Brand with Purpose

Ten questions with which you can recognise whether your concern is really a concern.

A recent study from my own unscientific work has shown that the average person produces significantly more bullshit in the course of his life than the average bull produces in the course of his, just served from a different portal. The latter can at least be used as fertiliser in agriculture. The former, on the other hand, can be found in all areas of the economy, but by no means only there. And what grows on it is at best weed, but in fact bullshit again.


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A particularly broad field in which the manure is ploughed with both hands is reliably marketing/advertising/communication and everything that borders on this field and is ploughed at the same time, once you are out in the good old fresh air: innovation, CSR, HR, change management, leadership - you get the idea. Woe to him who ploughs ...

The fatal thing about bullshitting is, among other things, that good, clever and sensible things are destroyed in heartbreaking stupidity as collateral shitting, and at the same time those who deal with it in a manner appropriate to the species suddenly begin to miachtln, as they call that kind of stench in Vienna, which is made up of a melange of vapours from the most diverse sources and stubbornly settles in clothes, sofa covers and wall decor.

Which brings us to the topic of "Meaning, Purpose & Why", which everyone is asked to find these days. The Why, the good one, which has now been invented by so many specialists that the wonderful Simon Sinek himself will probably soon no longer know that it is emblazoned in the heart of his Golden Circle, which he released into the world via TED in September 2009, where almost seven million people have now viewed it and a few of them have even understood it.

Search for meaning? Where?

"Find your purpose!" resounds the justified wake-up call to humanity. Businesses, entrepreneurs, those changing, those leaving and those entering, those seeking meaning, brands and their makers - all are in search of their overarching purpose, with which they want to get what drives us humans, in spiritual succession to Steve Jobs' postulate "We're here to put a dent in the universe": Relevance.

That's good.
That is right.
That is necessary.

Many of us lack relevance. For me, this is one of the reasons for the exuberant greed for distraction, the addiction to self-expression in social media, for the rapidly increasing fragmentation of our societies, for the metastasising antagonism, the flocking together in unhealthy tribes, for the rampant blossoming of egoism, ignorance & lack of empathy and the suspension of the simplest basic rules of living together.

A lack of relevance deprives people of an essential root branch of their humanity, robs them of their dignity and triggers the infantile reflex: screeching, stamping and rolling on the floor, breaking something without thinking of the consequences, the main thing is that one is no longer overheard. The main thing is that something is no longer.

It's not a question of the level of education, because that - it seems - hardly exists any more anyway. It's a question of the level of education of the heart, and that, it seems, is homeless.

"Find your purpose", then? That's good advice, but many people don't know where to look. That's why they sniff at the surface, look outside, notice what works quickly, i.e. triggers reactions, and just go with it. Sticking to the framework, seeing the obvious, will go wrong. And it does.

Everything will probably get even worse when, as a result of the digital transformation, quite a few people who already feel no relevance in their professional lives suddenly notice it because, in fact, they no longer have any relevance, because their job is gone. The unloved job at that, but a job nonetheless. The time killer with the sham of relevance, even if only as a cost centre on the human capital list and thus now freshly painted.

It is more than necessary that something is done here anyway: Necessary.

Change the world? How?

No sooner does the theme of "destiny" gain momentum than it is spun, framed and swirled in every possible direction, making one dizzy just looking away.

The hoax begins with the sentence "Change the world, you have the power to do it!", which does not become any more true when everyone repeats it and posts it on Instagram as if they had invented it themselves. Firstly, not everyone has the power to do it, and secondly, not much is gained by changing the world alone, because people like Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler also have the power to change the world, not just Greta Thunberg and Rosa Parks.

"Find your why!" is better, even if it is also inflationary: with it, we first look inwards, which is much more sensible from a purely methodological point of view than climbing up the effect. But without any guarantee that what you find there is meaningful and useful, just because you found it, see Adolf and Osama, who both had their Why under guarantee and the conviction that it had to be brought into the world.

Which brings us back to the keyword heart formation. Somehow we just can't seem to get anywhere.
Or maybe you do.

Namely, when we elevate a simple thought to a brain tattoo: To be human means to be for something, for each other, not against something and against someone. Togetherness is not enough: for each other! We humans are social beings who need to belong and seek community. Community arises when everyone contributes something, because you contribute something, regardless of whether you get something out of it in the direct effect.

Which finally brings us to "Purpose for brands and companies". This has grown directly into the brand story, which should by no means be created in the marketing or PR department, but rather in the company management or when the company is founded.

So my first urgent advice: If your brand story is being crafted by the marketing department or even if your CSR programme is being developed there: change it immediately! Now! And even before you read on here!

Purpose? Where from?

So for you remaining readers: How do you get something like a purpose into the company if you don't have one?

In my experience, every company has an overriding concern, a deeper mission, its meaning in a broader sense. Many companies just haven't discovered or lost sight of their purpose or confuse it with what they do and how they do it because the concrete is concrete and so everyone sees what is being talked about but not what is meant. As they say in Kalau: "Most people can't imagine anything under fantasy ...".

For some companies, the issue is easier to find; for others, everyday issues, marketing clutter and columns of figures from quarterly reports obscure the view. You have to get all kinds of things out of the way.

Often it needs an intensive unlearning push first.

Purpose is not a lever to quickly drive up turnover, but first and foremost an attitude for the management of the company. Unlearning task number 1: The central task of a company is not to make money, to be the market leader, to increase market share, or to drive profits or share prices to lofty heights. These are certainly desirable results, but they are not corporate goals; rather, understood as such, they are dangerous aberrations. Nevertheless, it is anything but a rarity that the turnover figures in purpose-led companies go up; and certainly not that they remain consistently high.

The true effect of consistent, unbending leadership through purpose becomes tangible in times of upheaval and crisis, when companies with a strong purpose more than just weather changes in framework conditions, social paradigms, technologies or the entire market environment thanks to their stable elasticity, but even surf the wave of change to new heights because they are resilient. It is not the method that is decisive, not the business model, but the benefit and the vision that are the company's purpose.

Kodak moment? Why?

The example of Kodak illustrates in sinister colours that the right thing happens when the wrong thing happens. Since its founding in 1888, Kodak has dominated the photographic market: camera, film, darkroom equipment, chemicals, photographic paper ... The company was driven by the purpose of its founder George Eastman, who wanted to take the complicated, elaborate art of photography out of the closed professional corner and simplify it so that as many people as possible could handle it and thus preserve their special moments in their own pictorial memory. The term "Kodak moment" used in advertising entered everyday language as a synonym for experiences that will never be forgotten.

Kodak experienced such a special moment itself, as the starting point of a tragedy, a hero's journey in reverse. Steven J. Sasson, an employee of the company, built the world's first digital camera in 1974. But many in the company resisted this invention because it attacked their traditional business model. Digital photography was discarded and the field was left to other players. If they had remembered the purpose, the world would have been a different place. Kodak continued to make money from the invention by exploiting its patents for a few years, but the rest is history. It ended in bankruptcy in 2012. Today, the Kodak logo hangs on the door of a relatively small company that offers analogue products for professional photographers. So Kodak has flung itself back to the beginnings of George Eastman, and whether there is still something like a Purpose lying around there is hard to say and perhaps doesn't matter.

One of the most innovative companies in the world, one that dominated its market, a globally operating billion-dollar corporation, slept through its own innovative power because columns of figures obscured the view of the matter at hand, of the company's purpose. At Kodak, they did not know the powerful, multi-faceted meaning of their own story. They didn't really understand what business Kodak was in. If you only produce films, you will continue to produce films until no one needs them any more. That is exactly the moment when the Kodak moment is over. But if you are in the "we make it mega-simple for everyone to preserve their precious memories forever" business, and understand this not only as an advertising platform, but as a concern, i.e. as the story of the company, you will experience one exciting chapter after another in the history of the company, and Kodak might have already shown us today what is in store after digital photography.

By the way, you can recognise a powerful vision by the fact that it is never fully realised by human standards.
Excuse me?
Yes! - That is exactly its magic!
Because if it ever became reality, it would not be a vision, but a wish or a goal. But when a goal is achieved, there is nothing left, is there? But more on that later, first a short excursion into creative writing.

Backstory? What for?

In fiction writing, you do well to provide your characters with a rich backstory. If you know what a character has experienced before the story begins, then all their behaviour today is strongly and consistently motivated, their decisions are supported by an intrinsic logic, and their actions, while unpredictable in the moment, are consistently developed in retrospect, no matter how unusual the situation.

If you want to see a teaching piece on this subject, check out the TV series "This is us" by Dan Fogelman on Amazon . This is a wonderful family story about people who struggle to live a decent life and in the process keep tripping over themselves, their desires, demands, hopes and damages; and at the same time, "This is us" is a work of art in terms of TV entertainment with special nutritional value and high addictive potential due to its special narrative technique between interwoven time levels. Watch!

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In the search for the purpose, the deep motivation for a company, a brand, an organisation or even a person, the best way also leads back to the backstory to answer two questions conclusively:

  1. What is the primal cause for what one does?
  2. What was the motive for doing what you do?

This is where the spark of the founding dream ignites.

The primal thing usually has to do with the early life circumstances and experiences of the company founders.

Walt Disney, for example, did not have a pleasant childhood and found in drawing an escapist method thanks to which he could escape to better worlds on the wings of his imagination, thus satisfying his primal longing. The rest is history.

Steve Jobs' and Steve Wozniak's youth was shaped by the times of the Vietnam War and the primal distrust of those in power, the establishment and Big Brother states. So it's no great wonder that the strong motivation behind the Apple brand was, and still is, the empowerment of the individual to realise his or her own goals even against previously unconquerable opponents. This can sometimes still be seen today, for example in Apple 's restrictive stance on the issue of data sharing with authorities.

Distribute? What?

The motivation has a lot to do with our human need to share our experiences and insights. We are social beings by design and operating system and cannot survive healthily without relating to and with groups. We need recognition and belonging, we have the urge to create within us, we want to grow. In some people this urge is so strong that it leads to the founding of a global corporation, in others the translation remains within the confines of their own four walls. Be that as it may - all is well.

All too often, however, our primal human social, creative and growth urge is cut back, suppressed, systematised and bent. On the first day of school at the latest, the starting signal is given for the beginning of the martyrdom in which active, creative, entrepreneurial young people are put through the wringer and spat out again as human capital at some point in the end. The result is people poisoned from within, whose exasperation can be seen every morning at the tram stops of this world, while more and more of them listen to podcasts from the "Find your destiny!" section on their way to duty by the book.

Some of them have had enough. An Inciting Incident triggers something, and then the "Actually, one should ..." and the "Wouldn't it be great if?" become "I'm doing it now! Something can no longer be held back and drives them to a painful process called change. It is the moment when standing still at the point of view is even more painful than the courageous leap into the unknown. This leap can be in the eye of history.

But if it goes well, then in this moment, when you dare the Leap of Faith the spark of procreation is ignited, in which the founding dream takes its first breath in reality.

The primal thing.
The reason for movement.

In these two chapters of the backstory you will also find the seed of your purpose, the purpose of your company and your brand.

How can you be sure if it is really (d)a concern?
It isn't.
But there are some indicators that show you whether your concern is a concern or not. Because often what you do and what you like to do is confused with what the concern behind it is, because very often cause, problem, trigger and solution function like communicating vessels. That has to be sorted out.

Rent films? How?

Walt Disney's concern was not film-making and his pioneering spirit in animation. He wanted to share with others what had saved his childhood and youth: to disappear for a few hours into a world full of fantasy so that the difficult everyday life would be easier to cope with afterwards. Therefore, after the transformation of his successful film production company into a public limited company and thus into a number-driven business, he left the company and founded a new one. Not a film studio, but he invented the Disney theme parks. Something completely different, but still the same intention: to disappear for a few hours into a world full of fantasy ... Same intention, different method.

From Roy Disney, Walt's big brother, I remembered: "Every decision is easy when you know your values." Every decision is also easy when you know your cause, your story.
Because then you know if an idea is good because it advances your cause.
Then you know if an innovation is only good, or right, or crazy and right for you precisely because it advances your cause.
Then you know if people fit into your team because they are enthusiastic about your cause and share your story. - They can learn skills, but never enthusiasm.

By the way, do you remember Blockbuster, the hip video store chain? What was their mission? To offer the best selection of films on VHS and DVD? Cool, but that's not a concern, it's a method.

Netflix came into being because Reed Hastings had to pay a $40 fee at the video store for a misplaced tape of "Apollo 13" and he thought to himself: Why doesn't entertainment work like fitness with a flat rate at the gym? And why isn't it easier to get access to films than to have to traipse to the video store yourself all the time? That can be quite a distance in the USA ... So Netflix came into being as a mail-order flat-rate video store, which Netflix still is today, but entertainment with streaming. The same concern, different method.

Original cause and motive.

You don't always have to save the whole world to leave your "dent in the universe".

Business? What for?

If you want to find out whether what you have found has the potential to be a real sustainable concern, ask yourself the following questions critically - and answer them honestly, even if this is difficult and you may be deflating your plans as a result.

Here we go:

  1. Is your concern authentic? Does it really come from deep within you or from the founders in their backstory?
  2. Is the concern positive - does it bring a valuable renewal to the world that is of real benefit to others?
  3. Would you pursue this cause even if you weren't paid for it?
  4. Does your cause have your full commitment and thus the power of a come-along?
  5. Does your cause offer opportunities for others to support it?
  6. Is your cause influencer-ready: can you give motivational talks about it or write a non-fiction book that helps others?
  7. Will your concern survive changes in technology or similar methodological-factual paradigms?
  8. Does your cause have the magnetism of a lighthouse that others want to head for once they have seen its light?
  9. Does the eternal light shine in your lighthouse so that the ultimate vision of your purpose is never fully realised, but can always grow and become bigger and stronger?
  10. Would crucial things be missing if your request fails, and what would that be on the non-(!)factual level?

Once you have answered all these questions, the next step is to draw your purpose/business canvas. Take four circles and write the answer to the following:

Circle 1: What is your concern?

Circle 2: What are you particularly good at?

Circle 3: What do people need from this perspective?

Circle 4: What are the benefits for society as a whole from this perspective?

At the intersection of these four circles, where they overlap, is the playing field for your future business, or for your organisation. That's where your current business should be.

If not, there's still a lot to do. Let's go!

Fulfilment? Through what?

One of the ways you recognise your purpose is that the task fulfils you. This always happens when you fulfil your task. You don't look for your task, you are found. That is why it is important to go through life with open eyes, an open heart and open arms, so that the task finds a perfect landing place. And if you make yourself available, you will be fulfilled, feel your unconditional commitment and experience what the famous Viktor Frankl gave us: "He who has a why to live, endures almost every how.
Then you will willingly take care of what gets on your nerves (columns of numbers?), work on your concern with joy and share it with others with enthusiasm. It's as simple as that - as the best dad in the world, founder of a company or a theatre group, involved in an NGO, alone with your painting utensils, as a politician ...

You and your story are necessary. Not only I say this, but also the Dalai Lama: "The planet no longer needs successful people. The planet desperately needs peacemakers, healers, innovators, storytellers and lovers of all kinds." But this may also come across as a humming business.

Be ready. Let your concern find you, and if it has already found you: Do something!

Share your story.

This makes us strong - as people, as companies and brands, as a society. With the values of our story, with our cause, we lead our lives, we lead our teams and we lead into the future - if we find them, recognise them and share them.

Every good (brand) story shows the values it stands for, the values you stand for, visible from afar like a lighthouse on the horizon. "Follow your bliss" is what my private saint, the wonderful Joseph Campbell, wrote for us in the logbook and I wrote some thoughts about it here in my blog .

Regardless of whether it is a global corporation, an SME or a heroic lone fighter as an EPU: every person, every brand, every company has and needs a strong concern beyond turnover, profit and market share and the story activated by the concern so that it remains resilient. If you don't have a magnetic concern as a living theme, there is only one other thing left: price. And price is just a short word for: the future is in the rear-view mirror .

So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me, and it certainly doesn't apply to my brand," I would like to recommend the words that my grandmother, old Story Dudette, wrote on her wet T-shirt, in which she had herself photographed by George Eastman and not only drawn by Walt Disney: "No Story. No Glory."