Exhausted? I know the feeling.

So do most of your colleagues these days: nearly 70% of marketing executives say that the past year has had their employees feeling completely spent.

Part of that comes from the growing pressure for businesses to be all things to all people, all at once. Marketers bear the brunt of this. We’re getting whiplash as we scramble to try every trend, join every hashtag, adapt to each new development.

What we need more of right now … is less: a little decluttering.

There’s a small group of leaders who’ve already discovered this—we call them Thrivers. In our survey of more than 1,000 marketing executives, they’re the 17% who are energized, not exhausted, by all of this upheaval. The secret, they’ve found, is in finding your purpose.

You’ve probably heard all the chatter about purpose-driven companies. I’m here to say that it’s not all hype. That purpose matters now more than ever. And that sometimes you have to do a little decluttering to find it.

When there's too much going on, you've got to have a purpose—a North Star—that helps you to sift through what's important and what’s not. You prioritize your work based not on what you’re doing, but on why you’re doing it. Here’s how you spot your North Star and follow it. 

Step 1: Embrace your purpose

Why are you in business?

I’m not asking what you produce or sell. Instead, I want to understand your vision. What’s the story you want to tell the world?

Every business should have a clearly defined sense of purpose that orients it and makes it unique. It can be rooted in company history or the passion of its leadership or its role in the zeitgeist. But wherever it stems from, purpose has to be authentic. It can’t just be words on a page.

Purpose matters to your customers as well. More and more, people want businesses that stand for something. When they identify with your mission, they’re more willing to pay a premium for products and connect with your brand.

Even if you've defined purpose in the past, it’s likely time for an update. Twenty years ago, a company’s mission was built around the idea of disrupting a specific industry; since then, we’ve gone through not just a digital revolution, but an ethical one. It’s time for leaders to look at their statement of purpose with new eyes to make sure it matches the new world.

Step 2: Rally your people 

Do your employees understand how they contribute to and reflect your company’s purpose?

I’ll never forget that story about the NASA janitor. When asked "Why do you turn up to work every day?" he said, "Because I put men on the moon." That is purpose personified.

A mission that looks good on paper doesn’t mean much if your employees can’t articulate their role in it. When a team has a clear sense of purpose, it helps people make good decisions. Eventually everyone’s to-do list exceeds their time or capabilities; knowing what you stand for allows you to prioritize effectively.

That internal alignment is critical to navigating the difficulties of decluttering what’s not working, or what doesn’t matter. When companies lack a central ideology, they struggle to adapt to new ways of doing things and get rid of old ones. Employees who don’t believe in the mission will be reluctant to embark on the painful process of change. They can’t pivot if they don’t understand why they need to—and that “why” is only clear if your sense of purpose is too.

Step 3: Connect with customers

Where does your company stand on Black Lives Matter? What are you doing about the environment?

Customers are asking tough questions these days, and too often companies aren’t ready to answer them. People are no longer passive consumers. They want to engage with businesses through many channels around every single possible permutation of a product, from how it’s sourced to how it’s sold.

In the process of decluttering, you need to define your voice for that dialog around complex issues. If you haven't got a clear tone and point of view, your inbox is going to get flooded fast.

A purpose helps you communicate. Obviously, as a communications guy, you knew I’d say that! But the reality is, communication has become more complex. There’s not enough time and way too many platforms, which means everything gets fragmented. Tone of voice becomes critical: If your brand sounds one way on TV and another way on Twitter, your customers can’t connect.

The key to communicating authentically is to know what you stand for. A clear sense of purpose means you can be consistent in front of customers, no matter the issue.

Step 4: Own your unique space

How do you decide what you’re not going to do?

Defining a clear purpose can help a company determine what paths it wants to take. It can also show which paths it should avoid. Your purpose becomes a filter that lets you focus on the things that have the biggest payoff.

If you don’t know what’s important to you, you can end up wasting a lot of time chasing after what’s important to other people. At some point, leadership will need to say, “You know what? It's not right for us. There might be money there but ..."

To see this in practice, consider how many brands have opted out of Black Friday in recent years. Companies that decided they didn’t want to encourage overconsumption, and that had sustainability at the core of their mission, have opted out.

In short, your decisions need to be purpose-driven. Too many companies try to do too many things. They get stuck in the clutter. To adhere to your central mission, you need to narrow your focus to the parts that matter most—even when it costs.

Stop being all things to all people

Purpose is the source of clarity, direction and mission that helps you make good decisions. It’s the long thread that connects the big ideas in the boardroom all the way through to the final interaction with customers.

Without purpose, your communication ends up disjointed while your customers stay disconnected. Too many businesses are frantically trying to be all things to all people at all times. It’s the ones with a clear sense of purpose that cut through the clutter and stay mobilized and focused for success.

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Jon Wilkins

Global Chief Strategy Officer Communications and Content – Accenture Song

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