The notion of brands strengthening themselves by embodying a core purpose isn’t exactly new. For years now, brands have been starting with their “why” thanks to Simon Sinek. Brands are sharing their values in order to build connections with consumers who are more discriminating and purpose-driven than ever.
When we think of a brand living its purpose, we may think of the products it sells, the investments it makes and the stories it tells. We may even think of large activations that cement a company’s stance—REI’s #OptOutside campaign is one of my all-time favorites. While these elements can certainly do some of the work in proving a brand’s commitment to its purpose, they can’t stand alone.
What about a company’s actions within its own walls? What about the culture of the organization, the decisions and actions that consumers may not even know about? Is the “why” felt inside? As a brand experience agency, we pride ourselves on thinking about brands from every angle, and we believe that when it comes to living a purpose, there should be no division between the internal and external. Purpose should be everywhere. Brands that only superficially tell stories of their why are just that: superficial.
Think of a brand’s organizational culture as its heart, the center. If the heart is strong, it can easily deliver that feeling outside its walls. If employees are clear on the organization’s purpose and are empowered to act on it, consumers naturally sense the heightened commitment to the cause. A symbiotic purpose is propagated naturally.
Patagonia, a brand known for a strong sense of purpose, is a shining example of integrating its purpose into its culture. In fact, Patagonia’s people, its cultural heart, are the driving force of the purpose we see as consumers. Patagonia not only encourages employees to get out into nature as much as possible, but it offers internships for employees to work for non-profit environmental organizations that they’re passionate about. Patagonia conducts onboarding sessions at local farms to connect employees to nearby growers, and the company will even pay bail for employees who are arrested for protesting in support of the environment. There’s nothing superficial about that.
Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, gave the HR department instructions that “Whenever we have a job opening, all things being equal, hire the person who’s committed to saving the planet no matter what the job is.”
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and avid fisherman.
With this perspective in mind, here are some tips to empower your employees to be the lifeblood of your purpose and erase the dividing line between internal and external:
- Hire based on purpose. Along with core job skills, seek out those who are already committed to your why and bring ideas on how to make it happen. Make it a part of job descriptions and evaluate alignment in interviews.
- Crowdsource ideas from the inside. Ask employees how they interpret your brand purpose, and how they might like to act on it. Not only will employees feel heard and appreciated, but they’ll be more likely to engage in ideas that they’ve generated.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Leaders say you should always align your spending with your core values, and I think they have a point. By putting dollars against your purpose, employees and customers alike will recognize your true commitment.
- Reward and share the progress. Create an avenue for employees to report back on their stories of living the purpose, and reward these efforts like you would other professional accomplishments.
- Empower cultural ambassadors. Outside of the leadership team, assign passionate individuals specific responsibilities for championing the brand’s purpose and culture. By assuring that these responsibilities don’t fall through the cracks, you’ll demonstrate the company’s commitment to the cause.
Want to talk more about purpose, culture and empowering your employees? Contact Courtney Berkery (firstname.lastname@example.org)