"Doing well by doing good.” It’s an admirable goal for any business but is it really attainable? We’ve always thought so and now we have proof. The most successful brands and businesses in the world are built around something other than just making profit: They are built around ideals.

A higher purpose

A brand ideal is a higher purpose of a brand or organization that goes beyond the product or service they sell. The ideal is the brand’s inspirational reason for being. It explains why the brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world. A brand ideal actively aims to improve the quality of people’s lives. It creates a meaningful goal for the brand - a goal that aligns employees and the organization to better serve customers.

Though we can locate several examples from both public and private companies in B2B and B2C businesses and include established as well as younger, smaller, fast-growing companies, all the most recognized brands have a clear sense of purpose. Eg. Zappos is in the business of delivering happiness. Pampers does not just sell diapers; it cares for the happy, healthy development of babies around the world. IBM’s purpose is to make a smarter planet. Google exists to organize and give access to the information of the world. Discovery Channel’s ideal is to satisfy curiosity. Apple calls for different thinking.

An ideal creates a meaningful goal for the brand that aligns employees and the organization to better serve customers.

Not a mission statement

A brand ideal is not a mission statement. Mission statements tend to be narrow and business-oriented, such as “Be the leader in customer satisfaction,” or, “Be the most innovative company.” Mission statements tend to be self-serving and, therefore, limiting.

Ideals, being outwardly-focused, extend beyond the company’s financial interests. Red Bull’s ideal is to uplift mind and body; it exists to energize the world. “To be the No. 1 energy drink” is probably a mission for the company yet it is seen as an outcome, not its raison d’être. Nor should an ideal be confused with corporate social responsibility or cause-marketing. The ideal is a core principle inherent in a brand - something that emerges from a company’s DNA. Though such a high-minded concept may seem impractical or lofty, consumer research data as well as financial data verifies that ideals-driven businesses deliver higher performance.

A light from within
When a brand ideal is at the heart of a business, it serves as a light from within that guides every decision of the leaders and employees in every department. Ideals help shape a business and organization in three distinctive ways. First, ideals lead to the creation of more meaningful products, services and cus- tomer experiences. Second, ideals align the organization and its culture behind a common purpose. And finally, ideals lead companies to rethink the way they engage and communicate with consumers; ideals move them beyond selling and telling consumers what to do to inviting them into a dialog.

Ideals inspire outstanding brand experiences
The sense of meaning that comes from delivering on an ideal inspires a high level of dedication to producing the best possible brand experience for customers. Product performance, innovation, packaging, design - all of these elements are inspired, developed and refined in the light of the ideal.

Method, the household cleaning products company, was built on the ideal of inspiring a home revolution to create happy, healthy homes. Every aspect of each product is inspired by the ideal (i.e., non-toxicity, natural scents, the cosmetic-like packaging, etc). Apple offers the best experience through beauty and simplicity. Chipotle Mexican Grill fulfills its ideal of bringing integrity and taste back to food by inviting patrons to create their own custom dishes using fresh, natural and locally-sourced ingredients.

Ideals align organizations
The best companies align their organizations and culture behind their ideals. By being purposeful (beyond making money and growing market share), they provide a higher meaning to all employees. The ideal provides clarity and intentionality. More importantly, these companies develop systems and processes to stay true to their ideals. For example, Red Bull has set unique hiring guidelines. It doesn’t put a priority on hiring people with beverage industry backgrounds; instead the company focuses on athletes, DJs and former Red Bull student ambassadors - people who believe in and live the ideal. Even the workplace is designed to be true to the ideal. For example, Red Bull’s London headquarters has skateboard ramps and slides from floor to floor!

Zappos has established processes that allow employees to be true to the ideal of delivering happiness. Employees do not have quotas or time goals for customer calls, nor do they adhere to scripts. They are empowered to help customers in need, whatever it takes. There are stories of employees sending flowers to customers in distress and helping customers order pizza in the middle of the night. And for Zappos, delivering happiness has delivered sales. The company exceeded the $1 billion mark in 2012 and has the highest loyalty rate of all online retailers.

Ideals redefine consumer engagement
A brand ideal changes the basic rules of communication by inspiring companies to engage with consumers in a more meaningful way. Rather than telling consumers what to think or do, they take the lead in inviting consumers to co-create with them. For example, IBM invites consumers, thought leaders and employees to rethink how we can make the planet smarter, whether that’s by fighting crime, addressing traffic congestion or using energy more efficiently. Rather than simply communicating the benefits of its diapers, Pampers has partnered with UNICEF in providing vaccines to eradicate maternal and newborn tetanus and created online and offline forums where moms can gather to discuss and learn about the health and development of their babies.

Can still go off-course

Companies and brands can still go off-course, whether or not they are guided by ideals. However, a brand ideal can help a company find its way back. The rise, fall and recent turnaround of Starbucks provides a good example.

Starbucks was built on an ideal: to create human connections. From a few stores in Seattle, the chain grew into being the cornerstone of every neighborhood in America and around the world. However, this focus on growth became a distraction that got Starbucks into trouble, until it returned to its beliefs, values and ideal.

After years of rapid growth and expansion, in 2007 the chain found itself overexpanded and confused about its purpose. Was Starbucks meant to promote human connection or simply to be ubiquitous? Was Starbucks meant to promote human connection or simply to maximize profits through speedy and efficient service?

A succession of incremental decisions made over the years had led Starbucks away from its fundamental values. Drive- through windows didn’t foster face-to-face interactions. An emphasis on speed and efficiency interfered with employees’ ability to create a sense of community. Automatic espresso machines reduced the need for the care and craftsmanship of a Starbucks barista. The magic and romance had been lost; Starbucks was no longer celebrating coffee.

When Howard Schultz returned as CEO in January 2008, he refocused the organization on the brand ideal, thereby impacting the product and customer experience, the company culture and its consumer engagement. First, Schultz restored coffee to its original place as the brand centerpiece. “Starbucks is more than coffee but without coffee, we have no reason to exist,” said Schultz.

Starbucks set about reengaging with consumers in a more meaningful way than before. On February 26, 2008, 7,000 U.S. stores were closed for the retraining of 135,000 baristas. This bold action was just the first of many initiatives, including the return to on-location grinding, the launch of the Pike Place Roast and the redesign of the look and feel of the stores.

Schultz also reminded the organization and all of its partners why the company existed. Many companies fail, he said, “not because of challenges in the marketplace but because of challenges on the inside.” Schultz worked to remove operational and structural barriers to realize the ideal and to reinforce the “big why” of Starbucks: to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Finally, Schultz entered the company into a highly-visible and publicized partnership with Conservation International and committed its coffee to being “Responsibly grown. Ethically traded. Proudly served.” As one of the first brands to enter into a dialog with consumers when it experimented with in 2008, the company continues to co-create with consumers and is now one of the most active brands in social media.

Going back to living its ideal also helped Starbucks’ stock price. Its stock bottomed out at USD 8.43 in 2008 but ranged between USD 46 to USD 48 at the beginning of 2012. Today the stock price is approx. USD 72.

Navigated by the light

The best brands have navigated by the light of their ideals for decades. Some brands were organized around an ideal from inception while others chose to consciously and deliberately reorient around a higher purpose. We believe that all brands and businesses, whether they are presently driven by the loftiest ideals or the most mundane purposes, can learn from studying brands like those mentioned.

The brands that will survive and thrive in the decades to come will be those that are based on ideals because in changing times and challenging circumstances, a brand ideal serves as a beacon. It guides the brand along a path of growth and change; helps to identify opportunities for challenging the status quo; and sheds light on new and different ways to deliver higher-order benefits in the future.

It’s time to reset the course of marketing. Brand ideals represent a new path for growth. Leaders who build their companies around ideals will have a meaningful impact - on consumers, their employees, their businesses and ultimately the world.