Customers are no longer just consumers; they’re co-creators. It’s not enough for them to feel good about your purpose. They want it to be their purpose too.
They don’t want to be at the other end of your purpose. They want to be right there in it with you. Your purpose needs to be shared.
Companies are turning to purpose as a way to engage consumers and employees. But it’s hard enough to find purpose as an individual, let alone as an entire company. So what’s a leader to do?
The first step is to recognize that there are different kinds of purpose. Sometimes purpose is about values—who you are and what you stand for. Other times it is about value—what you do and how it benefits others.
The ultimate goal is to align your values and value, so that what you do reflects who you are, what you stand for guides what you make, and your value to the community enhances your value to customers and shareholders.
This goal of aligning values and value is espoused by many eminent business leaders. It’s a core tenet in the field of corporate social responsibility.
But in the Digital Age, this kind of purpose isn’t enough.
Customers are no longer just consumers; they’re co-creators. They aren’t just passive members of an audience; they are active members of a community. They want to be a part of something: to belong, to influence, to engage.
It’s not enough that they feel good about your purpose. They want it to be their purpose too. They don’t want to be at the other end of your purpose. They want to be right there in it with you.
This is what you deliver to your stakeholders. It is the value you create by delivering your offering.
Most marketing communication is focused on this level of purpose: why a person should transact with the company as a customer, employee, partner or investor.
This is what you contribute to the wider community—not just what you sell, but why you sell it. It is about your values as much as your value.
Purpose FOR includes corporate social responsibility and extends into the broader brand position in the marketplace.
Whole Foods Market establishes rigorous ingredient standards—so rigorous that some brands make special versions just for sale at Whole Foods. They also have special programs for employees to perform community service around the world. Whole Foods is doing this for their customers, and has earned a well-deserved reputation for upholding the values they advertise.
This is what you are creating with others. It is the Shared Purpose to which all your stakeholders are contributing.
It’s important to remember that the purpose you share with your customers and other stakeholders is not just philanthropic. It is not separate from your business—rather, it’s the context for your business.
It is why you do what you do—and why others would want to do it with you.
Your Purpose WITH is something you don’t have to defend or persuade people about. It’s a truth that you hold to be self-evident. For instance, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the Shared Purpose of the United States.
A good test of Purpose TO vs. Purpose FOR is whether it makes sense as a T-shirt.
In both these comparisons, the Purpose FOR is something you might see on a T-shirt.
The test for Purpose WITH is who wants to wear the T-shirt. Are people excited to wear the shirt even if they don’t work for you?”
If only your employees would wear the shirt, then you have a Purpose FOR.
The shift from Purpose FOR to Purpose WITH is often a simple elevation. For one hospital system, it was a shift from “delivering care” to “being healthy.”
If your customers are co-creators in the purpose—if they would be excited to wear the shirt—then you have a truly Shared Purpose: a Purpose WITH.
The makeup retailer Sephora is a good example of how a company can evolve its purpose.
With the latest evolution, Sephora’s purpose has gone beyond beauty to something truly universal and timeless.
A lot of people would wear a “Be Fearless” T-shirt—regardless of whether they work for or shop at Sephora.
Many companies known for values and purpose do not actually have a Purpose WITH. They tend to hoard their purpose, keeping them stuck at a
The purpose of Starbucks, for example, is “to inspire the human spirit.” While they do a great job of this for their employees and customers, Starbucks tends to hoard their purpose by not doing much to help customers inspire the human spirit in each other. You might say that only the baristas “wear the shirt.”
For example, the Starbucks mobile app doesn’t make it easy to buy a cup of coffee for someone else.
By contrast, Nike’s purpose is “to inspire the athlete in all of us.” They’re sharing this purpose when they enable athletes to inspire other athletes, whether professional or amateur.
As an expression of this, “Just Do It” is a sentiment that extends beyond Nike, athletes and even the domain of sports. Not only can anyone wear the T-shirt—lots of people worldwide already do.
The message of these stories: be sure to share your purpose by helping stakeholders find ways to engage in it together.
To identify your Shared Purpose, start with your mission statement. Is there a phrase or theme that might go on a T-shirt?
Look for something universal and timeless, but not too philanthropic. You want it to be broad enough that almost anyone could say it, while still tying back to your business.
Once you have a phrase, think about who would want to wear that shirt. Would your customers wear it? Your partners?
Use the worksheet on the next page to test your statement of Shared Purpose.
Fill in the appropriate blank with your Shared Purpose. Use whichever version flows better, depending on whether your Shared Purpose is a verb or a noun.
“With our stakeholders, we are creating more [noun] in the world.”
Or try it with a verb:
“With our stakeholders, we [verb], which makes the world a better place.”
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