Beyond Purpose


The current trend among agencies, consultants, and pundits is around purpose. It sounds lofty, and there can’t possibly be anything wrong with focusing on a brand’s purpose for existing, right? The problem, as I see it, is there’s definite potential for it to be very self-centered and not customer-focused. Even when couched in such beautiful language as “shared values” and “aligned with ideals” it is usually 100%, completely, about the brand.

For many brands, the meaning is, “this is why we exist, we believe many people also believe that, and so if we communicate about that they will buy more of our stuff.” Let’s use everyone’s favorite purpose-driven company, Apple,  as an example (Disclosure: I’m an Apple customer. Use the iPhone, a MacBook, an AppleTV, and subscribe to iCloud and Apple Music). Simon Sinek describes Apple’s “why” as challenging the status quo and their “how” as beautiful design. However, beautiful design = premium price. If you carefully examine at the company, as much as they talk about challenging the status quo, or beautiful design, at the end of the day they are all about creating a big pile of money.

Don’t get me wrong, purpose is good, but it’s not enough. You have to go deeper and focus on the intention underneath that purpose. Ask one simple question:

“How are we showing our customers we have their best interest at heart?”

Moreover, don’t ask it as an interesting thought experiment in a planning meeting. Commit to identifying that if push came to shove, what is right for your customer? Even if it hurts your bottom line.

THIS is what matters. Does Apple honestly have my best interest at heart? Maybe in some ways. I admire their stand on privacy and efforts at improving the sustainability of their supply chain. I also appreciate that they care about making something that is easy to use and beautiful to look at. However, I believe they only care about those things if they can charge a premium.

What would build my trust in them?

  • What are they doing to improve every single community where their products are present? And not just supporting little-league teams, joining chambers of commerce, or participating in local charities. Are they using local suppliers? Hiring only local employees, even for management? Getting involved in local issues and causes?
  • How are they improving all life? And not about having a computer in my hand that gives me access to the world. What are they doing to enhance the lives of those impacted by their products? Specific, tangible things, which don’t have to be earth-shattering. What are they doing to improve human interaction, and not from using the phone more? How are they assuring that our children are critical thinkers and self-confident?

If they took action in some of those areas and shared some tangible results, I’d feel stronger about supporting their products, because I would genuinely feel they have my, and my community’s, best interest at heart. As it is, I’m increasingly considering other options as the price of Apple phones, and our isolation from others keeps going up. I’m going to support the one that eventually dares to say “use our phone less.”