long exposure image on roads

Two Roads to Purpose

July 19, 2021
  • Innovation
  • Marketing
  • Strategy

We recently released an episode of our podcast titled “Creating with Purpose” (shameless plug) where my co-host (and teammate, and friend) Ben and I discussed our belief that the creative process, no matter what you’re creating, should start with answering the question “Why?”.

It was a great conversation (if I do say so myself), and not just because it’s something that interests us, but because it’s a concept that would be so terribly helpful to remember whether you’re a creative person or the person who’s relying on us to get something done.

In fact, I walked away from that conversation with a new little fire in my belly to keep sharpening that blade, both for myself and for the people who would benefit from me knowing what I’m talking about.

First, let me bring you up to speed. The central idea here is that, specifically as a Marketer but more broadly as humans, we should start the creative process by knowing our purpose. And when you’re faced with someone who’s already in solution mode, it’s your responsibility to rewind them and talk about purpose before you jump into designing their postcard or writing their blog post.

And it’s simple. Just ask some really basic questions like:

Why are you making the thing you’re making?

Who is it for?

What does it need to accomplish?

If you’re a creator of ANY KIND, the answers to those questions can sometimes be “Because I want to. It’s just for me because it will make my brain happy.”

In business, you’re going to tie those answers to business outcomes.

More like “We have something that will help the new home-buyers in our audience make good choices and we want to reach as many of them as we can.”

That level of detail creates the mental guardrail you need to reach your objective but gives you enough creative freedom to make something that’s unique and impactful. Maybe you’ll still be designing that postcard or writing that blog, but you’ll be able to say with confidence that it’s the right thing to try.

Does that all make sense?

Ok, now that we’ve set the table and you’re already noshing in the complimentary breadsticks, let’s bring out the soup du jour… metaphorically speaking.

What we didn’t have the time to dive into in that conversation, was that there are two kinds of “Purpose”. Either of these two roads to “Purpose” might be entirely valid for the thing you’re creating, but if you can get them to converge, that’s where the magic happens.

The “purpose” for your creation can vary as wildly as the work itself. From a simple post on social media, that’s here today and gone at the whim of the algorithm, to something as complex as your website that will grow and change seemingly forever, each thing needs a reason to exist, and understanding that reason makes your work better. It’s just that simple.

Then you have what we could call your “PURPOSE” (like that, all in caps, because it seems impressive). That’s the “PURPOSE” that drives your business forward, makes you burn the midnight oil, and can unify your team to work toward that better future. Sure, that sounds a little like aspirational hokum, especially when you’re deep in the depths of some of the soul-crushing tasks it takes to succeed, but striving toward something bigger than yourself will create an amazing alignment in your work, on your team, and with your audience.

The key here is intentionality. To align our work with both the “purpose” (what it’s going to do) and the “PURPOSE” (why we do what we do) requires us to pause long enough at the beginning of the creative process to check ourselves. And, friend, I’m here to tell you, checking yourself is one of those things that SOUNDS easy, but we probably don’t do it often enough. If you’re an all-speed-ahead kind of person, consider placing a liiiiiitle bit of a roadblock in your way in the form of a checklist or procedure (hey, creatives, don’t hate on procedures, some of us are only gainfully employed because they saved our bacon at one point in time) that will force you to stop and assess.

The moment to consider both “purpose” and “PURPOSE” will not only make better work, it will (I promise) set you free from doing work you shouldn’t be doing. You may take that moment of intentionality and find that the project you were ready to jump into doesn’t align with anything at all. If that’s the case, and you can’t FIND alignment anywhere then it needs to be tabled until you can, at the very least. (Or, you know, go away, into the well-hidden pile of things I like to call “Under Consideration”.)

This is a lot to ponder, and many of us are used to just doing the THING to get the THING done so I don’t want to overwhelm you. I do, though, want to end on a bit of a disclaimer.

These two roads to Purpose don’t always converge completely, and that’s pretty much ok. A minority of the time it’s ok for a blog post, for example, to simply be a useful piece of information that your audience will like, and not serve the Big-Hairy-Audacious Goals of your organization that will change the world. That’s an okay spot to land some of the time, just don’t get too comfortable there, ok?

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About the Author: Suzanne Campbell is the Brand & Content Manager on the Exclamation Services Marketing team and the self-proclaimed evangelist for Brand Voice. She picked up a lot of smart ideas from a lot of amazing people in her more than 20 years of experience and you can hear them on the Awsomology podcast.