The power of purpose

Purpose is the organization’s “why”; it sits alongside the “what” – the mission – and the “where” – the vision. It answers the question “why do we exist beyond what we make, do or sell?”

Purpose goes beyond brand positioning and is reflective of the values, culture and ethos of the organization. It is the fundamental source of authenticity and the platform that brings the brand alive throughout the customer experience. Purpose is the great connector; it is important because it has an integrating, aligning and cohesive effect across all customer touchpoints.

Today, business and societal impact must go hand in hand. In this information age, consumers are more informed, more connected and more skeptical than to fall for a brand that claims to be pursuing a profound ‘purpose’ when what it’s really after is a stronger P&L.

As human beings we are inspired by purpose. It is the satisfaction we achieve over and above our employment. It creates advocates of both employees and customers.

Companies such as USAA, Lush and MAIF demonstrate that purpose is a dedication to something more than just making money for shareholders.

It can be environmental, social or a dedication to the needs of a particular group of customers. Executives at USAA, for example, are targeted on “making a difference to customers’ lives”; Lush is focused on environmental matters and customers who share its love of natural products; and MAIF has a very strong sense of social purpose.

"They (competitors) can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade."

Herb Kelleher
Founder, Southwest Airlines

Topdanmark in Denmark is revered for its approach to going beyond insurance and resolving customer life problems, KLP in Norway for responsible, ethical investment, and Alipay in China for its focus on safe money payments.

If these purpose driven organizations disappeared tomorrow, their customers would miss something meaningful.

Employees are advocates for what the organization does, and what it achieves over and above product sales.

KPMG International research1 reveals how important purpose is to both millennials and, increasingly, baby boomers. This growing generation is now more and more often rewarding truly purpose-driven brands: by choosing them over their (less purpose-oriented) peers, by paying a premium for their products and services, or by coming back as loyal customers, over and over again.

Purpose-driven organizations are characterized by the following:

Led from the top

It is the CEO who sets the purpose agenda, articulating ideas that go far beyond the business impact. For organizations like Lush and Specsavers, it is the founder who wraps the business around a purpose. For organizations such as USAA, where the purpose was established in 1925, it is the role of each incoming CEO to make it relevant for the current age.


Businesses need to be open about how the purpose they have subscribed to connects to their business, while at the same time creating a positive impact on society. A sound storytelling approach is essential; one that clearly and simply paints a picture to explain why shared value creation is beneficial to everyone involved.


Today’s consumers know that actions speak louder than words, and they want their own actions to make a difference. That’s why successful brands provide them with opportunities to engage and to co-create. It is no accident that many of the top companies across our index are mutual organizations owned by their customers, where participation and involvement are a way of life.

Authenticity of purpose is critical and requires a purpose-driven culture:

For Ritz Carlton, purpose and customer obsession are inextricably linked. Every day, every team across the globe shares stories of great things that have been done for customers the previous day. The day starts with what great looks like and Ritz Carlton’s purpose, “unique, memorable, and personable customer service experiences” is infused through every activity.

Southwest Airlines’ purpose is the power of storytelling to make sure each of its 46,000 employees pursues its vision of being the most loved and most traveled airline each and every day. Southwest is doing so by rallying employees around a common purpose. “We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Corporate communications are filled with real examples and stories to help employees visualize what each step of the purpose looks and feels like. Every week CEO Gary Kelly gives a ‘shout out’ (public praise) to employees who have gone above and beyond to show great
customer service.

Joe Robles, former CEO of USAA, stated that a leader’s most important job is “to connect the people to their purpose.” At USAA, every employee undergoes an immersive 4-day cultural orientation and makes a promise to provide extraordinary service to people who had done the same for their country.

*1 Me, my Life and my wallet: 2018