Companies with a purpose

whoareyouDo your customers know who your company is? Do you?

After my critique of Inovalon’s impenetrable “Who We Are” page, I began to wonder about purpose statements.

My hypothesis is that companies with powerful, clear, differentiated statements about who they are have more effective employee teamwork and strong brands. Note that I don’t say that the statement causes the success, just that they tend to go together.

Expect a lot more from me on this. But for now, I just picked out a few distinctive companies and looked. The “Who Are We” statements of these brands stand out as much as the brands themselves. They’re clear. They’re written directly, as if an executive is talking to customer or an employee. They talk about experiences, not market share or profits. Most importantly — an employee could actually decide what to do, or what not to do, based on these clear statements of purpose. I give each one a completely subjective inspiration score from 1 to 5 diamonds.

Whole Foods. “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store. Who are we? Well, we seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture. Add to that the excitement and fun we bring to shopping for groceries, and you start to get a sense of what we’re all about. Oh yeah, we’re a mission-driven company too.” [A little heavy on the adjectives, but the focus on the experience and the quality comes through clearly.] Inspiration score: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Google. “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. . . . Larry Page, our co-founder and CEO, once described the ‘perfect search engine’ as something that ‘understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.’ Since he spoke those words Google has grown to offer products beyond search, but the spirit of what he said remains. With all our technologies—from search to Chrome to Gmail—our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to find the information you need and get the things you need to do done.” [Crystal clear, direct, audacious, and informal. You can see how an employee might make decisions based on this statement.] Inspiration score: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Virgin America. “Virgin America is a California-based airline that is on a mission to make flying good again, with brand new planes, attractive fares, top-notch service, and a host of fun, innovative amenities that are reinventing domestic air travel. The Virgin America experience is unlike any other in the skies, featuring mood-lit cabins with fleetwide WiFi, custom-designed leather seats, power outlets, and a video touch-screen at every seatback offering guests on-demand menus and countless entertainment options.” [This is a little heavy on the product details; they’ll have to update it as air travel technology changes. But it’s clearly differentiated in a homogeneous air travel market.] Inspiration score: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Now let’s look at some brands that are a lot less inspiring.

Bank of America. “We’re focused on listening to our customers, helping connect them to what matters most. Our purpose is to help improve the financial lives of our customers and clients through the power of every connection. How will we know when we’ve achieved that? When our customers and clients tell us we have.” [Not differentiated — sounds the same as every other financial institution. While this is a statement about customers, does B of A really evaluate its success based on customer metrics or financial ones? Still, could be a lot worse.] Inspiration score: ♦ ♦ ◊

Comcast. “Comcast brings together the best in media and technology. We drive innovation to create the world’s best entertainment and online experiences.” [Audacious. “Drive innovation” is a cliche. And while this talks about experiences, it doesn’t talk about customers. Must be a sensitive subject.] Inspiration score: ♦ ♦

American Airlines. [My extensive searching revealed that there is no “Who We Are”statement on American’s website. I’ve got 2 million miles on this airline and permanent Platinum status, and I couldn’t tell you who they are. The employees’ behavior reflects an airline with no statement of purpose — that is, inconsistent.] Inspiration score: 

My conclusion: breakout brands have inspiring, direct statements about who they are. Check out Richard Branson’s advice on how to create one. But a direct statement of purpose can be part of changing the brand experience, it takes a lot more than that. Customers recognize empty promises.

Have you seen a great (or awful) “Who We Are” statement? Post it in the comments, or submit it to me.

Photo: Paul Downey via Flickr

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  1. We’re still a few weeks from launching our private Beta of Personal Health Cloud and I’m still working on the Who We Are. But, I’ve been playing with different iterations of our “heraldic motto” a la Richard Branson for awhile.

    “Simply, take control. Your health. Your data. Own it.”

    The first sentence was recently added after a little anecdotal market research. Turns out people like to take control. Wanting and taking ownership comes later.

    The way I’ve been describing Personal Health Cloud lately is that we are providing the tools for you to take control of your health data to get a better understanding of your health.

    So, now that I’ve exposed my soft underbelly, I await your response!