“The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” – Simon Sinek
The next decade will perhaps be the most disruptive of our lives. Artificial Intelligence will be able to think thousands of times faster than the human brain. Blockchain will make the world more transparent than ever before. And big data will enable all of us to provide individualized, custom experiences at scale.
But there is one other disruptor in the marketplace that I believe will have as much impact as any of those outlined above.
A generation that cares more about purpose than profit, Gen Z is already changing and challenging the fundamental ways in which businesses operate. Gone is the obsession with feature wars, product iterations, and chasing quarterly results in pursuit of smiles on Wall Street. Generation Z is driven by something else entirely: purpose. Why does a company choose to do what they do? What is the purpose behind their existence? Do their values align with my own?
For most legacy brands, this notion is terrifying, because for decades their business has simply revolved around packing more features into products at a reduced cost. Iteration, plain and simple. But now, they have to show their cards and explain themselves. They have to share their feelings with their consumers and open up in a way they never have before. They have to lead with purpose.
As time goes on, and Generation Z grows into the most powerful group of consumers and employees, brands that want to survive and thrive must embrace a purpose-driven strategy.
What does a purpose-driven strategy look like? Let’s take a look at some examples where leading with a purpose-driven strategy helped companies soar:
When most think of Netflix, they think of the streaming giant it is today. However, Netflix has actually had four different business models since it began 22 years ago.
When it first launched, there was no subscription to speak of, just DVD sales and rentals over the internet. Eventually, Netflix transitioned to a subscription-based DVD rental model. A decade later, as high-speed internet became ubiquitous, the company transitioned once again, offering the DVD content of its library instantly via streaming. And most recently, as content owners like NBC and Disney launch (or prepare to launch) their own branded streaming services, Netflix has become a content generation powerhouse, creating an endless stream of its own movies and TV shows.
So, how can one company have found success with four different business models? Simple…they’ve always led with purpose.
Netflix did not start out to be a DVD rental company. Their purpose from the beginning was to create more convenient access to entertainment. Initially, this meant saving customers a trip to the store by shipping DVDs to their doorstep, but as technology advanced, shipping DVDs was no longer convenient enough. And so, Netflix adapted and created convenient access to entertainment via high-speed streaming and original content.
By focusing on a purpose-driven strategy, Netflix has successfully pivoted from business model to business model. While many other competitors in the rental market went bankrupt, Netflix went from a scrappy startup to one of the largest companies in the world, all thanks to purpose.
The world’s first company to hit a trillion-dollar valuation, co-founder Steve Jobs once famously said:
“Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”
Nowhere in there does it talk about profitability benchmarks or quarterly targets. Nowhere in there does it talk about being a fiscally responsible computer company. Apple has always been clear: we make things for people that think and act differently. That’s our purpose.
If Apple was just “a computer company”, would we have ever gotten the iPod? If Apple chased quarterly profits, would they have invested millions of dollars into the iPhone? If Apple focused on iteration instead of innovation, would they have ever taken the gamble on launching the iPad?
Of course not. But Apple has been clear from day one…they are driven by their purpose to think and act different. To challenge the status quo. And it’s this purpose that has allowed them to cement their status as one of the most innovative companies of all time.
One of the most successful product launches of all time was not so much a product but an experience. Of course, I am talking about an experience like no other…Disneyland
Walt Disney did not create Disneyland as a vehicle to become the world’s most valuable entertainment company. He did not envision his park as a means to sell t-shirts and Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. No, the purpose behind Walt’s iconic park was simple: create a place where families can have fun together. In Walt’s own words:
“[Disneyland] came about when my daughters were very young, and Saturday was always daddy’s day. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things—sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts—I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together.”
Disney wanted to have fun with his daughters, not just watch them have fun. And so, he adopted that as his purpose for creating Disneyland – a place where families can all have fun together.
The result? Well, it’s what people often refer to as “Disney Magic.” By leading with purpose over profit, Disney created a magical place that brings children to tears (out of joy), serves as the location for thousands of weddings, hosts Superbowl winners and Presidents alike, and is even immortalized via tattoos on countless fans.
How’s that for the power of purpose?
How You Can Adapt Your Business to Lead with Purpose
Recently, one of the world’s leading tool manufacturer asked me to come train their teams on Innovation. Wanting to understand the tool market a little bit better before I gave my presentation, I decided to spend a weekend observing my client’s core customers. And what better place to observe customers than at the point of purchase? It was time to take a trip to Home Depot…
Walking into my local DIY store on a busy Saturday morning, I began wandering the aisles, watching young Millennial and Gen Z couples evaluate shelf after shelf of tools, eventually selecting what they believed to be the perfect one for the job. As I listened in on the pre-purchase conversations taking place, there was never a discussion about which tool would “drill the fastest” or “hammer the hardest.” They never discussed the brand, the product features, or even the price. Instead, these couples focused solely on the purpose behind the tools: building their dream home.
At that moment it struck me: the tool companies that would succeed in the future didn’t need more products or better features. They needed a better purpose.
Unfortunately, most tool companies are not driven by purpose. They’re driven by quarterly results. Expansion into growing markets. Iteration, not innovation. While I understand the need to set goals and hit targets, this cannot be the primary driver of your business. Because it will eventually cause you to be left behind.
Expansion might give tool conglomerates another 3-5 years of profit growth, but what happens after that? A few years ago, we all got a glimpse of the first 3D printers, which would take several hours to print out a small trinket. Today, there are companies printing 3D houses in a matter of hours. What happens 10 or 20 years from now? Might consumers be able to print any tool they need on demand at home? Or do you even need tools if you can print a coffee table or bookshelf at the 3D print shop down the street? What sort of effect will this have on the tool companies of the world?
What if instead of making their primary purpose selling tools to turn a profit, tool companies led with a purpose of “helping people build their dreams”?
What a noble purpose for a tool company. A company that helps people build their dreams is no longer “just a tool company”, and as such, is no longer at risk of going extinct if and when tools become obsolete. Think about how elastic this company can become if their purpose is to help people build their dreams. They could create furniture and décor accessories for the dream homes they help build. They could become an alternative lender to help more people afford their dream homes. And even beyond that, they could help families have dream vacations through a line of innovative hotels, or help kids have the holidays of their dreams by manufacturing toys. The list is endless!
By leading with a strong purpose, this company opens up an endless world of opportunity for themselves.
Why Purpose-Driven Strategy Is a Must
As you can see, brands that lead with a purpose-driven strategy are the ones that become remarkable. This will become even more apparent over the next decade as Generation Z grows into the most powerful group of consumers.
Simon Sinek famously shared a groundbreaking thought in his viral 2009 TED talk: people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it. Put simply, people are drawn to the purpose behind the products.
The message here is clear: brands that want to remain relevant during this next wave of disruption MUST adopt a purpose-driven strategy. Without one, it’s only a matter of time before you become the Blockbuster to Netflix or a Compaq to an Apple.
And we all know that’s not the legacy you’re looking to leave…
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