Purpose is neither marketing nor a statement

Jim Moriarty
3 min readJul 26, 2021
Pushing an idea beyond the sale of new products: REI making a better life, outdoors, accessible to all via a gear rental program

Brand purpose is all the rage, the cool kid on the block. Yet, the sudden trend feels simultaneously awesome and tragic.

Awesome, because citizens increasingly expect more from brands. We champion those with a clear, focused point of view about their role in society.

Tragic, because so many brands wrestle in public with why they exist. They make small investments in the topic du jour. Brands dabbling like this run the risk of being reactionary, trendy or even fake.

Let’s stop using the word “purpose” so frequently and improperly.

Jargon alert: We love repurposing terminology into trendy content hooks

We kill words. Like so many other marketing words, we have overused this one. We sprinkle “purpose” across marketing decks. We’ve misused and neutered it.

To redefine “purpose,” our actions need to bring it to life. A brand’s purpose should not have to be stated out loud. It should be obvious by their choices.

Consumers and employees don’t care about your purpose statement. They care about your actions, what you defend, how much you’re willing to risk to advance the idea at the center of your brand.

Of course, your purpose is why your brand exists. But let’s all stop thinking about the statement and more about the actions.

Let’s demand legitimate, defendable, and measurable impact.

Real, quantifiable impact: Ikea has shipped 15,000 Better Shelters for refugees, offering a measurable impact on their vision to “create a better everyday life for the many people.”

This era is defined by a connected world population that has fueled the rise of environmental advocacy and social movements. We’ve transitioned from a 1990s-unaware-citizen norm to a 2010s-aware-and-vigilant norm.

This “passive to active” shift enables citizens to organize, focus, and check on brand claims. This pressure requires all brands to step up their game.

Let’s make sure “purpose” is bigger than the brand in front of us.

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