Your purpose falls short

Consumer expectations have changed. Not in product, price, experience, nor quality.

These have all been relegated to table stakes.

Instead, the greatest shift in consumer expectations over the last two years is in purpose.

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 68% of consumers believe they have the power to force businesses to change, and 86% of people expect CEOs to speak out on societal issues.

Consumers are demanding change. Those who adore us are no longer content with our social media professions and marketing platitudes.

They want organizations to take a stand on issues that rise to the top of their hierarchy of consciousness. They want to hear our voices on issues of social, political and cultural relevance.

This is great news for credit unions, and some are starting to understand that being purpose-driven isn’t just an aspirational hashtag synonymous with the industry.

Claiming Your Space

The purpose of today is a centering, and one that inspires clarity and focus. Those who get it are using purpose, why they exist, as a self-actualizing strategic priority.

That’s because the purpose of today is more holistic and shepherds a new kind of growth, one that is more equitable and inclusive across all stakeholders, harnessing their shared values and elevating the issues those people truly care about.

That means that a purpose of financial wellness alone falls short of compelling. In fact, it’s a commodity in this industry.

A good rule of thumb is, if it can belong to someone else, it doesn’t belong to you alone.

Great purposes are transcendent, energizing, and inspiring. Authors Raj Sisodia and John Mackey, who is also the CEO of Whole Foods, write in their book Conscious Capitalism, that as an organization grows, its purpose can either deepen or divert, and there are times, when it can be critical for an organization to rediscover it.

And there are important implications in doing so.

REI CEO Sally Jewell described her organization’s process. “We spent time as a large leadership group, 150 people, asking, ‘Why does REI exist?’ Then we asked ourselves five times, ‘Why is that important?’ And two more questions: ‘What would happen if REI went away?’ and then, ‘Why do I devote my creative energies to this organization?’ We took those couple hundred sheets and came up with our core purpose: to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. While we make money by being an outfitter, what we really do is inspire people to do things they aspire to do – educate them so they can try something that they’ve been uncomfortable trying before. And if we do that well, it works its way into their everyday lives and they begin to give back, and that’s the stewardship component.”

Who You Are and Who you Are Not

Perhaps the greatest business advantage of defining your purpose, and living up to it, is the clarity in knowing who you are truly for. In years gone by, credit unions were well connected to their members because their charters were often defined by very specific employer groups which had a shared set of values and interests. But, with the growth many credit unions have experienced either through mergers or field of membership expansions, there can be very little that threads members together, let alone other stakeholders.

With a true purpose, it’s clear who will come alongside you and be an enthusiastic advocate for the work ahead. With your invested stakeholders – employees, members, community allies, and strategic partners – you have a real shot at making the kind of impact we all envision for our lives. Just think of that amplification!

According to the Deloitte 2022 Global Marketing Trends Report, “When brands know whom they are serving and what those individuals specifically care about, they can position their purpose as a competitive differentiator and, as importantly, move in the direction those consumers are expecting.”

With a defined purpose, decisions suddenly become much less complicated, and far more efficient for strategy-focused executives and action-oriented employees alike. In-the-know brands, use purpose to formulate communication strategies, employee acquisition and retention, innovative experiences, corporate responsibility programs, and inspiration for new products and services.

And the organizations that do this most effectively, grow on average three times faster than their competitors and experience higher levels of employee and customer satisfaction.

Purpose in Practice

There are great examples of purpose in practice today including cosmetics company Lush, who recently decided to disengage in the most popular, and most dangerous, social media platforms after research revealed the dangers those platforms posed to mental health and body image, particularly for young women, a primary stakeholder of the brand.

In a recent interview, Chief Executive Officer Mark Constantine said he’s happy to lose $13 million if it means it will bring attention to social media’s devastating mental health effects. He continued, “we’re talking about suicide here, not spots or whether someone should dye their hair blonde. How could we possibly suggest we’re a caring business if we look at that and don’t care?”

This purpose-motivated action is nothing new for Lush. They were living into brand purpose before there was even a definition for it. Lush recognizes what many other conscious brands do: their work is never done.

Feeding your purpose is a constant, and deeply fulfilling, practice. In the words of the great Ed Filene, “Keep purpose constant.”

The inspired credit union leaders I talk with today are absorbing this shift in consumer expectations and reflecting, on a much deeper level than they ever have before, who they want to be, the kind of organization they want to lead, and what difference this will ultimately make in the world.

For many, it’s about leaving it better than they found it, ensuring meaningful work and a connection to it, nourishing their community, and helping to build better lives for those they serve.

Here are four things every business and brand leader should be doing:

Look Deeper

To identify your purpose, define the organization and brand you wish to be, not just what you need to do today. Look to your strengths and through the lens of your stakeholders – your team, members, community allies, and strategic partners.

The term stakeholder recognizes the equity one holds in the decisions made to advance an organization, while the word audience suggests those who are there just to listen. One is invested, the other is not.

With stakeholders we can create win-win-win momentum. We can build real authentic and long-standing relationships, vibrant, growing communities, and engaged, passionate teams.

Team Up

Strategies are only as effective as the team driving them. This work requires a consistent brand communication and engagement strategy, one that not only speaks to employees but aligns with external efforts.

While the motivations are different for each group, it’s critical that all stakeholders sense and feel the commitment of the whole movement. Developing a brand strategy that reaches across stakeholder groups and lets one inform the other, creates balance and a collective “we.”

Engage External Stakeholders

Clearly convey how they can be a part of the work ahead and the intended outcomes of your shared expectations and efforts. You need both big ideas and everyday actions here. Bold statements and kept promises.

And, like most great brand work, when that holds true, their experiences will be ones that live on. Your stakeholders will tell stories about what it was like to stand side by side, to have enrolled in the movement you initiated.

Measure Up

The most important part of this work is not just to define your purpose, but to live up to it. Lean into the expectations of your stakeholders and align them to the strategic metrics by which you define success:

  • Are you seeing results from a tuned-in product portfolio?
  • Do your policies and practices further the ambitions of your community, or are they wholly focused on the best practices of your industry?
  • Do you collaborate with partners who further the expectations of your stakeholders?
  • Do your members engage beyond the use of your services?
  • Do you regularly interact with others outside the industry and consider your organization part of a larger movement?

All of these questions can and should be answered in performance metrics to which you hold your leadership team accountable. Guide your organizational strategy not by your intentions but business and societal metrics that reflect why you exist.

While consumer expectations are more tightly aligned to purpose than they have ever been, this is not a trend. The world has been talking about doing well by doing good for decades. The difference today is that consumers aren’t taking lip service as a replacement for action anymore. They are telling us they see through our meaningless, disconnected corporate responsibility initiatives.

And, there is no better time than that before us, to prove that credit unions truly are the organizations we’ve always claimed to be.

Danielle Milner

Danielle Milner

Danielle Milner is the Chief Strategy Officer at DO:BETTER, a brand shop helping organizations inspire the people they do business with. Collaboratively building compelling visions into purposeful and relevant ... Web: Details