Beyond Purpose: What a Business Needs to Succeed with the CEO of Sylvain, Alain Sylvain

Founder and CEO Of Sylvain, Alain Sylvain

Beyond Purpose: What a Business Needs to Succeed with the CEO of Sylvain, Alain Sylvain

Becoming fully invested, obsessed even, with one’s purpose is the hallmark of many successful companies.  It can also help brands to differentiate themselves in competitive marketplaces.  Sylvain enables companies to find their corporate purpose, align all their activities and departments with it, and grow.

Replacing the outmoded concept of a “mission statement”, a purpose statement must be deeply entrenched within how a brand sees itself.

Dangers of Paying Lip Service

Sylvain explains what a true purpose is NOT:

  • Arbitrary or token since it should define corporate direction.
  • Misaligned, not fitting with what the company is or does.
  • For show only – it’s not an Instagram slogan.

Misaligned or poorly thought through corporate purposes can become liabilities, since companies making this mistake are seen as cynical or hypocritical.

Four Elements of a Well-Written Purpose Statement

A company like Patagonia exhibits the degree of obsession with its purpose that Sylvain finds admirable.  It is “in business to save our home planet”, a bold and uncompromising vision.

A well-designed purpose statement has these four main components:

  1. Credo.  Something greater than you, of which you seek new knowledge.
  2. Belief.  Everyone must be invested in the shared purpose.
  3. Vision.  An audacious, idealistic notion of the direction of travel.
  4. Contagion.  The purpose must take hold with the brand’s customer base.

There are other aspects to a good purpose statement, but these are the main factors that matter.

Sylvain goes on to give four examples of companies with well-defined Purposes:

Four Great Examples of Purpose-Driven Brands

Patagonia – The poster child of purpose, even giving away some of its profits to fund ecological causes and including “hidden” slogans in the stitching of its garments.

Impossible Foods – Whose purpose is to replicate the meat experience, with wholly plant-based foodstuffs.  Their burgers are already achieving this to a remarkable degree.

Chanel – Despite its founder’s complex history (Nazi collusion), the company now is still very female-focused, remaining determined not to branch out into menswear.  It has also made a conscious decision not to follow most other prestige brands into ecommerce, favoring the high-touch, one to one, sensual experience of its stores.

Tony’s Chocolonely – The Dutch chocolatier has taken on some big high street names with a determination to source all its products ethically, while competing with huge French and Belgian brands.

One BAD example he gives is that of We Work, whose stated purpose “to help people live a full life” did not chime with their revenue and utility driven approach.  They over-inflated their own value, leading to the exodus of customers and investors.  

Recently they have realigned themselves with their original aim to find employees a place to go – real human connection in a shared workplace, something that may prove popular in the post-COVID transition period.

Aligning Personal Purpose with Brand Purpose

In the discussion, it became evident that there is often a conflict between finding a match between an entrepreneur’s personal purpose, and that of their client or employer.

Sylvain views this as potentially an opportunity to be an “agent of change” within an organization, a driving force for finding a better purpose.  Where personal purpose cannot be so aligned, Sylvain believes you can derive satisfaction from developing side hustles which do.

Why Obsession Need Not be Pejorative

Although it’s a somewhat taboo notion in a world where obsession is seen as unhealthy, it need not be in Sylvain’s definition.  He says: “it needs to really carry through viscerally in every part of the organization… that’s what I mean when I say obsession relative to purpose, because purpose alone doesn’t do it.”

Obsession in this sense means that you must fully bring on board marketing, customer service, R&D, HR, and even investors.  It’s also about finding the right balance between emotional content, which can have a “long burn” effect and a more short-term rational focus on goals.  It must manage to be audacious yet practical.

Three Steps to Defining and Aligning Purpose

Sylvain outlines three steps by which his company helps brands achieve these aims.

  1. R&D Phase – You ask first what is the company’s unique insight?  What is especially interesting?  This could be the founder’s own story, for instance.  It can really help when differentiating one’s brand in a crowded marketplace.
  2. Articulating a Strategy – Crafting the above into a well-worded Purpose Statement and thus positioning the brand.
  3. Implementation – the toughest stage as you figure out how to express this chosen purpose in words, practice, and design.

FinTech is an example of an industry whose products may be hard to invest with purpose because they are so hard to explain to laypersons.  Elegant, visual storytelling and video can be used to help elucidate purpose in complex industries which are not well understood.

What to do Once You Have Found your Personal Purpose

  1. Accept that being able to do so is a privilege.
  2. Assess whether it is financially viable.
  3. Don’t compromise what you consider to be essential to it.

Additional Resources:

Simon Sinek – Find Your Why: A Practical Guide to Finding Purpose for You and Your Team

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