On Purpose

We’ve always argued that brands aren’t defined by what they make, but rather by what they’re made of. And that defining purpose is the first step in any successful business or brand plan. Once you get that articulated, every other decision (products, hiring, operations, marketing, technology, etc.) becomes much clearer.

I recently read two books that do a great job of bringing the purpose issue to life. First up is “It’s Not What You Sell, It What You Stand For” by Roy Spence of GSD&M. It’s an inspiring read if you’re into strategy and leadership, and Roy delivers on both accounts. He’s the founding “S” in GSD&M and a large share of the energy behind that agency. I had the good fortune of working for Roy when I started my career, serving as a new biz gopher (spent a lot of time in their research library writing summary reports on brands and industries).

Roy focuses on organizations who win because of their commitment to a higher purpose. Brands that strive to make a difference in the world. He’s experienced those efforts firsthand through GSD&M’s long term partnerships with Southwest Airlines, BMW, The U of Texas, PGA Tour and more.

Southwest Airlines is the uber example. The brand is literally built upon purpose…giving people the freedom to fly. That core belief (mission) drives everything they do, from operations to hr to advertising. They call their employees Freedom Fighters and shared the following Freedom Manifesto with them all:

In the past, the skies belonged only to a few. Only those who achieved status achieved flight, because only the elite could afford the freedom to go, see and do at a moment’s notice. You work for a company of people who changed all that.

You work for a company who believed then, as it does now, that flight should not be limited to the well-to-do, but that it should be an opportunity for all. That people should have the freedom to fly. Our battle for this freedom began nearly three decades ago. And while our maiden flight may be credited to only a few, our gallant mission belongs to you. You make that Freedom possible. For thousands of people to go, see, and do, you make that freedom possible.

By keeping our costs low, you make that freedom possible. By doing right by a customer, you make that freedom possible. By winning a fare war or battling other airlines who’d rather see us go than come. You make that freedom possible. It is your spirit and tenacity that have made Southwest Airlines a symbol of freedom. Because of you, today, someone has visited a grandchild, explored an opportunity, or just taken a trip for no more reason than to see what’s out there. Because of you, today, someone has the freedom to fly.

Love that manifesto…every brand should have one. And thanks to Southwest we’ll now have the freedom to fly in and out of Charleston.

For another great take on purpose…read Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” which offers similar insights and provides a simple model for working out your purpose.

A final thought on all this. It has to come from within. While consultants, agencies and others can help find, uncover or highlight an organization’s purpose…it needs to live on the inside for it to work in the long run. Retell your founding story, talk to your most passionate employees, ask yourself why the work is important, follow your heart. If you can bottle that stuff the marketing will take care of itself.