What is Brand Purpose?


August 3, 2021

I discovered the work of Roy Spence in 2009 when he was developing the brand purpose for one of my clients. Roy had been working in the purpose arena long before it was a real ‘thing’. Since 1971, his agency GSD&M had developed purpose statements and activated them in the early days of big brands such as Southwest Airlines and Walmart. He understood that companies with a purpose are motivated by the idea of making a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve more than they are by money.

In 2009, especially in the world of B2B, his feel-good, do-good message was revolutionary.

Then Simon Sinek gave his TED talk on The Golden Circle, and the idea of businesses marching to the tune of a higher cause because a near universal conversation.

A conversation…but not a practice. Even more than a decade later.

Define brand purpose

One of the reasons for the, “all hat, no cattle” approach to brand purpose is because marketers, much less executives, don’t truly understand what a brand purpose is.

I’ll go back to Roy Spence for the definition:

“Brand purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.”

Roy Spence, CEO GSD&M and Co-founder, The Purpose Institute

Brand purpose is different than a mission or vision. An effective purpose reflects the importance that people (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.) emotionally attach to a company’s work. It taps into their deeper, idealistic motivations and gets to the foundational reasons why a company exists – beyond making money.

Examples of brand purpose

A brand purpose truly is unique to every company. It’s not something that can be copied without making another brand look like, well, a copycat. Take a look at these examples from B2C, B2B, nonprofit and government organizations.

Business-to-consumer (B2C)

Apple: To challenge the status quo. To think differently.
Charles Schwab: A relentless ally for the individual investor.
Coca Cola: To refresh the world and inspire moments of optimism and happiness.
Disney: To create happiness for people of all ages, everywhere.
Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Kellogg: Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.
Microsoft: To empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.
Southwest Airlines: Giving people the freedom to fly.
Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person and one cup at a time.
Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

Business-to-business (B2B)

CA Technologies: Help customers remove the barriers between ideas and business outcomes.
Cisco: To change the way we work, live, play, and learn.
Deloitte: Make an impact that matters.
Expensify: To enable professionals to focus on what they were born to do.
Go Daddy: Radically shift the global economy toward small business ventures.
ING: Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business.
IAG: To help people manage risk and recover from the hardship of unexpected loss.
Intuit: To improve customers’ financial lives so profoundly they couldn’t imagine going back to the old way.
LinkedIn: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
Motorola Solutions: Helping people be better in the moments that matter.
Slack: Make work life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.


Air Force: To defend America by dominating air, space, and cyberspace.
ALS Association: To serve, advocate for, and empower people affected by ALS to live their lives to the fullest.
American Legacy Foundation: To build a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit.
American Red Cross: Enabling Americans to perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergencies.
Princess Margaret Hospital: To conquer cancer in our lifetime.
Smithsonian: Shape the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.
The University of Texas at Austin: To transform lives for the betterment of society.
WWF: To reconcile the needs of human beings and the needs of others that share the Earth.

Business on purpose

For businesses to function on purpose, the first step is to understand that brand purpose isn’t a branding or a marketing thing. It’s a strategic approach to business.

The brand purpose statements of the companies above seem pretty hefty, but that’s the whole point. It’s these big ideas and the meaningful difference they make in the world that bring out the best of everyone in a company. And it’s what turns an ordinary brand into an extraordinary one.

Companies that consistently out perform all have one thing in common – a higher sense of purpose. This is how leaders focus time, energy, effort, and resources in every corner of the business. It’s also how you put customers at the heart of everything you do by answering the ultimate question: Why do we exist?

Photo credit: Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.