’t try to please everyone because you’ll end up pleasing no-one.
Your purpose is about taking a position and attracting your ideal clients. And deflecting from those that are less than ideal.
It’s hard to accept that we can’t please everyone. It’s almost counter-intuitive because we’re hard-wired to want to blend in and not rock the boat.
But finding your purpose is one of the best ways you can do to stand out and will give you a framework for your marketing for years to come.