We live in a world of fake news, fallen idols and fundamentalism - all powered by technology-enabled social-reform and globalisation. The boundaries between countries and nationalities, between work life and home life, and between individuals and the outside world are becoming blurred, with trends, technologies and markets changing at a bewildering pace.
One side effect of this new digital age is that it can often be easier to live in the moment: chasing tactical sales, cost reduction or just the latest meme. This type of behaviour leads to a focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, and many organisations are struggling to develop customer strategies that can deliver a legacy of long-term, sustainable growth.
Any endeavour undertaken without consideration of the legacy that it will leave in its wake, can have significant negative effects on the reputation, identity and long-term sustainability of the initiator.
The remedy for this ailment is ‘purpose’. Such a simple word, but such a complex thing for so many organisations.
All organisations come into being for a reason. This fact does not, however, mean that every organisation has a purpose. In the bewildering world that we now live in, having a clear mission and vision of the legacy that you wish to leave behind will make every decision simpler, and help ensure that your collective decision making is coherent.
This is the essence of why purpose is so important. It not only provides the compass for all journeys to be guided by, but also ensures that there is a clear ultimate destination, and that safe routes are followed.
For those of you with a very practical mindset, this means that individuals and organisations who live their purpose will be able to manage their reputations more effectively, build deeper, more trusting relationships with their customers/stakeholders, and make better strategic and tactical decisions more quickly.
For those of you with a more philosophical bent, the Japanese aesthetic of Ikigai provides incredible insight into the secret to business longevity from a very humble and individual context. Purpose is clarity, peace and power.
In addition to being an enabler for more effective and elegant decisions, purpose also serves to engage others in a compelling, sustainable way.
For example, when consumers make a buying decision, they will typically make it on the basis of a combination of four factors: product, price, convenience and experience.
The first three are very practical and tangible factors that all retailers will understand - and it is possible for retailers to differentiate themselves by “scoring” highly in these three consumer buying criteria. However, all customer segments (for different reasons) are becoming more and more driven by experience - by the feelings that each brand interaction evokes. And this experience is driven by purpose.
Why you do what you do is overtly important to millennials and baby boomers in particular, and innately important to the authenticity of, for example, your brand positioning, advertising and in-store experience and social media initiatives.
Profit is not a strategic goal. In order to authentically engage stakeholders, the relationship has to be more than transactional.
If, for example, a retailer’s perceived identity is simply that of a replaceable, transaction provider, or that of an organisation that abuses its employees in pursuit of profit, then the long-term experience of their customers is likely to be somewhere between “none” and “negative”.
If however, consumers see that this retailer is acting with purpose, and is providing a pre-, during- and post-purchase experience that resonates with this purpose - then they are more likely to invest in the relationship.
This doesn’t mean that it is necessary to deliver the “best” customer experience 24/7, but rather to be authentic and consistent with your promise. It is better to deliver an authentic experience than an amazing one (although there are many brands, Disney is one, for whom amazing is authentic).
As a simple example, if a shopper needs to get good food at a low price, they might be willing to put up with a basic store setup with few staff, and shop at a discounter rather than a hypermarket. The customer might not say that the in-store experience was the best that they ever had - but it is authentic.
The purpose of the discounter is to serve the public by providing high quality groceries at the lowest possible cost... so in addition to defining their products, pricing and store format, this purpose means that the store experience will be simple, or spartan even. All 4 buying factors are built on, and reinforce, the purpose of the discounter.
This alignment between the purpose of the retailer and the purpose of an increasingly large segment of the buying public has created a strong relationship that is powering the growth of the discounters through the advocacy and loyalty of their existing customers.
In this way, purpose drives success.
In the digital age, people buy into experiences that are authentic, and that help them achieve their own purpose. So if an individual or organisation doesn’t understand their own purpose, how can it design an authentic experience that customers can align to?
So... what is your purpose? Is it being “lived” by everyone with your organisation, and can you clearly see the link between this purpose, your brand, your actions, and stakeholder engagement?
If not, this is worth addressing sooner rather than later - your success may depend on it.