I’ve been a business owner since 2003, apart from 2 years I spent as the Chief Marketing Officer of a publicly traded entertainment company after they acquired my business. It took quite a long time for me to realize that all of the challenges I’ve ever faced as a leader stemmed from a single point of failure.
It didn’t matter if the problem was poor sales, product delays/issues, employee disengagement, marketing messages that didn’t convert, customer complaints, losing out to competitors, departments pulling in different directions, bad hiring or lack of innovation. Looking back today, I know that these problems could have been solved had one critical element been in place. Something so foundational, that no matter how many walls you build on it, it won’t collapse, only strengthen. Without this in place, all of the shiny new marketing campaigns in the world and all the new hires you make won’t solve the bigger problem.
I’m talking of course about purpose: a clear compelling reason for existing that manifests itself in every budget, brainstorm and build. As business owners we don’t naturally think that “we lack purpose”, after all, don’t we show up every day and make products that people buy? Isn’t that our purpose? The truth is, it isn’t. When you shackle your company’s purpose to the agenda of your products and services, you only ever grow to fill the available space that they provide. Purpose-driven businesses are aligned with the agenda of humanity with it’s ever evolving and complex needs creating a space that will never be filled. What an opportunity!
When we meet with clients to discuss their challenges, they rarely mention purpose, they mention the problems listed above. It’s natural to react to the thing that’s right in front of our eyes, but when we step back and ask why these problems exist, we start to get a true measure of the landscape.
To help answer the question of whether your brand lacks purpose or not, I have listed below a set of questions (in no particular order) that help us diagnose the true problems facing a business. More often than not, it’s that single point of failure I mentioned. We’ll update this list as we think of more questions to ask.
If you answer Yes to any of these questions, you will likely benefit from exploring a purpose-driven direction.
- As a leader, is your calendar filled with operational tasks, with little time for thinking or strategy?
- Does your company suffer from absenteeism?
- Do you notice a lack of employee engagement?
- Do you constantly wonder how to promote better teamwork?
- Does your company lack innovation?
- Do you wonder how competitors are able to innovate so quickly?
- Is profit the ultimate company goal?
- Do you lack a central social cause that employees and customers can buy into?
- Do hallway conversations determine strategic direction?
- Are you surprised that competitors grow at a faster rate than you?
- Do different executive team members offer differing opinions on company goals?
- Do you describe your business in terms of the products and services you sell?
- Are your marketing messages product and feature heavy?
- Do you lack process to allow for measurement of results?
- Are you understaffed in key areas of the business?
- Is it a challenge to articulate your ideal customer(s)?
- Do you change your plans and goals whenever a competitor ships a new product?
- Do department heads argue about direction?
- Does your business live by the numbers, quarter to quarter?
- Do you feel your customers have trouble understanding the real benefits you offer?
- Would you have trouble matching your products and services with target audience profiles?
- Has “it” always been done this way?
- Do you suffer from customer service issues?
- Is your refund rate higher than you would like?
- Are you challenged to find and recruit top talent?
As business owners we’re often too close to the coalface to see or understand the greater influences on our behavior and results. In a fluid marketplace, it’s important to regularly check how well each aspect of the business lives up to and contributes to the overall brand purpose. It’s a simple task with profound effects.
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Barry Chandler is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company focused on helping companies discover their purpose to allow them achieve their vision, build preference and drive margin. Barry has been building award winning businesses since launching his first company in Ireland in 2003. His last company, a digital marketing agency, was acquired in 2012 by a California based publicly traded entertainment company which then hired him as Chief Marketing Officer. It is his belief that the greatest brands seek to change the world, improving the lives of their associates, partners and customers.