There is an irreplaceable imprint that characterizes a great purpose, one which has a positive and beneficial impact in the eyes of the audience.Footnote 36 A differentiating purpose must address a critical question: would our stakeholders miss us if we ceased to exist? As some experts suggest, “a great purpose is grounded in something universally true that is authentically delivered by your brand and product”.Footnote 37 Think, for example, in the case of Patagonia. The organization was inspired by its founder’s values and chose to place a social purpose at the center of its business: “tackle the environmental crisis”. By doing this, the company managed to achieve a leading position in the market as a responsible, coherent organization, committed to the environment and generating social value.
Articulating a differentiated purpose is the most creative part of the process, because it implies distilling the corporate purpose to a sentence that can drive the corporate narrative and express the organization’s unique contribution to the world.Footnote 38 Corporate branding experts recommendFootnote 39: (1) be concise by using short phrases, (2) be straightforward by avoiding jargon, (3) seek what is characteristic—“this is us”, (4) stay authentic, firmly ingrained in the organization and (5) seek what is timeless, rooted in the past and forward looking to the future. That, for example, is the purpose of Walt Disney, which has been guiding the company for decades: “create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere”.Footnote 40 Or Nestlé’s purpose, reflected in three overarching ambitions: Enable healthier and happier lives (focusing on nutrition, water and rural development); develop thriving, resilient communities (focusing on sustainability); and steward resources for future generations (with a focus on having zero environmental impact in operations).Footnote 41
Besides, purpose must reach, not only employees, but also the other stakeholders of the company. As some experts suggest, purpose must be “clear enough that the investors, employees, partners, and customers could articulate it”.Footnote 42 It can be compared to a song. From the official version, different players can make covers in different styles (pop, rock, heavy, unplugged, symphonic orchestra etc.) but “the key is for everyone to follow the same melody”.Footnote 43 Thus, purpose must be expressed in a way that can be used and replicated by different stakeholders without losing its essence. Examples can be seen with Starbucks: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”; or Facebook: “to share and make the world more open and connected”.
Finally, purpose must be expressed in a way that favors co-creation with those who are expected to identify with the purpose. Fostering purpose co-creation requires that its articulation invites key stakeholders to become a part of the purpose by participating in the formation of its definition and meaning. Thus, the way purpose is articulated has to impel customers, employees, suppliers and so on, not only to be beneficiaries of the purpose but also co-creators of the same. It has to reflect the aforementioned idea that purpose is not made for the stakeholders but with them. The company’s purpose is created by internalization and it is reinforced by identification, which occurs when stakeholders groups identify with it. A good example of this might be the purpose of Nike—“to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. In the articulation of its purpose, Nike actively encourages customers (athletes) to inspire each other, offering a narrative—“just do it”—that goes far beyond the products Nike sells.Footnote 44
Once purpose is defined, it has to permeate not only the corporate narrative but also the production of the company’s content, brand experience and messaging. However, many organizations fail from this perspective. Indeed, not all companies that have a purpose are recognized by their purpose. Being true to purpose is a necessary condition, but being recognized by purpose requires a joint development of internal and external communications.Footnote 45 Think, for example, in the case of TOMS, whose marketing claim “one for one” promise to deliver a pair of free shoes to a child in need for every sale of their retail product, or Patagonia, whose advertising campaign “Don’t buy this jacket” promotes responsible consumption and reinforces the articulation of their purpose; or Zappos, through the values and corporate culture expressed in the “delivering happiness” purpose. This approach requires consolidating the corporate brand as the platform for expressing purpose. Thus, the purpose turns into an extremely important tool: the central axis of corporate narrative strategy as well as a platform for relations with stakeholders.
In this chapter, we have discussed how to discover and rediscover a corporate purpose in a way that creates connections between the organization and its stakeholders. We have suggested a roadmap for setting a relevant purpose, aiming to generate an authentic connection with stakeholder groups and mobilize them into supportive behaviors.