The big reason why purpose shapes your customer
What's the difference between purpose and meaning in a business environment, and does it really matter.
Purpose is made.
Meaning is processed.
The distinction is critically important. Let me demonstrate by using the simple example of the purpose of a rock.
Imagine you are walking down the stream with your new girlfriend after having your first ever romantic spring picnic lunch.
You stop, admire the moment, pick up beautiful flat river rock and casually twirl it in your hand. Then for some reason, you decide to just put it in your pocket and take it home.
Fast forward 15 years and the rock sits on your desk as a paperweight. It has a purpose. You got a seemingly innocuous object and gave it purpose.
If someone walks into your office, they will see a paperweight. Nothing more, nothing less. The purpose is clear.
However, to you and your partner, the rock also has meaning. It means something very real to you. It reminds you of where your relationship started. Its meaning is very personal. Though you and your partner both look at it fondly, to your partner it will have a slightly different meaning. He might see it as the day he fell in love with her. She might see it as the day she first thought she ‘could’ fall in love with him.
More cynically, to him, it may mean the day he lost his freedom, and she may now see it as the day she lost her identity. The meaning is personal and changes over time.
The purpose was made, the meaning was processed.
Businesses can design their own purpose.
The purpose of a business is the reason it exists beyond the mission, beyond strategy and beyond profit. The purpose is its place in the world. It is what it does.
The meaning is decided by the customers, staff and the community whether or not the business decides its purpose. Meaning does not require purpose as a pre-condition.
Let’s look at Google as an example.
Google was created to “make the world’s information freely available to all”. This is a very clear statement of purpose. It knows what it is.
To me, it means many things. It means access, speed and ubiquity. To you it might mean something different, it may mean access, speed and big brother.
To employees, working there may mean prestige and/or financial security and/or the chance to change the world.
Each customer and employee will assign a meaning to the company and that meaning will change over time.
But the company is not a dozy passenger in the process. The company can (if it chooses) help steer that meaning with a clear statement of purpose. It’s the marketer's job to communicate the purpose, and the responsibility of all employees to execute the purpose.
If the purpose is clear as it is with Google, then everything the company does should be consistent, including its mission statement, strategies, goals, budgets, marketing, action plans and operations. If the company operates with purpose, the customer will continue to connect as long as the purpose is consistent with their meaning.
Purpose is the ultimate customer service and sales tool.
How does a company get a clear statement of purpose? That’s a whole new topic and in my upcoming book.