Avoiding greenwashing, cliche and inauthenticity - how to do business on purpose

Martyn McDermott

Martyn McDermott

3 min read

Green paintbrush.

"Purpose-driven."

It's a term used by so many businesses these days, it's beginning to lose all meaning.

But in a world that finds itself in dire need of solutions instead of smokescreens, that's a dangerous thing.

Along with the unethical implications of greenwashing, there's also another issue. How can you be driven by purpose if you haven't defined your own?

Sure, the organisations in question might be hanging the phrase on some values they recently workshopped. Or they could be eluding to the fact that they have an instinctive drive behind why they're in business.

And, sure, that's great.

But backing up a claim of being purpose-driven should take some credible evidence, shouldn't it? Otherwise, it's really just a distraction.

So, how did we get here?

Brand terminology is confusing

OK, let's face it, confusion's partly to blame.

There are so many brand elements that are held up as being 'essential' to the success of your business; brand promise, brand proposition, brand story, vision statements, mission statements, brand values, value proposition, value statements, tone of voice, blah blah.

With all of that swirling around in your head, you might have easily assumed that having a purpose just meant that you'd considered a few of the above.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Whilst putting together your brand mission, vision, values and promise is fairly standard practice these days, far fewer companies go that little bit further to understand their purpose.

OK, so what is it?

It's the light that illuminates all of the above. So if your vision is the what and your mission is the how then purpose takes care of why.

Just don't confuse purpose with promise.

The brand promise lets people know what to expect - but your purpose goes deeper. Essentially, it's the very reason you exist - outside of making money, of course.

And if you are wondering where brand purpose fits in the mix? Right at the top. Because nothing about the business would make sense without it.

Why is having a purpose important?

Building a brand 'on purpose' isn't just important for your own sense of direction; the next wave of gen-z customers and employees will simply come to expect it. Especially important when you consider that by 2025, gen z will make up 27% of the entire workforce.

This is a generation of customers with the looming threat of climate change hanging over them. And that's why they want to support values and ideologies (not just be advertised and sold to).

A brand purpose that's been properly thought out can be a powerful tool. It drives language and messaging that creates an emotional connection - just as long as it's authentic.

But without a clear purpose, it's easy to get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of what's really important. It's the difference between running around reacting towards whatever comes up and having a motivating force behind everything you do as a business - from hiring to marketing.

That means from the products and services you offer to the way you communicate with your customers, your brand purpose should be at the heart of everything you do.

It's the fuel that powers the operation.

Feel like your business could use a boost of energy? Maybe it's time to clarify or redefine your purpose.

Who's responsible for defining your purpose?

Well, if it's your business, you are.

At the end of the day, purpose comes from the top. And it would end up pretty diluted if it was defined by the committee.

With that in mind, make sure you have the space, time and agency to get into what's driving you and your business. This is one task that's too important to be put off.

But where do you start?

How to think about your purpose

It's important to think about what inspires you and sets your business apart from the competition. It should be something you're passionate about and what drives you to do better.

Answering these questions will help you to start defining a brand purpose that's both authentic and meaningful:

  • Why were you inspired to start your business?
  • What need or market objective were you trying to fulfil?
  • What problems were you aiming to solve?
  • When you compare your brand to your competitors, what are the characteristics that make you stand out?
  • What changes do you want to see in the world?
  • Why should your team join you on your quest?

The answers to these questions are the foundation of your brand purpose. Distil them, look for patterns in your answers and keep asking why, why, why, until you have a clear, authentic statement that resonates with you.

Just keep it authentic and avoid the cliches

There's a lot of noise out there and it's impossible to get your voice heard if you're inauthentic or cliche. Remember, there's no safety in numbers when it comes to brands

Instead, keep it simple and easy to remember. It should be easily communicable to employees, customers, and partners. That's essential for a solid purpose.

And the good stuff?

Well, those ones are always stuck at the back of their minds.

So what's our brand purpose?

"Real change starts with design."

We believe design can make the lives of many not only more convenient but much more fulfilling too.