We work with clients to achieve a clear sense of purpose and self
So much is being written about the role of Purpose within business – and there is a risk that it is taken as a fad, rather than something constructive for business leaders and owners. In our experience, it is vital that Purpose is not superficial. It must be dynamic, full of meaning and inspirational for all stakeholders. But it cannot be just a form of words in an annual report, or a one-off colleague conference.
For us and our clients, it should provide guidance for decision making across the organisation. In this way, it must be both Parable – full of meaning and guidance; and Proof – day-to-day evidence of belief and differentiation in action.
From our work over the decades, we have identified five key learnings – or suggestions.
Circus Learning 1: Purpose creates differentiation and desirability – and, over time, sustained commercial success
Purpose is not dull and worthy. It is not cynical or lazy. Completely the opposite.
For us, and for many others, Purpose is a useful construct for thinking through the very role of business, and for providing meaning and impact for colleague and consumer, for investor, and for the wider world. It is not dull and worthy. It is not cynical or lazy. Completely the opposite.
At Circus we believe that the organisations and brands that will prosper in the future are those who understand the paradoxes of the present, and who can reinvent themselves around ideology – not just around proposition or channel. Organisations that are fluent in ideas and the future, and not bound by the constraints of their own past.
Circus Learning 2: Purpose should inspire and inform – a parable for practice
Parables are stories but with added power. They emphasise consequences and results. They transcend specificity and convey a higher truth and a lesson for all time.
Sometimes, our clients talk about Brand Strategy and Proposition, and now mostly Purpose. The word doesn’t matter. The intent does. Purpose, for us, is a useful construct to allow organisations to consider why they exist and for whom; to contain the functional with the emotional; to respect the past and imagine the future.
To do this effectively, Purpose should be a parable. A story, but with added power. It should teach, it should evidence, it should challenge and correct. It should inspire ritual. Purpose starts with ideology, a belief about the world outside, and your role within it. Why you exist – the beliefs that motivate you to come to work, to stay engaged. It should have ambition and stretch.
Circus Learning 3: Purpose directs the entirety of the proposition – made manifest through the totality of experiences and behaviours
Without Purpose, there are no right and wrong ideas. Without Purpose, strategic drift is inevitable. Without Purpose, a business cannot know its own mind, or judge its own actions.
For us, everything starts and ends with the Circus Brand Engagement® model – a single view of Purpose, belief, stakeholder and activity. Mapping the totality of touchpoints and experiences, for every stakeholder, allows you to stand in the shoes of a customer or colleague, to consider the whole experience – rather than the output of a single team, constrained by single measures and views.
Purpose must be at the heart of this mapping exercise. Without a clear view of an organisation’s ideology, you cannot make clear decisions. Without Purpose, there are no right and wrong ideas. Without Purpose, strategic drift is inevitable. Without Purpose, a business cannot know its own mind, or judge its own actions.
Circus Learning 4: Purpose is systematic and collaborative – implemented and reviewed with rigour and honesty
A Purpose project never ends. It is refreshed, or compromised, by every action that a business takes. It needs constant vigilance, nurturing and respect.
It is beholden for an organisation to be charismatic and interesting – in your product, your services, your experience, your people and your communications and collaborations. This is the need to be empathetic and expert in your customer – where they are going, thinking, moving. To inspire, you must know both yourself, your competitors, your customers; and you must look outside for ideas and learnings. You must be curious and creative as well as analytical and insightful.
This is hard work – a commitment to Purpose never ends. It is refreshed, or compromised, by every action that a business takes. It needs constant vigilance, nurturing and respect. It must feel dynamic and vital, always. And it must start with your colleagues – they are the practitioners of the brand – so they must share your ambition and understand their role in shaping the future and delivering the proposition, day in day out.
Circus Learning 5: Purpose is the responsibility of ownership and leadership – and existential and important for everyone
Purpose must drive the whole business, for customer and colleague. It must inspire your people and your customers; your shareholders and your professional partners.
For Circus, Purpose starts at the top. It is the responsibility of ownership and leadership – agreeing the ideology, setting the direction, and guiding the whole business. But, importantly, Purpose is existential and important for everyone in an organisation. It must drive the whole business, for customer and colleague. It must inspire your people and your customers; your shareholders and your professional partners. In this way it will engender long-term sustainability and success.