Brand Purpose Positioning: How to embed Purpose into your business

March 23, 2021

Against the backdrop of the covid pandemic, climate crisis, Black Lives Matter, global poverty and gender inequality among other key societal issues, the purpose of business and its role in society has become an increasingly important and high-profile topic of discussion.  

With growing conversation around how business can and should take responsibility and use their influence, expertise, operations and reach for good, looking after their workforce and supply chains, mitigating against the effects of their carbon footprint and positively impacting on the communities in which they work.    

The Future of the Corporation (a major research and engagement programme examining this very issue) has defined the purpose of business as, “Profitably solving the problems of people and planet, and not profiting from creating problems”.  

For purpose to be truly successful however, it should never be considered as an add-on; it should be embedded within the heart of an organisation, with a clearly defined business case behind it. We truly mean it when we say that purpose and profit are entirely intertwined. 

1. Impact & liability: The social purpose of business 

In 2019, France introduced its Entreprise à Mission model, with companies like Danone, operating their business as a force for good, setting objectives in the social, societal and environmental fields in their Articles of Association.  

Alongside this, we have the examples of pioneer purposeful businesses such as Unilever, Patagonia and Mars, standing for a higher purpose and seeking to solve societal challenges. And they’re performing well – in terms of market growth, meeting changing customer needs and getting the most of out their employees.  

Purposeful businesses grow 3 times faster than their competitors and are more likely to perform better. (Deloitte) Purposeful businesses outperform the stock market by 133%. If you need any more convincing about the business case for purpose, read our article giving five reasons why you can’t afford to ignore it.  

This is the time for purpose, with successful businesses being those which engage with society. But, you have to get it right if you want to ‘level up’ and build forward together. Note – we’ve used the word forward and not back, as many say, as we know that purposeful business enables companies to put a stake in the ground and build long term sustainable growth. To explore further what this means and what the future holds for those businesses who truly seek to be a force for good, read our blog and watch our webinar on business responsibility and purpose.

Becoming a purposeful organisation involves starting with identifying, developing and articulating your business’ ‘social‘ purpose. A statement setting out the unique difference you can make in the world, which employees, stakeholders, partners, customers and consumers can easily connect with and be inspired by.


2. The definition of brand purpose positioning 


Building on the Future of the Corporation’s definition, let’s further clarify what we mean by purpose. Over the years, we have come across disagreement and some lack of clarity around the definition of purpose and what it should or could mean to business.  

To quote directly from a Deloitte Insight article:

“Much like what a foundation is to a house, a conductor is to an orchestra, and a canvas is to an artist’s masterpiece—a clear purpose is everything to an organisation … It articulates why an organisation exists, what problems it is here to solve, and who it wants to be to each human it touches through its work”.

According to Enacting Purpose Initiative, if purpose is why your organisation exists, the mission is what the organisation will produce. The values are therefore how the organisation will operate in actuality, and the vision is finally the overall aim of the organisation, which ties everything together. 

When you are able to articulate a clear purpose, it becomes the lens through which all decisions are made, influencing how you position your brand and activity. 


Having an authentic and clear purpose is a differentiator in any competitive landscape. Beyond this, it provides the north star for all decision making, heavily boosts employee attraction and engagement, helps build stronger connections with stakeholders and consumers, increases productivity as team understand the meaning in their work, and reduces staff turnover. In short, social purpose improves the governance and performance of your business, which benefits all stakeholders, including shareholders. 

To further understand how becoming purpose driven looks and feels different to normal business practice, read a wonderful article “The Road to Purpose” written by our guest thought leader, Norman Pickavance. Norman does amazing work delivering transformational change as the CEO, Co-Founder and Director of the St Paul’s Institute, Tomorrow’s Company and The Financial Inclusion Alliance. 

Who should be involved in defining your brand’s purpose? 


At the earliest stage possible, determine who within your organisation is or will be responsible for purpose at the most senior level. For purpose to be truly effective and pervasive, it needs to be driven by leadership, with the buy-in of the Board.  

Take Unilever, for example. Under former CEO Paul Polman’s leadership, the consumer goods juggernaut prioritised purpose – to great success. Polman assisted the business in developing its Sustainable Living Plan, which mapped out a path that married social purpose with profit, by doubling its growth, halving its environmental damage and tripling its social impact. As we know, it worked; as a result, Unilever’s sales rose from $38 billion to more than $60 billion. 

As Polman recently said: “you need to do it at the CEO level, because if the tone is not set at the top, you will not get to where you want to be, which is truly transformative change”. 


Cisco announced its new Social Purpose – to ‘Power an Inclusive Future for All’ – in June 2020. Recognising its “responsibilities don’t end with technology”, its leadership developed a new framework through which purposeful action will be taken, allocated to key people across the business and divided across four primary pillars of response.

And finally, Danone, as mentioned earlier, who under the leadership of Chief Executive Emmanuel Faber, has adopted a new legal status to turn itself into an ‘enterprise à mission’, or purpose driven company. Its mission is now to “bring health through food”, with codes requiring the company not only to generate profit for its shareholders, but to do so in a way that it says will benefit its customers’ health and the planet. Its progress will be judged by a committee of 10 outside experts.

Leaders – you now have a license to change and think about how you will begin to build back better – and set and meet both social as well as financial goals.  


When a brand’s purpose has been defined, it’s key for leadership to ensure it is embedded across the business and throughout operations, becoming accepted as ‘the way we do things’, infiltrating company culture. It is about other departments aligning themselves with the core purpose too, from CSR through to sustainability and HR, where purpose should be embedded into job descriptions and approaches to hiring. 

Internal communications

Good internal communications is crucial here, to engage employees around the new narrative, linking strategic priorities with behaviours and all underpinned by the ‘why’.  For purpose to be successful and impactful, it needs to be made tangible at every level, with people seeing that they are all active stakeholders. Staff need to be able to connect with it meaningfully in their daily work and be motivated to put it into action, as and where applicable.  


For customers and consumers, marketing is vital to bring a company’s purpose to life and deepen relations in an authentic way. This is about building a purposeful brand for the long term, positioning it within the marketplace and motivating people to create change alongside you, at scale; showing how you create value in an expansive way and play a meaningful role in society and individual’s lives.  

To get you thinking about developing and communicating your brand’s purpose, why not take our 5 minutes free Purpose quiz, to assess where your business currently is, and what gaps you have to work on. 


Benchmarking on Purpose 


A key element to developing and implementing a successful purpose, is ensuring a point of difference to your competitors. This will position you as a leader within the space, able to develop deeper conversations and emotionally engage stakeholders and consumers with your authentic business’ purpose, well-reasoned, defined and activated, providing them with an additional reason for purchase and brand loyalty. 


With this in mind, conducting a competitor landscape analysis is the next step to bulletproof purpose and purposeful communications. Take a deep dive into your top five competitors, assessing, among other things, where they stand on purpose, what their purpose statements are, and any activities, policies, partnerships and campaigns they have implemented. From here, you can build out the differentiating elements that your purpose should include, in order to be both unique and true to your brand heritage, skillset and offerings.  

This is a process that we have helped a number of clients with, as part of our Purpose 101 offering, and it’s consistently seen as a crucial step in the overall journey.

>> View our services to see how we can help you grow and communicate your brand purpose.

Brand workshop and brainstorm : Some key questions and tools to help you define your brand’s purpose 

We’ve established that your purpose is your reason for being; it’s your explanation and justification to your employees, stakeholders and the general public for why your organisation exists, and it’s about what you offer to the wider world beyond your products and services.  


But, this is also about how you show why you matter to people beyond products and services. Understanding why you are here, is also about accepting you need to begin looking beyond short-term profits towards prioritising long term resilience.

Your ‘why’ will empower you to seek to innovate and integrate purposeful considerations across strategy development, operational execution and stakeholder engagement.  

With social purpose now being seen as a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’, understanding and being able to articulate why your particular business is here, is a vital step in being able to uncover, develop and communicate your organisation’s unique, focused positioning, which we’ll come onto in the next step. Ultimately, you will aim to express your purposeful ‘why’ in a statement – accompanied by a pathway to achieving it across your brand. 

There are various ways to uncover your purpose, but at Verity London, our facilitated Purpose Lab empowers senior leaders to review their brand’s heritage, founder’s aspirations, specific products, services, supply chains and expertise, alongside key credentials to answer the golden question: “how is the world a better place by your company being here?” A key part of that exploration is also about clarifying who you want to help – and why. 

The answers, and your unique purpose positioning, can be consistently used as a lens through which to make decisions and guide behaviour and activity.  


Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a number of brands stepping up their contribution to society – and those that have stayed true to their heritage and core strengths, who have used purpose as their guiding beacon, have been able to deliver maximum impact, and have been noted for this. 

At the beginning of lockdown, Microsoft for example, who set out ‘to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’, quickly looked to use their purpose to focus on their employees and operations. It pivoted its operations to be able to keep its store employees employed and able to work virtually. It provided 12 weeks leave for parents, supported education and childcare at home, and offered free collaboration tools, including healthcare platforms to help frontline workers. 

Likewise, NatWest Group in the UK, who have moved to put purpose at the heart of all it does, sought to introduce purposeful initiatives including payment holidays for mortgage holders.  


And finally there’s Burberry, who used its production factory in Castleford, West Yorkshire, to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), which it donated to the NHS. Beyond this, it also maintained base pay for employees who had been unable to work due to closures, and senior bosses took a 20% pay cut from April. The UK government later awarded Burberry with a PPE contract worth more than £500,000. 

Mapping out how you’re able to help, which is true to your business, capabilities and core offering, is integral to delivering effective and standout unique purpose and impact. 

“When the s— hits the fan—whether it is COVID or social injustice—we look to our purpose to figure out what to do. Our purpose is to create world changing technologies that enrich the lives of every person on earth. That simple line helped us define fairly quickly what to do.” 

To help you get started with developing your purpose, why not download our free Purpose Toolkit. The 28 key questions and multiple templates will help you uncover your unique positioning, develop a purpose canvas, begin roadmap planning and give you some top tips for purposeful communications.  


Brainstorming exercises and tools to facilitate the discussion around your brand positioning 

During our Purpose Lab and Purpose Sprint, we use a variety of techniques to help clients uncover and articulate their purpose.  


The first is our Purpose Canvas Template – downloadable for free in our Purpose Toolkit –  and lots of post it notes!  

We use the Purpose Model Canvas to map out the key areas of a business and form a picture of core strengths, values, offering, customer segments and current societal challenges. We encourage people to write down words and phrases that are relevant for each section and stick them on. Then take a step back. Use the answers to think through the key messages emerging and consider the options they reveal. 

Ask yourself questions such as what opportunities are there to enable your organisation to take purposeful action? Which of the current societal challenges is your brand best positioned to support?  Which are most relevant? And which of these most closely aligns with your core business activity? 


And if you can’t get together and do this task physically together, there are some great platforms out there which allow you to meet virtually too – like Klaxoon, Miro or Ideaflip. 

Alongside these, there are other brainstorming techniques we use to encourage the sharing and free flow of ideas:  

  • Brainwriting: This is where everyone is encouraged to jot down their thoughts sometimes before or at the beginning of the session, and then discuss what they’ve written. Often we encourage people to make the suggestions anonymous by writing them on post-its, sticking them to the wall, and have colleagues choose them at random to discuss.  
  • Rapid Ideation: When trying to move things along more quickly, we ask everyone to write as many ideas as possible on a piece of paper, sticky note, or in an e-doc. When that’s done, the group is asked to vote on the best ideas, discuss what everyone came up with, or pick the ones everyone most engaged with to progress with. We time these rapid ideation sessions using Miro’s Stickies Bulk Mode, mind map, or  Countdown Timer features. 
  • Reverse Brainstorming: Sometimes, it’s easier for us to speak about tangible problems, than to think about solutions. This is why we often encourage initial focus and discussion on key societal problems and collect ideas around it, before trying to reverse these and identify what solutions a company may be able to offer in this space.    

Writing your Purpose statement 


Articulating your purpose – or mission statement – can be a difficult art to master, especially nailing the balance between aspirational, emotive and achievable. However, when done successfully, it can not only underpin and shape all of your activity, but also become the guiding beacon for how your organisation behaves and what it stands for and values. 


Let’s take a look at some examples from some of the world’s organisations who are leading on purpose.  

When Mars rolled out its global rebrand and purpose statement in 2019, it did so by defining it with the line, “The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today’. It was a public commitment to do business in a way that positively contributes to society, with a focus on sustainable sourcing, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and animal conservation. @Michele Oliver, Mars Global VP Marketing said at the time: “This isn’t a marketing gimmick, this transcends every single part of the organisation, from our supply chain, all the way through to our recruitment and talent”. 

Vodafone form part of the tech sector, on a socially purposeful mission. They say: “We are optimistic about how technology and connectivity can enhance the future and improve people’s lives. Through our business, we aim to build a digital society that enhances socio-economic progress, embraces everyone and does not come at the cost of our planet”. 

And at Unilever Dove: “At Dove, we have a vision of a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. Our mission is to ensure the next generation grow up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look – helping girls to raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential”. 

Crystallising your statement of purpose can take a while, but it’s worth involving a core team and investing time up-front to ensure clarity and focus of narrative, so that anyone across the organisation can take and use it to develop purpose-led culture, strategy and activity. 

Our closing example is Johnson + Johnson’s excellent credo, albeit rather long, which was written in 1943 by Robert Wood Johnson, former chairman from 1932 to 1963 and a member of the founding family… 

We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to provide value, reduce our costs and maintain reasonable prices. Customers’ orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our business partners must have an opportunity to make a fair profit. 

We are responsible to our employees who work with us throughout the world. We must provide an inclusive work environment where each person must be considered as an individual. We must respect their diversity and dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security, fulfillment and purpose in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must support the health and well-being of our employees and help them fulfill their family and other personal responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide highly capable leaders and their actions must be just and ethical. 

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must help people be healthier by supporting better access and care in more places around the world. We must be good citizens — support good works and charities, better health and education, and bear our fair share of taxes. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources. 

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed, investments made for the future and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return. 

Writing your Brand Purpose strategy 

For a mission statement to be powerful, it needs developing into an actionable, detailed and strategic framework for delivery that maps out short, medium and long term key milestones at a granular detail. It needs to translate into you as a company ‘walking the walk’, with your purpose revisited and nurtured along the way. 

Think about how you will track in real time how you will activate your purpose and create top to bottom organisational alignment around it. It’s important to consider your strategies around how your purpose will inform how you protect your employees, carry out your operations, customer engagement, and define and refine who you are in the world. 

It will be vital to develop and communicate your purpose narrative, and monitor and analyse the results. Assigning clear owners for each task at every step along the journey can ensure accountability and action.  

Months in advance of your purpose launch, iron these things out to allow sufficient time to overcome any potential hurdles that might arise, and likewise, ensure this is approved by the relevant senior stakeholders as far in advance as possible. 

Developing purpose strategy and building a more purposeful business and culture takes time. And it is an ever-evolving process. We always talk to clients about the importance of communicating this to stakeholders and consumers, and taking people on the journey with you, authentically and transparently, setting out where you intend to go and how you are planning to get there. 

What’s next? Communicating your Purpose


62% want companies to take a stand on issues they are passionate about, and 52% say they are more attracted to buy from certain brands over others if these brands stand for something bigger than just the products and services it sells, which aligns with their personal values(Accenture 2018) 

Coupled with these stats, we also know that According to Inc, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and they are looking for socially responsible employers. 

When you’re ready to communicate your purpose and intentions, you’ll need to develop a launch strategy, as part of your communications, as well as a plan for a purposeful brand campaign to let your partners, other stakeholders and customers know about it. This is about beginning the conversation and taking active steps to building purposeful and sustainable business growth, alongside driving positive societal change. 

>> More to read: The importance of communicating purposefully to your team.

Debra Sobel
Co-founder and CEO

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