Marketing’s New Secret Ingredient: Purpose

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal // December 31, 2015

While the methods of branding and marketing have changed significantly in our new age of online exploration, the overall goal remains the same: Tell your organization’s story in a way that compels others to act in response.

The increasing challenge, however, is how to set one’s brand apart amid ever-mounting piles of content clutter. Now, more than ever, a brand’s purpose is its key differentiator.

Once upon a time, the boundaries of your brand’s presence were marked by media gatekeepers: print directories, newspapers, TV stations, trade show organizers, etc. Nowadays, everyone has access to the Web and its primary outlets for brand presence: websites, YouTube and various social media platforms. This has resulted in a leveling of the playing field for most everyone. So, while it was once difficult for brands, especially smaller ones, to gain access to the field, the field is now so crowded that it’s difficult for a brand to be heard above the din of marketing white noise.

Consumers, as they always have been, are drawn to the thing that seems apart. Different. Intriguing. Potentially worthwhile. Enter the new secret ingredient: Purpose.



purpose |ˈpərpəs|




Purpose begins internally. Otherwise, it’s not an actual purpose – it’s just window dressing that upon entering, the audience is disappointed through experiencing a lack of fulfillment with the brand engagement. And if purpose is not obvious, then it’s time to go back and internally reassess it before external marketing efforts diminish the first impression with your target audience.

It should also be noted that purpose is one aspect of the broader organizational culture, but it may very well be the one aspect that all other cultural elements rest upon. It must, therefore, be authentic, wound in the double helix of an organization’s essence. Typically, and historically, organizations (particularly businesses) haven’t thought in these terms. More often, vision and mission statements are considered to be the substance behind a brand. However, those two statements really only speak to a deeper understanding of the “what,” not the “why.”

Purpose, on the other hand, is the expression of a cascade of “whys.”

Any practitioner of lean methodology and Six Sigma will tell you that at the core of root cause analysis exists “the five whys.” Below the surface problem lies a reason why. Below that is another reason why, and so on.

A brand’s purpose is derived using a similar methodology of examination. For example: Why does our audience (or potential audience) engage with us? Why does our brand’s people, product, or process matter to them? Why does our brand’s people, product, or process matter more than what others offer? Why does it matter to us that we provide what we provide? Finally, why does our brand ultimately exist? This is far deeper and more significant than a typical mission and vision statement, and as such it resonates with humans on a deeper emotional level as well.

Along these lines, purpose reaches its zenith in the service of others. Brands that the audience feels truly exist to serve its needs are set apart in its awareness from those that it views as inauthentic facsimiles. If a brand is a myriad of touch points with an organization, its people, its products and/or its processes, then the one common denominator among all of them is the audience member. And as such, purpose is fulfilled in that audience member’s service.

From an internal perspective, an organization’s authentic, stated purpose increasingly gives weight to one’s work in the service of others, which builds one’s sense of vocation, which enhances interpersonal interactions, which cultivates culture, and which ultimately elevates the brand. Notice that purpose’s authentic point of origin is others-centric. And it’s not just a marketing tool, because the question of why can’t be answered with sincerity without a reference point that anchors its integrity and credibility.

The new web-literate audience is bombarded by content clutter and digital space junk. The way to speak to them is not with more noise in an attempt to grab their attention. Ironically, a clear and simple presentation of your brand’s purpose will do just fine. Purpose has always mattered. It just matters more now, while its rarity is being highlighted by superfluous online noise.


*Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash