Embracing Your Purpose

All businesses start for a reason. There are very few people in the West who are eager to put in hundreds of unpaid hours to bring a concept to life purely driven by the possibility of maybe making some money. People start a business to provide for an identified need. Be it someone opening a zero-waste store because they want to help move society towards a more sustainable world, free of plastic. Or an immigrant family opening a restaurant to share the joys of the food they love with their new community. People open businesses because of their values and their passions. But how do you ensure that your customers are able to see this passion? How do you stand out for your authentic purpose in a market crowded with pushy salesmen and flashy slogans?

The answer becomes abundantly clear when you understand what actually drives high-value consumer purchases. When something is of low-value, consumers apply very little effort to their decision, usually falling back on habit (think of when you buy toothpaste). But when it comes to high-value purchases, our brains kick into gear. When you make a decision, there is a fight between our ancient lizard brain, which is emotional and instinct driven, and our homo sapiens brain, which is trying to rationalise our lizard brain’s decisions with facts and information.

In sum, we make our decisions based on an emotional reaction and then our brain shapes the facts we have to suit our emotional perception. There is a famous illustration of this process by Simon Sinek. In the video, he demonstrates that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it:

In the example of Apple, they believe in thinking differently and challenging the status quo in everything they do (why). They do this by creating beautifully designed products that are a joy to use and a pleasure to own (how). They just happen to sell computers (what). 

This process of communication first appeals to the lizard brain that controls action and emotion but then provides the homo sapiens brain with information to rationalise.

An increasing number of businesses are now acknowledging this process. As a result, there are now organisations everywhere trying to tell people why they do what they do. But for a lot of them, their message just doesn’t seem to stick. Why? Because the story they’re telling is what they think people want to hear, not what actually drives the business. It’s not authentic, and our emotional lizard brains can see right through it.

A perfect example of inauthentic messaging is the prolific use of greenwashing.

This is an example of greenwashing by Swisspers with an example of a plastic free product… wrapped in plastic. The vanity brand has introduced plastic free stems on its cotton tips, marketing the change as environmentally friendly, however, plastic packaging aside, their telltale signs are introducing green coloured elements, depictions of nature (leaves) and language such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘Earth kind’. To consumers, this appears as nothing more than an attempt to leverage the environmental movement to boost sales as opposed to a genuine expression of the brand’s values. Ask yourself, looking at this brand, what is their ‘why’? It’s unclear.

Let’s look instead at New Zealand based shoe company, Allbirds, now valued at over $1bn. In everything they do, they are committed to thinking about the broader impact of their activity and aspire to reduce their impact (why). They do this by making sustainably produced products that people want to use that are made from natural materials whilst innovating to define new ways to create that aren’t damaging for the environment (how). They also make the world’s most comfortable shoe (what).

Consumers are drawn to brands that stand for something. When you have a compelling story to tell, people listen. This is what has driven brands like Allbirds to success. Embrace your purpose and you’ll find your work becomes more compelling and your customers more loyal.