Protect your business with purpose

The pandemic is changing how we value the things around us. Giving your brand purpose may be the key to succeeding in the looming economic downturn.ness with purpose

Staring out of our kitchen windows and chatting to distanced family over shaky WhatsApp calls, it may not have felt like it, and it’s almost certainly not how we imagined it would be, but we have been living in a time of crisis. 

If not exact answers, history is full of plenty of lessons about how to deal with crises and we have all experienced at least one major crisis in our lifetimes. They come in many flavours; some are political or organisational; some bring destruction through war, terror, or natural disasters; some as we saw as recently as 2008, are financial.

COVID-19 is a crisis of public health, but its effects go way beyond physical wellbeing. Unlike the 2008 financial crisis, the personal threat to, and effects on, individuals in society are much easier to diagnose, feel, point at, and click on.

Many of us, ‘locked down’ at home, with a limited range of products and services available to us, were not only worrying about loved ones and realising how much we value our friends and social interaction, but were finding that our perceived value of things was changing; previously ‘less-visible’ services like grocery stores, online fitness classes, and anything with home delivery are suddenly at the forefront of our minds; products like Microsoft Teams and Zoom are crossing the line from second-rate business tool to social keystone. 

What do all these new found friends have in common? They all contribute to our physical or psychological wellbeing; They have meaning and value beyond the simple cash we pay for them.

If that wasn’t change enough, the circling of wagons around public services like the NHS have reminded us that not everything should be (or always has been) judged on its value on the open market alone, but that products and services, public and private, can be valued on another level too, something else that might best be described as ‘usefulness’ or ‘essentialness’.

Writing in The Economist recently, former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, made a similar connection. ‘In this crisis, we know we need to act as an interdependent community not independent individuals, so the values of economic dynamism and efficiency have been joined by those of solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion.’ (1).

If this is so, it goes some way to explain why we haven’t been hailing the services of companies like Deliveroo and Uber – who could have played a vital role – as essential services. 

Deep down, many have felt an unidentified unease with some of these organisations for years. But when times were good we were willing to look past their dubious business models – based on zero-hours contracts, low wages, and unfair VC backed competitive advantage – that allowed them to ‘disrupt’ or dismember perfectly good local businesses. However, now that the wind has changed and people are looking for a higher purpose in the products and services they pay for, they suddenly feel very exposed.

Protecting your business

So if what people value has changed and their priorities shifted then how can you protect your business or better still turn it to your advantage? The answer might lay in finding your business’s higher-order benefit; its brand purpose.

Brand purpose isn’t a new idea. Most people in brand and marketing will be familiar with it, although perhaps more as a concept that sits somewhere between their department and CSR. 

Your brand purpose is the reason for the brand to exist beyond making money; a commitment and proof that your business contributes change for the better, not just returns for investors.

Your purpose should be as straight and direct a line as possible from the product or service itself to a benefit to and beyond the customer. For a grocery store, the link between what they do and the sustenance of a community is clear if a little obvious. For a cosmetics company it might be less so, but what about self-esteem or personal empowerment?

While there are plenty of companies out there that have centred on purpose before – and some like TOMS that have been founded upon it and been hugely successful because of it – it has rarely taken centre stage and is perhaps not a subject that many young organisations or c-suite execs, focused on growth, have had to deliberate over.

At Cutler+Goddard, we specialise in defining, articulating, and communicating the messages that are core to your business’s success. We work closely with founders and senior leaders to understand your business, your goals and targets, and your reasons for being. Then we work with your team to implement change and take new messages to market so that you can create a better connection with more customers. 

If that sounds like brand BS then consider the fact that companies with purpose outperform the stock market by more than 40% (2) and millennial employees working for companies with purpose say that they are 5.3 times more likely to stay (3).

Final thought

The pandemic has forced us to change the way we go about our lives and what we value most. While the government’s immediate intention of the lockdown was to put business on ice and, as much as possible, freeze the economy in place to keep people indoors, as we thaw it out it might look very different. 

It looks likely there will be a significant recession where competition is increased as organisations compete for a smaller share of the heavier taxed coins in our pockets. Those that can appeal to customers in a way that chimes with the times have a greater chance of survival. Thinking about your purpose might well be the best way to do that.

1 Mark Carney on how the economy must yield to human values
2 Global Leadership Forecast 2018
3 Putting Purpose to Work: A study of purpose in the workplace, PwC