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The Problem With Purpose: Part 1

It is widely accepted that organisations today need to articulate, and commit to, a reason for being – most commonly called a purpose.  Having a purpose has been linked to greater consumer/customer preference, the attraction and retention of talent, and increased growth and profit.

The challenge, however, is that there are only so many ‘purposes’ to be had.    Consider the brands who claim that they exist to ‘enrich lives’.  Aramark, Apple, Airtel, Arts Council… and that’s just the ‘A’s…

The problem with purpose is that it potentially decreases distinctiveness and poses a new competitive challenge.  Organisations committing to a purpose need to expand their notions of their competitive set –  not only looking within their category and revenue competitors but also at others who share the same purpose area.  In the words of Jonathan Mildenhall, VP-global advertising strategy and creative excellence at Coca-Cola,

“We have two sets of competition, category competition and competition within the space of the purpose we’re trying to communicate. …We’re going to be much more successful if we look at businesses and brands in the space of happiness than if we just look at the beverage category.”

So purpose raises the bar: if you want to be a brand that stand for ‘happiness’ you’d better understand how others do it, since they are building expectations in your consumer’s mind – that you need to live up to.

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