Communicating purpose: five challenges

We’ve been debating why communicating purpose lands for some and falls flat for others. Read on to find out five challenges we at Bright Space feel communicators face with purpose messaging.

There are few things more frustrating than someone or something that’s all talk and no trousers. Why is that? We as an audience can see through the lack of promise, substance and authenticity.

This week at Bright Space we’ve been debating why communicating purpose lands for some and falls flat for others. Clients often come to us when their messaging isn’t sticking. In most cases we find they can be confused and unclear on how to define and express their company’s purpose.  

When communicated effectively, purpose should work as a strategic value proposition for a company. So we roped Principals Ingrid Brown and Ian Firth into the lively discussion and came out the other side with five barriers we see businesses commonly come up against.  

Where there’s a problem there’s a solution, so we compiled a checklist to think about when trying to overcome challenges around communication purpose.

1. We struggle to be clear about our purpose

We often see clients looking to the rest of their sector for their purpose rather than looking inward at the unique value they create for their specific stakeholders.

“Knowing and understanding the value you create and whom you create it for is fundamental to being able to properly articulate it,” Ian says. “If no one inside or outside your organisation understands why you do what you do, how can you ever hope to make a difference to them?”

The starting point is a well written purpose statement with a fundamental truth that captures your belief and conveys the challenge you are solving.

2. There’s a lack of understanding about what our purpose should deliver

Stakeholders need a clear definition of your purpose and what role it’s there to fulfil.  

“You need a rationale in your narrative so it’s grounded by a fundamental truth that makes everyone buy in on day one,” is Ingrid’s advice.

She suggests it can’t be seen as a strapline or branding exercise. “It’s a call to action for your employees or customers, something they understand, align with, and can get behind. It is what gives your business meaning.”

3. Our comms don’t feel authentic

It can be hard to feel like you have a purpose that is ownable and uniquely yours but no two businesses are the same. It’s the little nuances that make your purpose distinct from others so embrace them in an authentic fashion through stories that set you apart from the crowd.

But Ian insists you need to walk the walk before you can talk the talk. “You might have a really good merit, you may have a really good narrative but if you're not delivering on any of it, then it's just empty words. There's no authenticity there, right?”

And make sure to share your success stories that tie back to your purpose. The more stakeholders understand your purpose and the value you create, the more you will grow.

4. We’re having trouble integrating our purpose

“Knowing when to be explicit about your purpose, is as important as when not to be,” says Ian, “there is a time and a place for both.”

Creating a brand platform for purpose-related communications builds engagement, particularly with employees. It signposts activities and initiatives that demonstrate the purpose in action which in turn fosters greater awareness and understanding.

And that comes by “integrating it into continuous comms initiatives and giving it its own way of living and breathing. Quite often where I see it falling off a cliff is the way it's then cascaded and how often it's continuously communicated,” says Ingrid.

5. Leadership is one foot out, one foot in

It’s no secret leadership in purpose needs to come from the top down. Words in a comms plan are weightless unless leadership believes in it.

“If only half the organisation believes in it, then what is the point?" says Ian. “They have to lead purpose in every aspect, it has to be woven into the strategies that are operational within the business in order for it to be lived in the right kind of way.”

These are just five challenges we at Bright Space feel communicators face with purpose messaging. It's not an exhaustive list so we asked a handful of our specialist advisers about the roadblocks they commonly arrive at when working with companies to communicate purpose. Find out how they navigate their speed bumps here.

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