The three levels of purpose

There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of purpose in business. At this year's Marketing Leaders Programme 2014, leaders from companies such as John Lewis, Barclays and Boots all confirmed the impact a powerful purpose can have in creating inspiration and engagement with customers and employees alike. But they also helped demonstrate that marketing leaders need to define a clear and motivating sense of purpose at three different levels if they are to have a real impact on their organisations.

1. Organisation or brand purpose

The first and most obvious level a purpose is required is at the level of the organisation as a whole. Marketers have a crucial role to play in ensuring that this is inspired by a desire to serve the needs of their customers and in a way that is grounded in the spirit of the values they care about and believe in.

Elizabeth Fagan, Boots' director of marketing - health & beauty, international and brands, explained how the original mission of her company has evolved since its foundation in 1869 and is now expressed as ‘championing everyone’s right to feel good’.

Barclays began its life even earlier, as far back as the 17th century. David Wheldon has recently taken on the role of MD for brand, reputation & citizenship. He talked of how, after all the difficulties in recent years, the organisation is now seeking to rediscover the values and noble purpose that has underpinned its development over the years. In a much publicised initiative now underway, Barclays has started the long journey to reinvent itself with a mission ‘to help people achieve their ambitions in the right way’.

2. Marketing functional purpose

In both these cases, Marketing has been playing an important role in helping to drive change, by re-orientating the business to deliver growth by putting the focus firmly on the customer. This involves not only identifying how relevant and distinctive propositions can be created, but also engaging the rest of the organisation to deliver customer experiences that consistently deliver the value promised by the brand in practice.

Clarifying the purpose of Marketing, and gaining alignment both inside and outside the department, is particularly critical in an era of such rapid environmental and organisational change.  John Lewis is an interesting example in this respect.  As a partnership, the organisational purpose of John Lewis as expressed in its constitution is unusual in that it focuses on serving the interests of its employees or ‘partners’, not its customers. Craig Inglis, the director of marketing, felt that the key challenge facing the Marketing team when he joined the business was to shift this internal orientation and engage people throughout the company in the power of being more customer-centred. A particular priority was to build stronger customer emotional affinity with the brand. In some ways, the underlying corporate culture was fairly resistant to some aspects of marketing and Inglis and his team had to find a way to articulate the role the brand could potentially play in driving commercial success.

The amazing success of the John Lewis brand communication in recent years has clearly played a big role in bringing about this change in practice. But so too has some other behind the scenes activity, such as a strategic customer segmentation programme which has helped undermine some assumed truths about customers in the business and inspired some promising new targeted propositions.

3. Personal purpose

Taking all three of these examples together, one key observation is that being a CMO is not for the faint-hearted! In each case, the role involved being a champion of change, taking on big strategic challenges, operational obstacles and entrenched cultural biases. And this brings us to the third level of purpose, that of the marketing leader him or herself.

Elizabeth Fagan recognised the scale of the challenge in taking on the role at Boots. But when she was offered the chance to be so central in helping to revitalise the organisation, she felt compelled to step up to the plate rather than stand by while someone else took on the mantle.

David Wheldon exudes a similar sense of purpose. He speaks passionately about the importance of the world of banking to any successful economy and society. The opportunity to play some part in bringing about a change for good is clearly an important source of personal inspiration for him.

For Craig Inglis, his goal has been to bring Marketing to the heart of John Lewis, to move from being the person who does the TV ads to someone who is really influencing the business. The first of his five top tips to this year’s MLP delegates was to 'be clear about your own purpose'.

So how do you fare against the 3-level purpose test? Are you clear about your organisation’s purpose? Do you believe in it? Is the purpose of the Marketing function well defined and motivating? And what of yourself – are you clear about the role you want to play and the future you want to create? If the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes, then my money is on you being an inspiring force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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