Aligning Brand, Purpose and Culture: 10 Do’s and Don’t’s!

In 2017 I spoke at an American Marketing Event (AMA) Toronto event on brand, purpose and culture with a panel of experienced marketers and HR practitioners from RSA Insurance, TiFF, and LoyaltyOne. Read on for my top observations! 

After many years of studying the world’s best performing brands in our Best Global Brands report, a shared characteristic is clear: brands with purpose rise to the top. But it’s not enough to have an ethos and point of view. Brands have to deliver on a stated purpose—and that starts with your employees.

At a recent event hosted by the American Marketing Association (AMA) of Toronto, Interbrand engaged in a lively debate about leveraging employee engagement and purpose to retain and attract talent.

Carolyn Ray Interbrand AMA Toronto panel

Interbrand Canada’s Managing Director, Carolyn Ray (far right) joins a panel of experienced marketers and HR practitioners from RSA Insurance, TiFF, and LoyaltyOne. 

Three key observations emerged from the discussion:

Purpose is now

Increasingly, people want to work for companies that share the same values they do. And to understand WHY we do what we do, not just what we do. TED speaker Simon Sinek advocates strongly for this in his TED Talk, “Start with Why.”

A purpose is an enduring and succinct statement that explains WHY an organization exists, beyond making a profit. It represents what an organization stands for, how it is different, and how people can expect it to act, both today and in the future.It is intended to serve the long-term, supporting the growth of the business and the experiences created for both employees and customers.

The role of purpose becomes more evident when we look at the data. According to new Gallup research, only 29 percent of millennials are engaged in their jobs, and only 27 percent believe in their companies’ values. In fact, the majority of millennials don’t understand their organizations’ purpose—only one in three agree that the purpose of their organization makes them feel important. Yet, 88 percent of millennials would stay at their jobs more than five years if they were satisfied with the company’s sense of purpose.

Engage to perform

Employee engagement is important because highly engaged people drive innovation and creativity, not to mention superior customer experiences. Gallup research shows that only 13 percent of employees are highly engaged globally. Building strong cultures is not just the responsibility of Human Resources (HR) anymore—it’s a shared accountability that starts at the top.

Once the sole domain of HR practitioners, the practice of employee engagement has evolved to become a strategic priority. Traditionally, employee engagement is defined as the process of building an emotional connection with your employees in order to create discretionary effort (e.g. creativity, innovation) that drives enhanced business performance. Today, in the context of the war for talent and the rise of purpose-driven organizations, along with expectations of transparency and authenticity, engaging employees is mission-critical. A business without highly engaged employees may not exist in the future, so understanding your purpose can be the difference between success and failure.

Marketing and HR join forces

Defining an organization’s purpose should be the top priority for marketers and HR practitioners alike. As mentioned in previous articles, with the emergence of talent as THE top issue for business leaders, culture and engagement have virtually exploded to become top issues companies around the world. This is even more urgent when you consider that many mature organizations are competing with businesses like Tesla, which has built purpose into its business from the ground up.

There has never been a better opportunity for HR and Marketing to become the best of friends. For HR leaders, purpose may manifest in your employee value proposition. For marketers, it may be embedded in your brand positioning. The terminology is less important that understanding how it comes to life across the organization—across the experiences, products and services, communications, and behavior you want to create.

Manifesting your purpose

With the infamous Peter Drucker quote in mind—“culture eats strategy for breakfast”— here are some key do’s and don’ts for aligning brand, purpose, and culture.


  1. Engage leadership: Executive visibility and endorsement silences critics.
  2. Start inside: The vision, brand, values, beliefs, and aspirations of the organization should drive the true purpose—not an advertising campaign.
  3. Celebrate achievements, and communicate them relentlessly.
  4. Be realistic about the willingness and commitment to change.
  5. Consider change management experts to complement your team and help shift behaviors.


  1. Rely on top-down communications. Engage your influencers as change agents.
  2. Confuse CSR or marketing campaigns as purpose. Embracing purpose takes clarity, focus, and sustained effort across the entire business.
  3. Take a “big bang” approach: This is not sustainable. Communications, training, and recognition need to be a constant drumbeat, not a launch event.
  4. Be vague. Your purpose needs to be ownable, credible, and relevant—do your homework when determining your purpose, starting with your employees.
  5. Forget to prove it. If it can’t be measured, don’t do it. Purpose must be measured by cultural change and business metrics.

Now, more than ever before, organizations must focus on purpose, brand, and culture to retain and engage highly skilled talent and put intentional processes in place to sustain momentum over the long term. Purpose can serve as a north star to set the future vision for a business in motion, driving change from within and shaping the experiences that an organization creates for customers and stakeholders. This is the start of your journey to future-proof your business.

Originally published on in January 2018. 

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