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Searching for Brand Purpose

by Kathy Innes

1 September 2021

We hear a lot about purpose, but it can be difficult for marketers to justify why it makes business sense and to know how to go about finding it. In this article written for PMForum magazine, Kathy Innes, Head of Marketing and BD at Ecovis shared our story and a few suggestions.

Our experiences over the last year have brought about significant changes to our lives – to the way we work, live, socialise and perceive the world. This means that what made sense before, may no longer hold true.

In Spring this year, we (at Ecovis) felt it was the right time for us to go through the exercise of reaffirming some of our company priorities and what is truly at the heart of our business both from a commercial perspective but also in terms of our wider commitments to society and the communities that we serve.

As we’re approaching the end of our journey, we would like to share what we learnt about brand purpose, how we went about finding our own ‘why’ and the discoveries our questions unearthed. It may help you on your own journey.


When did WHY become so important?

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Simon Sinek, TED Talk 2009

Simon Sinek inspired an entire generation of marketers with this simple yet powerful phrase. In his talk on leadership, he delves into brand success stories like Apple, and explains how their pursuit of the ‘Why’ rather than the ‘What’ inspires, drives connection and ultimately earns the loyalty of consumers. Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ challenged brand messaging, which had, up until then, focused on a company’s products or services, USPs and value propositions to name a few.


What is purpose and why is it so important for brands?

Purpose is the ‘why’ behind a brand. It defines the ‘heart’ of an organisation, what it represents and the ultimate reason a company exists. As brands battle for differentiation in overcrowded markets, they need something extra to stand out. Why? Because there will always be organisations that maintain they can deliver better, faster, and cheaper. Therefore, it’s no longer enough to talk about why your product or service is superior to the competition – brands need something that will make them more remarkable. They need a distinct purpose that is compelling and resonates with their audience.


How does brand purpose fit within an organisation framework?

In his recently published book The Heart of Business, Hubert Joly has created a framework which visualises how business is fundamentally about purpose, people and human relationships – not just about profits. He explains how companies are not soulless entities, they are human organisations made of individuals who work together towards a common purpose. That common good is the core focus of the company and is integrated in every aspect of what it does.

Joly places employees at the centre of an organisation, who rally around the “noble purpose”, and clients profoundly relate to it. Essentially, the purpose becomes the guiding North Star against which strategy is formulated and every decision is made and measured.


How does brand purpose fit within business strategy?

For Brand Purpose to be more than just a statement, it needs to be put into action and evident in every brand experience touchpoint. To achieve this, our ‘why’ needs to align with and drive everything else we’re doing through our strategy – feeding into our vision, mission, values and positioning. Whilst we may be familiar with these terms, they are often misunderstood and misused. The framework below shows how purpose translates into action:

  • Purpose: WHY our company or brand exists – a clearly articulated purpose that demonstrates the role we play in society
  • Vision: WHERE we want to get to with the Purpose by a specific point in time – where our organisation is going in the coming years
  • Mission: WHAT bold moves do we take to achieve the Vision – focusing on our business operations and the services we offer
  • Values: HOW we behave as a brand – what behaviours and attitudes we display
  • Positioning: How all of the above is encapsulated to occupy a distinct place in people’s minds.

By embedding our purpose within a business strategy, the ‘Why’ starts to have an external impact. This concept inspires the four questions Hubert Joly suggests we should ask ourselves when considering new business ideas: Firstly, does the idea fit with our purpose as an organisation? Secondly, is it good for our clients? Thirdly, can we deliver on it? And finally, can we make money?


How to find our why

  • It’s a team effort

Creating a purpose statement is more than just pulling together a few words we think our audience will relate to or re-purposing another brand’s statement we like the sound of. If we want our audience to believe in our intention, creating our statement needs to be a team effort, involving all our stakeholders – internal team members, leadership, clients, alumni, suppliers and business partners. With everyone’s input, the ‘why’ we unearth will be genuinely co-created and sincere.

  • Ask the right questions

Our ‘why’ is found in the intersecting of three overarching questions: What are we good at? What does the world need? What are we passionate about?

To gain feedback on these general questions, we created a list of four or five more targeted questions for each stakeholder group. These were asked via small group interviews or online surveys. For employees who were unable to participate in live discussions, we created a short video presentation explaining what the project was about and shared an online survey.

  • Interpret the results

Applying cumulative data coding methods, we assigned codes to data chunks from the interview transcripts and survey responses, using the guidelines outlined by Huberman and Miles in Qualitative Data Analysis. We then applied a second cycle of coding which involved studying and comparing codes to identify overarching categories and sub-categories. Throughout the interview process, the researcher interacted with the data and codes – in effect the coding was the analysis.

The strong themes and common categories derived from the data enabled us to identify our overriding purpose.


Our purpose statement

Inspiring Better Business by leading with humanity, fostering trust and empowering change.

Above all, we are a human organisation made up of real people from all walks of life – we just happen to be accountants. Our approachable, accepting culture and strong sense of Family engenders humility and generosity of thought. We believe business can be kind, generous and humble and still make money.

We are committed to delivering on our promises with clear, upfront expertise to earn the trust and confidence of our clients and the society and communities we serve. Our clients come away from meeting us with a refreshing sense of having dealt with someone just like them but with the comfort that we have the answers.

We believe everyone has a part to play in shaping business. By nurturing and empowering people, we create inspirational leaders of tomorrow. Sharing knowledge by teaching rather than preaching, we seek to enrich lives by giving control, enabling opportunities and encouraging progress.

Next steps: Putting brand purpose into action

Creating our ‘Why’ is as far as we’ve got on our journey. The next step for us is to start communicating this message to see how our audiences react. We’ll be listening to spot what resonates and what is lacking and carry out some relevant fine-tuning.

Above all, we need to ensure everyone understands the overarching reason we exist and make sure it’s driving everything we do. For our “Why” to make the intended connection and inspire the most action, this alignment is going to be crucial.


If you would like to know more about Brand Purpose and how to find your ‘why, ‘ please get in touch with Kathy Innes – she loves to share our journey!

Kathy Innes

Head of Marketing & BD

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