Living at the intersection of brand purpose and culture
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.
The “why” inside
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, our job is to think about brands from every angle.
Culture represents the collective personality of an organization, and is essentially the way things get done. It refers to shared values, beliefs, and attitudes and influences the way team members behave, make decisions, and collaborate.
Purpose, on the other hand, is the reason the organization exists in the first place. It comprises the organization’s broader impact on society, and the underlying values that guide its actions.
Think of purpose as the beating heart of your organization. It’s the “why” that drives your team to work every morning and motivates them to contribute to building something better for your customers and society at large. In this analogy, culture serves as the lifeblood, the fuel your purpose pumps through your organization every second to move your brand forward.
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.
When 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: Saving the planet
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 also offers internships for employees to work for non-profit environmental organizations 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, instructed HR: “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.”
Airbnb: belonging everywhere
While Patagonia’s brand purpose focuses on a major social issue, organization’s don’t need to be driven by a cause or injustice to have their purpose resonate.
Airbnb’s brand purpose, for example, is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. They facilitate unique travel experiences by connecting travelers with local hosts, promoting cultural exchange and fostering a sense of belonging and community worldwide.
Airbnb’s mission statement is, “To live in the world where one day you can feel like you’re home anywhere and not in a home, but truly home, where you belong.” They offer multiple benefits to inspire employees to embody this mission in their work and personal lives.
In addition to employee discounts on Airbnb listings, each team member is awarded a $2,000 annual travel stipend to stay at any Airbnb in the world. They also receive discounts at various retailers and restaurants, making exploration of new places more enticing and affordable.
In 2022, co-founder Brian Chesky shared his design for employees to live and work anywhere, underpinning the company’s core value of celebrating global communities. Airbnb staff can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days per year in each location. The company partners with local governments to acquire the necessary remote work visas.
“I’ve always believed that you design the culture you want, or it will be designed for you,” Chesky wrote. “I’m excited about this new design and giving you the flexibility to live and work anywhere. I think it will unlock some amazing creativity and innovation—and make working here really fun”
Empower your employees to embody your purpose
Your brand purpose is essentially useless until it’s adopted and enacted by the people bringing your brand to life every day. Let’s explore five ways to ensure your team incorporates your brand purpose into their daily actions.
- Hire based on purpose
Along with core job skills, seek out those who are already committed to your “why” and proactively contribute ideas 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 executing ideas they’ve generated.
- Put your money where your mouth is
Leaders say you should always align your spending with your core values. 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.
Integrating brand purpose and culture is crucial for brands aiming to make a meaningful impact in today’s discerning consumer landscape. While brands have long focused on conveying their “why” through product, it is equally important to ensure that the brand’s purpose is deeply ingrained within the organization itself.
Monigle works with brands to both uncover their purpose and galvanize employees around it through experiences, activations, and cultural transformations.