Creating a culture of meaningful work

If there’s one thing the world’s not, it’s ‘simple’. Yet we’re so often guilty of trying to make it that way. We’re always on the lookout for that ‘thing’ that seems to explain away all complexity and confusion. If only we could just do ‘this’ or understand ‘that’ better, everything would be an absolute breeze.

Right now, in the world of branding and marketing that ‘thing’ is purpose: sometimes referred to as the ‘why?’ of a company. This year’s Cannes Lions festival seemed to turbo-charge the belief that if you could just come up with a good enough purpose for your brand then everything would be ok. You’d succeed. Sales would rise. People would love you.

I’m being deliberately facetious. But when it’s written out like that, it seems far too simplistic to be true. And, of course, it is. I’ve written in the past about the value in genuine purpose, but what I hope I made clear is that it’s not the answer to all of your problems.

You can’t polish a turd

The most important thing about your brand is the product or service you’re trying to sell. No amount of fluff, heart-warming stories, or Corporate Social Responsibility work is going to make up ground for you if your product isn’t good enough, or if it’s the answer to a problem that doesn’t need solving.

Does it matter whether Amazon runs ads stating how conscious they are of the world’s ills, and how determined they are to right them? No. Their service is so exceptional that you’re likely to buy from them regardless. Have they still got a guiding vision or founding purpose that’s driving their work internally and helped get them to where they are? Almost certainly yes.

Purpose informs culture not marketing

This is where I feel the big confusion is surrounding the notion of purpose. When cynics hear talk about ‘having a vision of the future you’re trying to build’, or ‘establishing a purpose that resonates with others’, they can’t help but think of what that looks like in terms of marketing – holier than thou, ‘buy from us ‘cos we save puppies’, ‘we’re more moral than the others’, types of campaign.

But I feel this misses the point.

The reason why purpose and vision are so important is to act as an internal ‘North Star’: the guiding light for you and your people, making sure you’re headed in the right direction.

No need to brag

If your purpose is to make the best chocolate in the world, your outward message to the world should not be ‘buy from us because we’re trying to make the best chocolate in the world’. Great. Thanks. Rather, if you’re serious, your chocolate should speak for itself and prove it’s the best, while your marketing focuses on attracting those who might value chocolate of such high quality.

However, that purpose *should* be informing the culture of your organisation – your production method, the attitude with which each employee goes about their work every day, your commitment to the details, your efforts to help others understand what great chocolate should taste like and the work that goes into producing it. Your whole business can be confident then that everything it does and every decision it takes comes from the same place – your single unifying idea.

What you don’t need to do is tell everyone that’s what you’re doing. Prove it.

The idea of having a purpose isn’t that you can then go on to brag about it. It isn’t a marketing gimmick or the answer to all your questions. It’s a philosophy that you sign up to from day one. A commitment to doing meaningful work for those who care.


Pick me


It’s important for brands to differentiate themselves. We all know that. But why is it that ‘different’ often takes on the same form?

To my, albeit non-expert, eye it looks like almost everyone wants to be “more”. More funny. More on-trend. More innovative. More open. More consumer-focused. More trustworthy. More of an expert. More creative. More bespoke. More specialised.

But is that really the truth?

On the flipside, there are those who stand out by being “less”. Less corporate. Less stern. Less financially-driven. Less typical. Less ordinary. Less one-size-fits-all. Less secretive. Less stuffy.

But is that the truth either?

Being distinct becomes a game of top trumps: pick me; we’re the ones for you; I’m your guy; we’re more this, or less that than the rest. But with all this focus on how you’re perceived vs. the competition, where is the time to discover what you actually are?

What’s wrong with “this is who we are and we’re an entirely credible solution to your problem”? It might not sound sexy, but ‘who you are’ is all that matters in this game.

Marketing and branding should magnify the truth, not manipulate the message. The aim isn’t to get people to believe us. It’s to give the right people something to believe in.


Thanks to Bernadette Jiwa and Rory Stewart for this inspiration on this.

Why your business needs to learn the value of values.

Politics always divides opinion. People may not agree on much, especially in today’s climate, but a quality that most people seem to admire when they see it in their politicians is ‘values’. Someone principled who stands for something more meaningful than just being a capable politician. It even better if you happen to agree with them…

Well, businesses are no different. They too need a clearly-defined set of values and to stand for something more than simply the product or service they sell. The only difference is, in business, you don’t have to command a national majority: just enough of the attention of those within a niche interest group. More on that here.

I mentioned this in my last post as a ‘take away’ from the book ‘Build A Brand In 30 Days‘ by Simon Middleton but I feel like it’s important and deserved some reiteration.

It’s true that every business needs to differentiate itself from the competition. It’s also true that nearly every business or business owner set out with a greater ambition for their project than just ‘make money’. (Note: if you own a business and that was your only motivation to get going, you might want to pick up a copy of Middleton’s book to see what you’ve been missing.) Why then, do so few – particularly small businesses – manage to break out from the homogeneity?

Find yourself some values

This is where the value of values lies. Every business has or should have, a clear vision of where they want to go: a change they seek to make in the world. If you don’t, think about why you started out and reconnect with it. From that vision should stem your values. These are the things you will not compromise in making that vision a reality.

Now, ‘great value’, ‘great customer service’, ‘delivery on time’, ‘quality product’ is going to get you nowhere. Ask yourself the question ‘as opposed to what?’. If you’re left feeling stupid, you’ve opted for things that are too bland and will never help you stand out. Dig a little deeper and focus on more of the ‘why’ and less of the ‘what’ of your business.

It might be worth drawing others into this exercise*. It requires some pretty honest reflection about who you actually are, as opposed to who you like to think you are. You might not like what comes back initially, but it’s a start and you can always adopt new values, provided they don’t become empty promises.

This is the important bit

What stops a value becoming an empty promise? Living it out in everything you do. Every decision. Every customer interaction. Every piece of communication. These values you commit to are what define your business: you need to own them, reinforce them with behaviour, stand by them, obsess over them and defend them when necessary.

This is THE critical part of becoming a strong brand. More on that in a future post.



* Like I’ve said, I’m not an authority on this. I’m simply going through the process of learning and sharing what I’ve picked up as I go. There’s a great exercise in Middleton’s book on how to go about defining your values, and a checklist to make sure you’ve picked the right ones. Do the work and you’ll see the reward.