Henry Ford said: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.” He is also credited for saying “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In these ideas, we see his brand purpose emerge.
Henry Ford knew he needed to think differently, and that what people really wanted was a faster way to get from here to there. He was a trailblazer who made this a reality for thousands of Americans in his lifetime, pioneering the modern assembly line, re-imagining wages for his employees and helping give birth to the American middle class. As a result, his company’s early profits were, indeed, large.
Even with its financial ups and downs since the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, Henry Ford’s core purpose provides a clear vision for the success of the organization that remains true today: helping as many people as possible get from here to there faster.
Leading with purpose is changing the face of business. It’s empowering innovative teams, building successful brands and driving the bottom line in every sector. Companies who live their purpose are better at engaging new customers and engaging existing customers more deeply than those who do not.
Research from the Korn Ferry Institute shows organizations with teams focused on purpose had nearly 3X the annual growth ratefor their industry.
Today, people increasingly make purchase decisions based on (and to express) their own personal values. In its 2018 Earned Brand Global Study, Edelman reported that 64% of consumers self-identify as “Belief-Driven Buyers” (up 13% from 2017). These consumers said they will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on political or social issues they care about.
This means companies need to be clear about what they stand for.
Purpose is the difference between a “company” and a “brand.” And brands who live their purpose drive business success. Here are just a few examples from which we can draw inspiration.
REI shocked the retail world by turning their purpose, inspiring people to get outside, into practice, inviting people to #OptOutside on Black Friday. In addition to billions of media impressions, the campaign inspired 1.4 million people to get outside.
Based on their purpose—helping people on their path to better health—CVS made the decision to drop tobacco products from their stores. While cigarette sales dropped, the company reported sales up in other areas of their business more closely aligned with their purpose.
Southwest Airlines is one of my favorites. Their purpose is to connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. They consider their purpose in key company decisions, like maintaining a single model of aircraft and reinventing the passenger boarding experience. They embrace purpose in their company culture, through their commitment to providing employees the same concern, respect, and caring attitude they are expected to share with every Southwest Customer. These purpose-led practices have helped make Southwest Airlines profitable for 45 years in a row.
For nonprofit organizations, leading with and communicating purpose is even more important. Purpose is the heartbeat of a nonprofit. It’s why the organization matters to people. For mission-driven organizations, purpose drives engagement, financial support and social impact.
There are a lot of great examples of nonprofits making incredible impact by sharing their purpose, too.
Charity: Water makes its purpose clear at every turn: bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. They do this by installing wells across the developing world and, in recent years, adding custom design sensors to these wells to measure the volume of water being pumped to better measure their impact. To date, Charity : Water has funded 38,113 water projects reaching more than 9 million people in 27 countries around the world.
Special Olympics International was founded to honor and advance the rights of and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. So strong is their purpose, it has evolved—grown—into a global movement creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. Special Olympics counts more than 6 million athletes and, reflecting their growing movement of inclusivity, now counts 1.6 million Unified teammates, people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team.
The Girl Effect has been on my radar for more than a decade, for their crystal clear purpose, based on the single premise that the most effective way to break the cycle of global poverty is to improve the situation of adolescent girls. Through their work, girls can express themselves, value themselves and build the relationships they need to thrive, in tangible, measurable ways, from vaccination to education to economic opportunity. Their most recent measure of success is 12.7 million unique on their mobile platforms.
The job of living brand purpose belongs to everyone in the organization. And when our teams put purpose into practice effectively, we can engage new customers and engage existing customers more deeply, driving greater success for our organizations.