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How to Define or Find a Brand Purpose


While adopting a brand purpose has become an imperative for many companies, identifying what that purpose should be can often appear to be a mysterious and daunting process. By way of guidance, consider the following seven tips offered by guests of the ANA Center for Brand Purpose's Beyond Profit podcast.

Aim high. "They say in the 'Exponential Organization' community that a 'massive transformative purpose' [MTP] describes a better future for the world, or at least your industry or community. It doesn't specify how. It's not about you, your customers, your organization, your products, or services. In other words, it's got nothing to do with positioning. There's no 'you,' 'we' or 'us' involved. You are not in the picture. It's not a marketing slogan; it's your North Star, but it doesn't restrict your organization from changing direction. It might excite and scare you and catch you in your throat. It matters that much to you, and you might never fully achieve it, yet it's still worth striving for. A great MTP attracts the customers, community, partners, and resources you need to make a dent in the universe."
Phil White, co-founder of Grounded World

Dedicate yourself to the commonweal. "I posit that the 'why' [of a company] has to be able to articulate some piece of the commons — that is all those things that we depend on, but nobody owns: clean air, clean water, a functioning, a civil society, et cetera. You don't have to take responsibility for all of it, just the one that is most congruent and synergistically aligned to your business and your product and your service line. Then state what piece of it you're going to own and how you're going to contribute to it. That's your purpose."
Sandy Skees, EVP of purpose and impact global lead at Porter Novelli and author of Purposeful Brands: How Purpose and Sustainability Drive Brand Value and Positive Change

Be true to your organization. [Brands that successfully establish their purpose] "are engaging on topics and issues that are true to their business impacts, which helps you get your entire organization on board with whatever you're doing. It makes it that much more powerful and impactful because your whole organization understands why you would be engaged on this topic."
Lindsey DeWitte, president of public relations and EVP of purpose and sustainability at Barkley

Concentrate on the steak, not the sizzle. "A purpose doesn't have to be catchy; it doesn't even have to be unique. It just has to be true. It has to be the real common psychological motivator [for people in the organization]."
Dev Patnaik, CEO at Jump Associates and author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

Have a clear focus. "It's hard to execute everything. Tell me what you're going to be the best at and you don't have to tell me what you're going to be good at. Sure, we do other things, but we are going to be better than anybody else at doing this one thing or die trying. ... I think that's a situation where simplicity really helps."
Kelly O'Keefe, founding partner of Brand Federation

Don't ignore the potential for near-term impact. "I don't think people care that much about what's going to happen in 2030 and in 2035; they want to understand how they can make an impact tomorrow. And, as such, I think brands need to claim a purpose that they can stand by and they can demonstrate — if possible, immediately."
Dr. Emmanuel Probst, the global lead of thought leadership at Ipsos

Balance dedication with flexibility. "We're always thinking about how do we evolve it? How do we really stay tapped into culture and tapped into what's important? And I think that's the key for all marketers in how we think about purpose. It's great to have longevity and consistency, but in the way we articulate and work with it, we have to be true to our brand purpose, but we have to evolve just like consumers are evolving and changing."
Julie Raheja-Perera, VP and general manager, North America, of the PepsiCo Lipton Partnership

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Morgan Strawn

Morgan Strawn is a director of editorial and content development at the ANA, which he joined in 2018. You can email him at