Distinguishing between Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

October 16, 2020


“How about brand purpose as it relates to identity and positioning? Are they separate? The same? Interchangeable?” 

I received this question recently on Instagram after I asked what people wanted to know about purpose. The post dovetailed with a discussion I was having with a small business owner. She shared with me that they were having a difficult time succinctly describing their complex offerings. They wanted to see if defining their brand purpose could help.

We discussed the need to establish their positioning and purpose before creating a fresh identity. Identity being the brand’s look and feel. In other words, things like the logo, colors, fonts, graphics and photography.

Brand Positioning vs Brand Purpose

Southwest Airlines offers a great example of the relationship between positioning and purpose. The company’s positioning is: to be the friendly, reliable, low-fare airline. They reinforce this position in their sales, marketing and business operations.

If you’re familiar with Simon Sinek’s golden circles, then you may see that positioning links up well with the outer two circles: What you do and how you do it. What positioning doesn’t usually include is why.

Luckily, Southwest has already done the work to develop a concise statement of purpose. Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low-cost air travel.

For Southwest, positioning brings clarity to the unique and functional aspects of their business. Their purpose gives that work meaning. So, why do Southwest employees try to provide exceptional service and strive for reliable service? Why do they want to make people laugh and feel welcome?

They don’t do it to create shareholder value or to collect a paycheck. Neither of those things are motivating over the long term. They do it because they feel like they are part of something bigger. Southwest has figured out how they fit into their customers’ lives.

Their purpose statement doesn’t just tell them to be friendly, reliable and low cost. It helps them understand why these things matter. Subsequently, they built a culture that celebrates great customer service, rewards employees’ efforts to deliver reliable and efficient service, and supports their commitment to accessibility through low cost fares. 

More Good Days

A few years ago, I worked with a memory care provider to develop their brand purpose. The result was More Good Days. A double play on what they wanted for their residents and for their employees. 

When it came to their brand positioning, we identified specific attributes that described how they gave residents more good days. Things like an industry low resident to caregiver ratio, ongoing dementia and life skills training for their caregivers and a home-like environment.

The positioning differentiated them in the market. Their purpose, on the other hand, was why they showed up every day. Like Southwest, we had uncovered how they fit into their customers’ and employees’ lives.  

Therefore, it’s important for businesses to hone in on brand positioning and brand purpose. Positioning helps employees understand what to do and signals to customers what they should think about the brand. Purpose gives that work meaning.

It can be easy for these two things to become entangled. I have to step back from time to time to ensure I’m breaking them apart for my clients and in my business. If you’re struggling to untangle positioning and purpose in your business, let’s put our heads together. Or, if you’d like help drafting your positioning or purpose, let me know. I would love to talk with you.




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Karen Bailey is a brand purpose consultant and specializes in helping companies define their purpose and align their business around it. In 2017, she launched the blog, Purpose Greater Than Profit, to start a meaningful conversation about the increasingly important role of brand purpose, purposeful leadership and a better way of doing business.


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