By Carrie Schum
I was watching a National Women’s Soccer League game the other week, when, at halftime, the league’s new commissioner declared, “The NWSL is a purpose-driven brand.”
I’d expected this new leader of a brand emerging from a crisis-ridden year to take that moment on national television to lay out her vision for the league and tell viewers what that purpose was—but she never did.
“Purpose-driven brand” is jargon. And when, like the NWSL commissioner, you fall back on jargon rather than on clear, compelling communication, you lose your chance to define why your brand, cause, or issue matters—and why people should care.
Every brand has a purpose, which is to deliver the product or service it was designed to deliver. The value of a brand depends, in large part, on maintaining the brand’s core purpose—and on maintaining the public’s trust of the brand.
The phrase “purpose-driven brand,” on the other hand, is used by companies to signal that they are good corporate citizens, that they care about something more than making money, that they want to give back to others. These are all laudable and important goals.
But if you can’t articulate what purpose you are driven by, and how that particular purpose affects your product or service, or the way you’re engaging with your employees or your audience, or the policies you support, you can talk about being purpose-driven until you are blue in the face, and it will still be meaningless chatter.
To go back to where this started, the first and most critical purpose of the National Women’s Soccer League is to deliver a consistently high level of women’s professional soccer in the United States. And let’s be clear—that is a fantastic purpose and one that many fans and sponsors are happy to support. Clearly articulating how the policies, practices, and actions of the league ladder together to deliver on that purpose would be a powerful leadership statement.
Now, the NWSL might also be driven by the purpose of empowering women athletes. If that’s its driving purpose, it might do things like the following:
- Explore an employee ownership structure for the league, to put the players truly in charge
- Provide standardized times for practices and games so that players can plan their other responsibilities, such as childcare, well in advance
- Create a joint commission on women’s professional sports to unite all women’s leagues as one voice on policies that affect working women in sports and beyond
On the other hand, if its driving purpose were to create long-term careers for women in sports, then it might do the following:
- Offer ongoing classes in sports management, officiating, and coaching to current players, so that they see where their careers might go after their playing days are over
- Provide NWSL scholarships for women to attend top sports management programs with jobs in the league after graduation
See the difference? Two uniquely articulated purposes, two unique paths forward, both of which support players, offer interesting channels for partners and sponsors to engage, and set the NWSL apart from all the other sports options out there.
Purpose DOES matter, but it encompasses a lot more than just saying you are “purpose-driven.” So, avoid the jargon and focus on specific ideas and actions that tell a unique story about your purpose, rather than just saying you are “purpose driven.”