More brands are turning to purpose these days to give their organisations direction and create a deeper connection with their clients – and wealth management is no exception.

Much has been written about purpose, even pre-Covid-19, to the extent that it might have been at risk of becoming yet another overused marketing buzz word or, even worse, a theoretical, box ticking exercise.

But as a result of the current crisis, purpose is more important than ever as an essential tool to build future brand and organisational strength. Wunderman Thompson Data recently reported: “Business strategies are being re-thought as companies prioritise CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] ahead of profit. In the United States and United Kingdom, 90 per cent of consumers say that brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people.”

Meanwhile, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found: Seventy-one per cent of global consumers agree that if they perceive a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.”

With McKinsey reporting that European banks could lose four years of economic progress to the crisis, brands need do all they can to be in the strongest possible shape going forward. And purpose, when used properly as a strategic lever, has a role to play. From Merrill Private Wealth Management to Bank Sarasin, no wonder we are seeing more brands turning to purpose to create more meaning for clients.

North Star

But purpose is more than just acting ethically or doing good. Purpose gives an organisation direction, a North Star. It provides clarity around the values it holds dear, guides the decisions it will take, the initiatives it should lean into and the way it will build both trust and value.

For sectors that were already somewhat in transition – as is the case with many private banks and wealth management firms – that clear North Star is key to understanding which evolving initiatives, models and thinking you should lean into and accelerate, and which to leave behind.

Moreover, a brand’s purpose is more than just a customer or client facing lever, it should speak to the entire ecosystem of stakeholders from employees to clients, suppliers to policymakers.

As Mark Read, CEO of creative transformation company WPP says: “Purpose will move even further up the agenda as people expect companies and brands to do the right thing, to use their influence and their voice. Actions still speak louder than words, but companies should speak to all stakeholders about how they behave and what they are doing.”

Done well, purpose is an essential strategic lever in creating strong brands. And time and again, strong brands have been found not only to outperform the market but also recover much faster during difficult economic times.

But what does ‘done well’ look like? Crucially, it’s not solely an academic exercise. In fact, actually getting to a purpose statement, though tricky to do well, can sometimes be the easy part. Conveying it to your stakeholder ecosystem and getting your organisation to both live by it, and also take key decisions and then act and innovate towards it, are crucial steps too.

Key steps

So, we break purpose into three key steps – defining it, igniting it, and living in it.

While defining it is ‘just’ the first stage, there are some key considerations to ensure you are not building on shaky foundations. What is the reason the brand exists in the world?

What is the cause it wants to stand for or the issue it wants to address? Is it credible, fresh, topical? Does it test the limits of the brand, to stretch its ambition and propel it into the future?

But however well expressed, people rarely just, or ever, get behind a dry purpose statement. So, you need to ignite it. That means conveying it through an idea that is simple and sticky enough to infiltrate people’s minds, one which resonates in a way that people want to get behind it and the organisation understands how to create actions towards it.

And lastly, are you clear how your organisation will activate it? Have you considered the long-term actions and temporary activations? How about communication – both internal and external? And that’s just the ‘what’; you also need to consider the ‘how’. What’s the right degree of activism for your brand?  Do you want to be a Re-enforcer, a Change Agent or an Agitator?  And have you considered the different actions that come with each of those stances? While there is no one right way to do this, there is a right way for your brand and its ambition.

Each of these steps requires a different set of considerations and activities. But put together, a roadmap emerges to enable you to get to where your brand needs to be going.  And that, ultimately, is the proof of your purpose.

First published in Professional Wealth Management on 9th July 2020.