How to find your brand's purpose

Why does your company exist? That’s more than a vague existential question you might hear in a philosophy course. It’s a question you’ll have to answer to identify your brand’s purpose.

Determining this purpose is fundamental to every great marketing strategy. It clearly states what your company does, what it stands for, and it gives your customers, investors, and even your own employees a beacon that they can mobilize behind.

While you probably have a sense for why your company exists, distilling it into a cohesive brand purpose can be more difficult.

To help this process, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my years as a Tokyo-based brand strategist and combine it with key lessons from Section4 sprints. Consider this a simple guide to uncovering, clarifying, and expressing the big “why” behind your company or brand.

Know your strengths

To determine what your company does and why, start by answering three straightforward questions:

1. What are we good at? (aka strengths)

2. What are we passionate about?

3. What are the needs and wants of those we serve?

Uncovering purpose involves inventorying these three parts and finding the overlap.

While these questions might seem basic at first glance, they are at the root of several expert frameworks, including Find Your WHY from Simon Sinek and Beyond Happiness by Jenn Lim.

To glean even greater insight, there is an additional framework from our Section 4 toolbelt you can tap into:

The Product Innovation Framework

The Product Innovation framework from the Product Strategy Sprint helps us explore our customer needs extensively.

The framework is a 2x2 matrix crossing needs (articulated and unarticulated) with customers (served and unserved). By working through this matrix, not only does it help us cover our bases, we also get a clear and comprehensive view of the brand’s market.

Refine your purpose

Answering the initial questions is helpful, but to present your brand purpose in a way that connects with an audience, paraphrasing Professor Channing from the Scaling Marketing Sprint,  you will need to think like an anthropologist. This means refining it so that it addresses human and psychological needs.

Consider this stage finding the "flavor" of your brand purpose. Yes, you may be able to answer what you’re good at and what your consumers need, but how are you reaching them? Is it through an emotion, logic, or on a deeper instinctual level?

In Jim Stengel's book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, his ten-year study of the world’s best brands reveals that brand ideals can be clustered into five categories:

  1. Eliciting joy
  2. Enabling connection
  3. Inspiring exploration
  4. Evoking pride
  5. Impacting society

The Section4 Strategy Sprint also has a taxonomy to think about purpose. In that sprint, we learn that successful businesses appeal to one of the four core human instincts: brain, heart, gut, or genitals.

We can also look at purpose through these four lenses. Here are some examples from leading companies:

Brain

Discovery Channel - understand and share the world around us through the stories we tell.

Heart

Airbnb - create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.

Gut

Walmart - save people money so they can live better.

Genitals

Uber - help people go anywhere, get anything, and earn their way.

Even if you already have a brand purpose, these categories are useful for reexamining it from different angles.

Perhaps your team settled on the purpose being all about the heart human instinct. Consider applying some forced brainstorming. What if your purpose was the brain or the gut? What would that look like? You just might learn something new about yourselves.

Put your purpose to the test

After countless cups of coffee and intense thinking sessions, your team has finally workshopped a purpose statement. But how do you know if it is great? The next step is to stress test it.

Professor Julie Channing points out brand purpose must be inspirational and aspirational. These are the first two things to look for in the statement.

Next, ask yourself if the purpose tells a story. You can lean on Section 4’s Storytelling Sprint to make sure it has the hallmarks of a compelling and engaging narrative.

Is it solo?

It is focused on one single idea?

Is it simple?  

Does it avoid jargon? Is it clear and straightforward?

Is it sapient?

Is it centered on a character and human-driven?

Is it sensory?

Does it trigger emotion and imagery?

What’s your purpose?

We have pulled multiple threads together from Section4 learnings to help us identify essential purpose themes and evaluate them so they can serve as our brand foundation.

With the newly uncovered purpose, I am excited to hear how you will bring it alive. You can find me on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/justinleejapan) and I hope to meet you in an upcoming sprint.

About: 

Justin Lee

Justin Lee is a strategist at a boutique brand consultancy in Tokyo, a business that helps Japanese companies of all sizes and industries build purpose-led brands.

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