If someone asked you to define the purpose of your company — other than to make money — would you be able to give an answer?

Without a clear sense of purpose, not only do you risk losing out on growth, wallet share and profits, but you could also miss out on the chance to attract great employees, according to Shaun Smith and Andrew Milligan, co-authors of the recently released book, "On Purpose."

“Every business has a purpose, even if that purpose is just to make money for shareholders,” Milligan told CMSWire. “What we argue is: What are you here to do for people before making money for yourself?”

We asked Milligan to give us a quick rundown of the basic principles discussed in the book, including what brand purpose actually means, why businesses need to have one, and how they can go about defining their own purpose.

What is Brand Purpose?

Andrew Milligan

According to Milligan, the primary purpose of business is their consumer-driven promise — what they do to provide value to consumers.

“That has to be the unifying call to purpose,” he said. “It helps companies make better investment decisions for products and customer experiences, including what kind of innovations to bring to market.”

He gave the example of Premier Inn — one of the fastest growing hotel chains in the world.

“They’ve grown through simple insight into what would attract people to their inn rather than others — getting a great night’s sleep,” he said.

Because of this, all their investments went into supporting their purpose, he added, including buying the best beds, silent air conditioning, removing phones from rooms, and providing a check-in person specifically focused on working with their guests to ensure that nothing prevented them from having a good night’s sleep.

The payoff? An amazing customer experience that helped fuel Premier Inn to the number one spot for value hotel brands in the UK.

In addition to a consumer-brand driven purpose, Milligan noted that increasingly, companies are defining a societal purpose — or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative — as well.

“Businesses nowadays don’t operate in a strict commercial vacuum where they have no consideration of the society in which they operate, including economic, social, environmental and ethics issues,” he said. “Increasingly, consumers are looking for organizations not only doing good things for them, but that also contribute to some of the wider societal issues we face, and not cause them.”

Why Define Your Brand Purpose?

The primary reason for businesses to define their purpose, said Milligan, is that “purpose drives profits.”

He added that both consumers and employees are attracted to businesses with a very clear sense of purpose, and that those businesses tend to outperform others that don’t have a defined purpose.

“This shouldn’t be a surprise,” he said. “There have been numerous studies by Harvard Business School, and books written pointing out that consumers, customers and employees are driven to companies that have a very clear sense of purpose.”

How to Find Your Purpose

Milligan recommends following three steps in order to find your own business purpose.

1. Define your goal

According to Milligan, asking yourself one simple question will get you started in defining your purpose:

“What is the difference we’re seeking to make in the lives of customers and consumers?”

Learning Opportunities

2. Talk to consumers

Sometimes, the purpose of a company can become so wrapped up in their corporate social responsibility objective, that it can lose sight of what consumers really want, noted Milligan.

“Organizations that are really good at creating strong purpose-driven companies have a good understanding of consumers already, or high degrees of collected customer insight such as surveys, research and conversations,” said Milligan. “They understand what matters most to customers and clients.”

He added that a clear purpose, driven by what customers want, is the best way to help you make decisions more quickly. He recommends talking to people online, evaluating your products, customer support and service, as well as taking care in the type of people you bring into your business.

3. Attract employees that help you deliver a great experience for clients

Finally, Milligan recommends recruiting people who are in line with your brand and company culture, training them so they understand your purpose, and empowering them to put the customer first.

“Sometimes to empower is to give latitude,” he said. “That means you never fire for putting the customer first. Don’t try to save money and ruin the customer experience.”

One way companies can do this is to tell their employees that it takes two people to say “No,” and one person to say, “Yes.” For example, if a customer asks for something, you as an employee are empowered to say, “Yes.” If you want to say, “No,” you need to have the decision ratified by someone else.

Empowerment drives growth from customer advocacy, loyalty and customer recommendations, he added.

“By creating simple cultural rules around purpose — including in the recruiting process — you can deliver great service spontaneously and intentionally create experience,” he said.

Milligan ended with a reminder that, although you may have strong corporate social responsibility initiatives, staying true to your brand promise should be your first priority.

“People often lose sight of the fact that what keeps us in business is doing something that matters for customers. Unless you do that, any other claim or purpose just doesn’t get anywhere, and is regarded as greenwash. If you don’t do right by customers, how can you do right in the world?”