Every Great Brand Needs a Purpose. What's Yours?

Like our clients, we all need to search for meaning

As advertising folks, we love a brand that has a higher-order purpose. A brand that stands for something greater than itself. Look at the awe-inspiring and/or jealousy-inducing brands of the last few years: Nike, Patagonia, REI, Domino's. These are brands that have a higher purpose than making money or making great products. These are brands with purpose. They're more fun to work on, they're more beloved, and they're more profitable. 

So what about you? What's your purpose? Is your mission in life to make 17 percent more money next year? Or to get that creative director title? Or do you stand for something greater? 

It's an obvious thing when we look at the brands we work on. Every brand needs a mission of a higher order. And 20-ish years into this weird career, I can say with confidence: We all do better when we find a purpose for ourselves. 

Mine is to nourish the people around me, but more on that later. 

First, a little background. 

At Evolution Bureau, we run these brand workshops called BrandSpeed. You know the drill: three days of intense, fast-moving workshops designed to define your brand and create alignment fast. It's a great process, but I've noticed something. Early on, we ask the folks from the brand what their company's purpose or mission is. Every so often, the CMO or CEO jokes, "Our mission is to make a big pile of money!" That particular workshop is guaranteed to be a special kind of agony, because that executive doesn't really have a vision for the brand's reason for being. And probably doesn't think they need one. 

Some grace for them, though. Because I used to be like that. Early in my career, I didn't have a purpose. I only had goals. I'm driven, competitive, and terrified of failure, so I pursued those goals doggedly. I wanted to make more money, and I did. I wanted to win awards, and I did. I wanted to work at the best agency in the country, and I did. But none of those things happened until I stopped caring so hard about them, and focused on something greater. 

I made more money once I focused on the work and became more valuable to my team. I won awards once I stopped obsessing over the annuals and just did the most entertaining, disruptive, interesting work I could. I got a great job when I saw it as an opportunity to learn rather than something I had earned. 

And then I hit a wall. I ran out of goals. And had no purpose. So I was adrift. I was making ads. And I was making money. That was all fine. But it wasn't exciting. It wasn't until I did some digging and some work on myself that I discovered what I'm really all about. As it turns out, what I'm about isn't just making cool ads. 

There are plenty of books and sites that'll help you discover and/or define your purpose.

What I can do is tell you why living with a purpose is important for me, especially in this industry: 

• The bad days suck less, because I'm less impacted by things outside of my control. And in this business, there are a lot of things outside of my control. Many, many things. 

• Every day can be a great one because whether or not I live into my purpose is entirely up to me. 

• I'm a generally better leader, partner, dad, husband and friend because I'm here to serve. 

I am happiest, most satisfied, proudest, and have the most fun when I nourish the people around me. That's been my discovery. My employees and clients know I have their best interests at heart when I live into my purpose. My family and friends are filled up by my presence. 

And yet, I have to admit, there are plenty of times I do not live my own purpose.

Strange, right? I'm still doing things—probably daily—that are quite the opposite of nourishing the people around me. I snap at them and have to apologize. I make stupid jokes, act inconsiderate, and am generally impatient. None of these things are particularly nourishing. So know that, just like your clients' brands, living your purpose is a process. You'll only get better at it with practice. 

We're in a self-reflective time of year. So this could be a good time to think this one through. What's your purpose? 

What would you want the effect of your work to be, even if you were in another industry? What do you want your effect on others around you to be? What's your personal brand really all about? What are you great at that's not a skill or task? What's your legacy gonna be? What's your passion? 

Figure it out. Work will be better. Life will be better. Not every day is going to be perfect. But all of them can be more meaningful. 

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John Reid
John Reid is the founder of illuminator.co, a digital agency that shows clients a path to the future.

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