CEOs – If you had to write an employee letter explaining your vision, what would it say?

As a CEO, you have a challenging job.

You carry an awesome level of responsibility.

You have to balance vision and reality across a diverse spectrum of activities and people.

You have to make sure everything your business does leads to a profitable outcome.

Most important, you have to lead your products, processes and people toward that outcome.

Translating leadership vision into organizational action isn’t easy.

You know where you want your business to be, but it isn’t easy getting other people to see what you envision, to feel your passion, or to be as deliberate and focused in their pursuit as your are.

But remember, given who they are, what they know and what concerns them, your personal vision – as you would articulate it – is distant, hard to understand and not something that truly matters to them.

Its current intent, language and meaning isn’t enough to get people to change what they do, what they believe and why they will help you reach your vision.

You need to step back, think about what matters to employees today, and translate your vision into ideas, attitudes, actions and gestures that touch people in emotionally meaningful ways.

That is, you need to translate your vision into an idea (purpose), and a way of being (culture), that resonates with the people who will make it all happen: your employees.

The ideal idea is a Purpose Beyond Profit. Think of this as a way that your business helps make the world a better place. It embraces a universal truth that everyone involved can understand, appreciate and internalize. It is an idea which employees can use to validate to themselves, and others, that their work truly matters. It’s an idea which inspires them to become more focused, more collaborative, more innovative and more productive, because they feel like helping you realize this ambition.

The ideal way of being is a culture based on meaningful behavior, that deepens the way people feel about the company. This is a more meaningful way of being which makes every interaction between the company and people more emotionally gratifying. This is a way of being – a behavior – that creates harmony, shared purpose, common values and workplace pride. It’s a way of making people outside your business  (customers, partners, suppliers, investors, etc.), see your company with greater respect and admiration. This way of being creates powerful feelings that spur people to help your business reach its vision.

Now you’re ready to write a letter that matters

Simply telling people your vision isn’t enough these days.

You need to put your vision in the context of your employee’s needs, desires and aspirations, all of which are evolving radically in this, The Age of Meaning.

A letter which recasts your personal vision as a meaningful ambition for the company and its employees, together with a set of actions that make clear what each individual employee can do to help, will take your business closer and closer to your vision.

Suddenly, your vision will truly matter to people.

Suddenly, people will actively work to help achieve your vision.

Suddenly, people will embrace and love you, for your inspired leadership.

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Meaningful leaders resolution #5 for 2014

Go beyond asking and listening. Respond through tangible changes, prompt actions and fair resolutions.

React to the changes that are underway in the marketplace, in the economy and in the hearts of people.

React. Respond. Resolve. Reconsider. Re-evaluate. Restore. Revoke. Rewind. Reward.

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Meaningful leaders resolution #4 for 2014

Look beyond the spreadsheets and see the joy and suffering that surrounds every aspect of life.

Recognize the challenges others are facing, think of what you and your organization can do to help, and foster a caring attitude among your followers.

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Meaningful leaders resolution #3 for 2014

Step out of your world, put on another’s shoes, and take a walk.

Accept that you are different from those you lead, and that your followers are needy in different ways from you.

Talk. Listen. Take in what others are saying. Watch what others do, and how they do things. Learn. Internalize. Adapt. Make their cause, your cause (and vice versa).

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Meaningful leaders resolution #2 for 2014

Expand your consciousness and take account of the total impact of the business you lead.

Consider it from everyone’s perspective, from every angle and along the spectrum from rational to emotional.

Give everyone the benefit of your concern, your empathy and your compassion.

Over time, change those things that will make what your business does more beneficial to customers, more gratifying to employees and more respectful to society and the environment.

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Turn Your Brand Around Through Emotionally Meaningful Behavior

Turn target audience members into hot prospects

Turn hot prospects into customers

Turn customers into regular users

Turn regular users into loyal customers

Turn loyal customers into brand advisors

Turn brand advisors into brand recruiters

Purpose: Do it by embracing a purposeful intent for your brand – a high order idea about how your brand makes life better for individuals, society and/or the planet.

Empathy: Do it by taking on an empathetic attitude to all the people vital to your brand’s success – see the world through their eyes, walk a mile in their shoes, come to understand what they’re really looking for.

Feelings: Do it by defining a distinct emotional aura to create around your brand – a blend of feelings that underscore your purposeful intent and reflect your empathetic attitude.

Behavior: Do it by adopting an emotionally meaningful behavior – spice up every interaction between your brand and the people important to it, by injecting a reminder of your purposeful intent, empathetic attitude, and emotional aura into every moment of truth.

Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, turn.

Image Credit.

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Why every CEO should pursue a “purpose beyond profit”

It’s textbook management practice to formalize a company’s “mission, vision, and values.”

And while these are important steps in helping form a direction and way of being for a company, many CEOs are nonetheless challenged with a litany of business issues:

      • Unengaged employees
      • An inability to attract the new talent needed
      • Customer defection
      • Lack of marketplace differentiation
      • Dissatisfied shareholders

This list goes on and on, doesn’t it?

Behind each of these business challenges is a big question: How can my business matter more to people?

When your business truly matters to people, they are far more likely to do what you need them to do.

They work with enthusiasm. They line up to join your organization. They become loyal advocates of your company. They put you at the head of the competitive field. They invest in your future.

How do you get your business to matter to people?

Modern businesses identify a “Purpose Beyond Profit”.

They step back and look at what they’ve been doing with fresh eyes.

They distill all the good that is buried under the layers, the data, and the anxiety.

They think about what people are really connecting to these days: companies that are doing good things, making work worthwhile, shaping a better future, and being a good citizen.

They then create a purpose that bridges what the company does well, and what people want from the company.

Operating on a higher, more emotional level than the obvious and the required business goal of making a profit, a Purpose Beyond Profit lifts spirits, engages minds, and touches hearts.

Easier said than done.

The biggest challenge for a CEO and team is to get the necessary perspective needed to sift through their complex business situation, and to arrive at the “truths” about the company that will fuel a meaningful, impactful, and hard-working Purpose Beyond Profit.

Which is why we have developed a method of helping companies reveal the hidden meaning of what they do, and to bring that to the surface through a compelling purpose beyond profit.

We also help activate workplaces and marketplaces around a company’s Purpose Beyond Profit – with the goal of changing the way people see, think about, and act on behalf of the company.

CEOs who want their companies to be stronger today, and better fit for the future, will define – and heartily embrace – a Purpose Beyond Profit.

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[...] inspired by a Purpose Beyond Profit, employees are more focused, devoted, and purposeful in their [...]

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The power of being stubborn around a single “beacon” idea

George Tannenbaum is a noted advertising copywriter and prolific blogger.

In his wry, and often acerbic way, George chronicles the tension of being a creative thinker in the world of business.

In a recent post, he recounted the experience of being at a client’s annual shoot for a celebrity TV spot.

Anxiety is the king of such events, and George talks about the problem of working with inexperienced and politically-driven executives who do nothing but worry and create chaos.

He offers this advice to people who want to remain cool, collected, and purposeful in such an environment:

“Never under­es­ti­mate the power of stub­born­ness. Take a step away from the words and pic­tures you’re cre­at­ing and derive a sin­gle sen­tence that encap­su­lates what you are striv­ing to accom­plish. A sin­gle short sen­tence. Stick to that sen­tence as a bea­con through every­thing you do. Make com­pro­mis­es about details if you must. But stick to that sen­tence. Keep com­ing back to it, keep it alive. That sen­tence is your work. ”

Advice that works at every level

If you simply substitute George’s phrase “the words and pictures you’re creating” with “the business you run”, you’ll see the true value of this form of stubbornness.

What single sentence encapsulates what your business is trying accomplish, beyond making a profit?

How would you lead your people differently if you could always turn to that “beacon” sentence, that inspiring and purposeful thought, that meaningful ambition, whenever things get tough, whenever there’s a deadlock, or whenever there’s a need to refocus and realign your organization?

How would your business work if everyone in it also turned to that same sentence whenever they were designing products or services, managing their direct reports, meeting with customers, convincing investors, or negotiating with suppliers or partners?

What if each of your employees woke up each morning eager to make that sentence a reality for themselves, their peers, their customers, your business, and society?

Finally, what if that single sentence helped make everything your business does resonate in meaningful ways with your customers and prospects, so that more and more people did business with you, rather than going elsewhere?

Make that single sentence a purpose beyond profit.

Phrase it in simple, approachable, and aspirational language to which everyone can relate.

Inject it into your culture.

Indeed, make it the basis of an evolved culture for your business that is based on meaning.

Make it your work.

Be stubborn.

And be a business that matters.

For more on the subject of Purpose Beyond Profit


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Refresh hardworking startup dev teams through conversations that matter


It’s an all too familiar startup sight.

Your technical co-founder and dev team have their eyes glued to screens of scrolling code as their fingers fly across keyboards and music blasts through their earbuds.

They are driving hard toward the launch date, losing themselves in their work and consuming Red Bull like there’s no tomorrow.

Time for a breath of fresh air.

Writing on Quora, Nikos Moraitakis, Founder & CEO of, sets the following as one of ten helpful tasks non-technical co-founders should undertake:

  • “Nurture good spirit, keep everyone intellectually stimulated. Your technical co-founder may spend long stretches of time focused on some particular technical detail or problem. This focus is good from a development standpoint, but takes his mind off the big picture for a while. You need to engage him, and let him participate in the intellectual conversation about what it is we’re building as a whole – not burden him with the work of execution on “everything else”, but enriching his big picture with knowledge and contemplation about it. There is a joyful and highly motivating emotion that comes from the sense that your vision is coming all together, customer development is progressing, investors are interested, numbers can be achieved, feedback is positive, market is missing what you’re building, etc.”


We agree wholeheartedly. A time out from the day-to-day pressures can remind hardworking team members of why they are doing what they do, renew their energies around doing the work needed to complete the product, and focus their attention on creating a quality product.

Toward a product that matters.

At the same time, as a non-technical partner, you need not only the energy and endurance of your technical co-founder and team, but also the ability to keep them focused in ways that push them to create a product that matters right out of the gate.

That is, a product that not only works, but helps people lead better lives in some way (e.g. more productive, healthier, more enriching, etc.).

Mattering is the great differentiator today. People who are looking to create more meaning in their lives are being more discerning about the products they buy, whom they buy from, and the places they work. When you strike a chord of meaning, your product and business earns the admiration, respect, and support of people looking to do things that matter.

How to create a break that is truly meaningful.

Just as the dev team is knee-deep in coding, you are busy keeping on top of everything else that is needed to ensure a successful launch.

Most think the driving force of a startup is its vision. However, many startup “visions” are technology-centric, emotionally neutral, and lacking in meaning. They tend to be very internally focused and bereft of perspective. They are often generic in intent, written in corporate-speak, and hard to relate to on a human level.

So, step one in creating meaningfully refreshing conversations with startup dev teams is to go beyond your vision and to adopt a Purpose Beyond Profit. This is a statement that elevates your startup’s reason for being – its “why”- and the way it will matter to people both rationally and emotionally.

Going one step further, when using this statement as a platform, consider how your startup should make its employees, customers, and partners feel when they deal with your company and its product, your advertising and promotion, your website, your sales and investor presentations, your customer support team, etc.

Now it’s time for a workplace conversation that matters.

With a solid Purpose Beyond Profit and a set of feelings to focus upon, you are able to construct a break for your dev team that brings these two factors to life.

Start by leading a conversation on what it means to matter in today’s world – the value of getting people (including themselves) to have specific feelings – and what all this means vis-à-vis the product you have in development. Then, follow up with whatever “good news” you can share about the market opportunity, the investor interest, the team’s progress, any feedback you’ve gotten, etc.

By letting your team feel the “joyful and highly motivating emotion” that comes from doing work that truly matters to themselves, to the company, and to the world, you help them deliver a product that matters right out of the gate. As Nikos put it, “Nurture good spirit, keep everyone intellectually stimulated.”

Matter inside and out.

Finally, use your new Purpose Beyond Profit and set of feelings to guide how you bring your product to investors, partners, and customers. Help people outside the firm see your product as one that comes from a company that aims to do well by doing good through an emotionally meaningful Purpose Beyond Profit. Strive to be a company that stands out not only for what its products do, but also for the way the company makes people feel. Be a company that people are proud to be associated with and support because it does stuff that truly matters.

Learn more on how to thrive by mattering.

We have three helpful papers for you to view and download. “The Age of Meaning” explains what drives people today. “The Meaning Gap” illustrates what this means to business. “The Meaningful Workplace” explains how this change effects the dynamic between businesses and employees.

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Our viewpoint in our life often changes how we see things. Sometimes good and sometimes this change is bad but it is our paradigm that exerts the most control how we feel.
Jaqueline Friedberg

Your viewpoint in our life most often changes our viewpoint. Sometimes this alteration is good and sometimes this change is bad but it is our viewpoint that controls the way we feel.
Jaqueline Friedberg

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Social business driven by meaning – a powerhouse combination for your business?

Stowe Boyd is a researcher, speaker and writer working principally on social tools and their impact on media, business and society.

He recently told delegates at the Meaning 2012 Conference in the UK that we are entering the age of “Postnormal Business”.

For Boyd, “Postnormal Business” results from a series of fundamental shifts for business:

“’Leadership’ has changed when a decentralized group of people can take down a government. ‘The Value Chain’ has changed when the customer is no longer just the ‘buyer’ but also a co-creator. ‘Human Resources’ have changed when most of the people who create value for your organization are neither hired nor paid by you. ‘Competition’ has changed when individuals can create value through a centralized network of resources: for example, designing a product from anywhere, producing it through a 3D factory, financing it through community and distribution from anywhere to anywhere. Yet our business models have not changed to keep pace with these shifts.”

Enter social business

As his illustration above shows, social business networking will create new connections between and among the formerly isolated silos of business.

It will also let the voice of people outside the business be heard, as their opinions, needs, interests and aspirations are expressed.

New information loops will be created.

Dialogs never before imagined will happen between and among individuals who, in the past, were hierarchically separated.

We believe this emerging technological revolution presents both an opportunity and a threat to business.

On one hand it enables new levels of immediacy to the flow of information that can make a business far more knowledgable, agile, and responsive.

On the other hand, it emphasizes the need to align the organization around the same purpose, so that the new conversations, exchanges, and debates work to achieve – not unintentionally subvert – the business’s goals.

The “social business” risk is that the increased volume, immediacy and distribution of information, opinions and, quite frankly, personal agendas, could actually cause the business to stumble, rather than to be agile enough to jump over the hurdles it will encounter.

Extreme corporate control behavior has limited the degree to which many people could be “social” at work.

Now it is becoming clear that successful 21st Century businesses (which Stowe says will encounter, and need to deal with, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) must embrace, encourage, and enable social connections, both inside and outside their firms.

Increasingly, business is going to think its people “should” be social at work, and that customers and partners should join the party.

In light of this, the task of aligning people around what the company wants to achieve is essential.

Smart leaders will think hard about how they do this in the social era, a time in which people’s expectations about the dialog they are willing to have with business has been altered.

Those leaders who recognize the role of meaning in the social era will prevail.

They will rethink their way of talking about what needs to be done, in light of people’s desire to do work that matters.

They won’t tell people to do stuff. Instead, they will get people to buy into what should be done.

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It’s time to re-value the value proposition

Businesses are absolute wizards at coming up with new products and services, figuring out how to make and distribute them, and backing them up with service.

Ironically, they often are unable to craft a value proposition for their offering that couldn’t be easily used by their competitors.

They write bog-standard, uninspiring, business-speak statements that go in one ear and out the other of both employees and customers.

As such, they end up saying nothing significant to the people vital to their success.

This situation is becoming more and more acute for many businesses, as it becomes harder and harder to create significant and enduring competitive differentiation based on features.

Furthermore, people inside and outside the business have come to expect a new level of conversation when being asked to hand over their time or money.

Time to re-value the value proposition.

A meaningful value proposition is a valuable business asset.

It drives an organization to consistently deliver on a promise that truly matters to people.

From product design to manufacturing to distribution to promotion to customer service, a well-crafted value proposition ensures a constant flow of quality products and services that people want, which are promoted and serviced in ways that matter.

A bland, “me-too” value proposition compromises all that.

Non-communication adds to confusion, lethargy, and pronounced non-differentiation.

To understand how a value proposition can be meaningful to people, we need to rethink the idea of “value”.

In the past, it was enough to express value in terms of +% and -%.

So, our offering is % faster or this % cheaper.

So, our offering is new and improved.

So, our offering delivers quality, service and value.

So what?

Today, in The Age of Meaning, value has a new dimension: Purpose Beyond Profit.

When a business is driven by a reason for being beyond delivering profits, meaningful value propositions write themselves.

That’s because such businesses have enabled a higher-level connection – one that bridges rational thinking and emotional experience.

They understand that, as the saying goes, “People don’t buy drills, they buy holes.”

They understand that their success depends on their ability to help people create more meaning in their lives.

As such, “value” relates to the outcomes of a being associated with the business, or owning and using one of the business’s products or services.

These outcomes operate along a spectrum, from personal benefit to social responsibility to environment protection.

A business driven by a Purpose Beyond Profit knows where along that spectrum their sweet spot of meaning lies.

That is, they know what is good about what they do… and, most important, why that matters to people.

Their Purpose Beyond Profit shines a new light on their business, their offerings, and their value propositions.

From behind the +%’s and the -%’s, there emerges meaningful truths about what’s being offered that people can grab onto, internalize, and turn into meaning.

Through this process – the internalization of the business’s “good” – people find a special place for the business, product, or service in their hearts and minds.

By rethinking “value”, you can matter more to people and thrive as a result.

From this meaningful position:

Your business breaks through the clutter and rises above the herd.

People become buyers, repeat buyers, and active advocates.

Employees become happier, more aligned, and more willing to help your business succeed.


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Mindful leadership leads to meaningful business

“I believe leaders are most inspiring when their message is deeply personal and yet resonant with the concerns of others.” – Gianpiero Petriglieri, INSEAD

There’s a parallel between what makes a strong leader and what defines a meaningful business.

As my recent interview with Gianpiero Petriglieri, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at INSEAD underscores, a key driver of effective 21st Century business leadership will be mindfulness.

Mindful leaders combine a strong sense of self purpose with a capacity to make that purpose meaningful to others.

The discipline of emotive branding strives to create mindfulness at an organizational level. It looks deep inside a business for the seeds of meaning. From these, it articulates a strong purpose – one that deliberately goes beyond profit – that serves as the bridge to the concerns of others. It then outlines the steps the business needs to take to change the way it speaks and behaves as it reaches out to the people vital to its success (customers, prospects, employees, recruits, partners, suppliers, investors, and so on).

As such, the “organization message” we help businesses create is “deeply personal” in nature (authentic, genuine, true to itself). It also is crafted to resonate with the concerns of others through personal relevance (“this makes sense”; “this matters to me”) and emotional importance (“this feels worthwhile”; “I feel gratified”).

Mindful leaders attract great followers.

Meaningful businesses turn that energy into industry leadership.

Read my full interview with Gianpiero Petriglieri here.

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Why isn’t your business doing “betterness”?


“Betterness”, Umair Haque’s take on 21st Century business, is a thought-provoking and inspirational book that challenges conventional businesses (and their leaders) to seek a higher purpose in what they do, and how they do it.

Here’s Umair setting up the assault:

Ask yourself…

Why, despite billions spent on “change,” “transformation,” “training,” and “engagement,” does the work most organizations offer most people seem so unfulfilling?

Why is it that the unhappiest part of the day has been found to be … the daily commute to work, closely followed by being at work when so much of our short lives are spent at work?

Why are most vision statements maddeningly unvisionary?

Why is it that if in most boardrooms, you uttered words like “wisdom,” “truth,” “love,” “beauty,” or “justice”—the timeless expressions of the highest human potential—you’d probably end up in handcuffs, a straitjacket, or both?

Why is it that the globe’s trillions of person-hours of human effort are dedicated to … designer diapers, disposable clothes, and pet Prozac?

Why is business chronically and often unashamedly at odds with what’s good for people, society, and the natural world?

Why is the generally accepted definition of prosperity the growth of industrial output, not the emotional, social, intellectual, physical, or ethical growth of humans?

Indeed, why?

And, perhaps most important, what are you going to do about it?

Source: Haque, Umair (2011-12-15). Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single) (Kindle Locations 95-103). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

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Who Knew? No one.


As the media heated up before the Masters golf tournament, a Wall Street Journal piece noted that the PGA Tour is a non-profit organization “that turns over its excess cash to charity.” Last year, this amounted to $130 million, which is big money for any philanthropy. For comparison, total prize money for the 2013 PGA Tour season is $298 million.

I re-read the “excess cash” sentence about four times. The sport of rich white men, awash in corporate sponsorships, is giving big chunks of the money to those less fortunate. Who knew? Not me, or any of my friends who are deep into golf. I bet a lot of people who read that story had the same reaction.

As I sat there, I realized that I’ve been having this reaction more often lately. The deeper you go into sustainability, the more good news you find – but mostly you have to find it yourself. Except for a handful of brands, companies are whispering about their good works, if they are saying anything at all.

This has to change. How are we going to harness the spending power of this planet to save it if we don’t know which companies should get our business?

Even people who should know about this stuff often don’t know.

A woman I know works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in West Africa, helping people become more self-sufficient in farming and agricultural production. So she knows from aid agencies. Last weekend, we were talking about Malian music, and I happened to mention that UPS had flown a free airlift into the country last year for UNICEF.

They also made a couple of relief flights into Mauritania. Something like 289 tons of food and educational kits for children at risk of famine due to a perfect storm in the Sahel: Armed conflict was wracking a region with a broken system of supply and demand — during a seasonably vulnerable period of the annual food production cycle. As a result, refugees from the fighting were flooding into poor countries, and the kids were not getting enough to eat.

Of course my acquaintance knew all this firsthand. But she had no idea about the donated relief flights. She was also amazed that it came from a corporation. Her response was a single word, uttered with more or less complete disbelief: “UPS?!”

Those of us in the corporate world, even only partly, must start talking about the good stuff more loudly. We have got to start demanding that the people in the white hats stand up and be counted. We have to tell the good stories far more often, and far more effectively.

A good example has already played out in the wine business, starting about ten years ago. A few of us began writing about organic wine-growing. But we soon learned that the wineries that are doing the most for the environment didn’t want us to talk about it. And you want to know why? Because they were afraid people would think their wine was dirty and scruffy and crunchy granola, not smooth and powerful and worth good money.

So I started writing about their silence. Long story short, today wineries are proud to talk about clean, green viticulture, and there are organizations that certify them so we can shop with confidence.

Every industry needs to do this. And it’s not like they have to hunt hard for the money. They are already spending it, big-time, on advertising, public relations, sustainability reporting, and employee communications.

They need to tune up the message and get one thing clear: Corporations can move the sustainability needle faster than any other type of organization on earth, and we can help them do it by voting with our dollars.

Given a choice, wouldn’t you support a company that left the world better than it found it?


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[...] Thom Elkjer of Emotive Brand recently [...]

[...] Thom Elkjer of Emotive Brand recently [...]

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Easy to Say. Hard to Communicate.

If you want to run a successful business with a purpose beyond profit, you had better be good at profit.

You have to know your business well enough to shred carbon out of it and inject humanity into it without blowing up the bottom line. Your company also has to be a star in whatever supply chain it’s in, because if you don’t impress your closest peers, customers and suppliers, then your sustainability programs probably don’t amount to much.

In short, if your company is succeeding with sustainability, it’s almost certainly well managed.

This seems so obvious, I started to wonder why we never hear it. Wall Street hammers companies that show evidence of bad management, and grants lofty premiums to the market value of well-managed companies. So why aren’t sustainable businesses taking advantage of this?

The reason is that it’s easy to say, but hard to communicate. We can easily deduce that sustainable companies are well managed, but companies can’t turn around and say that to customers and society and expect a warm hug.

Why? Because it sounds like bragging, or a con. If I say you should trust me, your BS-detectors go on full alert. If I tell you I’m good-looking, you immediately think there’s something wrong with my appearance, or that I need to get over myself.

This goes double in sustainability, because of the green-washing and double-speak corporations have wallowed in ever since Rachel Carson warned the world about pesticides. When British Petroleum changed its name to “BP” and hinted that the letters stood for “Beyond Petroleum,” snickers were heard around the world. Then came the horrifically bad management that cost the company billions from refinery explosions and oil spill disasters. The snickers would have become outright laughter, except that so many innocent people had to die for BP profits.

So there’s some skepticism at this point, even among those of us who believe that corporations are going save the planet in order to save their profits, while the government sector stands by wringing its hands.

Of course the status quo for many people in business is that profit and sustainability do not even belong in the same conversation. They believe that a company directing management attention to the environment or human rights, beyond the strict legal minimum, must be full of loose screws.

So if you want to communicate that your business has a purpose beyond profit – including being good at the profit part – how do you communicate it?


Logic and cleverness won’t work. You have to create a fusion of intellectual and emotional communication that links your values and aspirations to those of the people you’re talking to. Even die-hard fans of Milton Friedman (“The only business of business is profit”) do not desert Berkshire Hathaway when Warren Buffett goes all gooey on sustainability. They have bonded with Berkshire’s brand of patient profit-making so deeply that they willingly suspend their own logic when he talks about the need for corporations to protect the environment.

This is the power of emotive branding at work. It’s a wonderful thing, because it means that ideas about sustainability can infect non-believers like a virus and, eventually, kill the belief that purpose beyond profit is a mistake.

Maybe it’s not possible to become as influential as Berkshire Hathaway. But it’s possible to communicate authentically that your purpose beyond profit is proof of good management – using investor capital wisely, planning for the future, and demanding technologies and public policies that make the economy more sustainable.

As Dizzy Dean, a famous baseball pitcher, put it in 1934, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.” Today we might say, “It ain’t bragging if you have an emotive brand.”


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Going beyond the obvious emotional power of your brand

Some brands are built around products or ideas that are inherently emotional.

But true emotional resonance happens when these brands recognize that their competitors own the same emotional space.

Brands seeking to rise above the fray dig deeper into the well of positive emotions that bond brands and people.

They build upon, complement, and extend that innate emotional “kick” they deliver with a set of ancillary feelings chosen to support the brand’s purpose beyond profit.

A unique purpose and emotional aura distance emotionally meaningful brands from their competitors. They draw – and keep – the best customers and employees by deeply bonding with people in highly unique, personally relevant and emotionally important ways.

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“We Could Never Say That”

I wish I had $100 for every time a client told me “We could never say that.”

This is often the response when I recommend that a company get more transparent or be more accountable in a particular area. I always wait until the timing is good and the chances for public approval are high. But for some reason, the person across the table has the same reflexive answer almost every time: “We could never say that.”

It doesn’t matter if the recommendation is about something that’s technically public knowledge anyway, like most OSHA statistics, or something more scary and electable, such as the number of on-job fatalities last year. The response is the same, often accompanied by exclamations of horror. “We’ve never revealed that! I would lose my job!”

The strange thing is that when I escalate the recommendation, it is almost always approved – but by someone in or near the C-suite. “Of course we’ll disclose that,” they say. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Excellent question.

Why do the people at the top of the house feel comfortable getting more transparent and accountable, but people on the middle floors don’t know it? Why is the inherent conservatism of corporations more entrenched lower down than it is higher up?

I believe it’s not the fault of the managers and directors I work with most often. They fully believe they are doing what their senior executives want, by protecting the company’s reputation.

The problem is, those senior executives have turned a corner about transparency and accountability. They’ve seen the light of sustainability, usually because they looked around and saw their peers, competitors and best customers becoming more progressive. They understand that their brand can suffer if its reputation is protected in the wrong way.

Some years back I was writing the sustainability report for a U.S.-based industrial conglomerate that owned a contract security division. One year that division killed a few people during a hot pursuit. I put the data about that episode into the text alongside standard disclosures about workplace fatalities.

My client said, “We could never say this. I would lose my job.”

I argued that human lives are material to any business. We finally agreed that I would take any consequences for the disclosure as it made its way up the review ladder, so I kept escalating it until it came time for the CEO to review it. His direct reports recommended that he delete it, but he didn’t. Instead he ordered them to sell the security division.

He knew that if something about his company was so repugnant that his people wanted to cover it up, it was better to get rid of it than lie about it. That’s leadership.

The problem is that many leaders are not communicating their evolving perspective to their own people.

If you’ve ever been in the position of saying “We could never do that” only to be overruled by someone higher up, ask that person what else you should know.

If you’re the person who did the overruling, ask yourself: What else do I need to tell the people under me? What other conversations are we having in the C-suite that are not getting transmitted to the people who actually implement our strategy?

Any time a company moves toward a purpose beyond profit – even the most minute, incremental change – it must let its own people know. This is a huge factor in employee engagement with sustainability. People on the front lines need to know they’re part of something bigger. And it’s management’s job to make sure they know.

Thanks for reading.

Image: Sou Fujimoto Architects

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Thank you for this stimulating and refreshing article that covers the importance (and benefits) of business ethics. Your personal experience really emphasizes the gravity of full disclosure; companies with such leaders in higher management must work to instill ethics in lower management in order to see all of the associated intangible AND tangible benefits. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for posting Alison. Business ethics are critical to how business and brands behave. You may also enjoy our paper on How to talk to employees in turbulent times

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What Steve Jobs Learned from the Buddhists (About Brands)

At Emotive Brand, we’re big on the concept of purpose beyond profit. Apparently, people interpret this phrase in interesting ways.

Some jump to the conclusion that it means “purpose instead of profit.” That’s a valid approach for Benefit Corporations, perhaps, but most companies – including this one – would prefer to make some money.

Some people think the phrase means “profit plus being good to the environment.” We’re okay with that definition, but it’s still too easy for many brands to dismiss for one reason or another.

The deeper definition applies to all brands, if they can make a simple shift in perspective.

There’s a teaching story about perspective used in the field of psychology. A Buddhist psychologist and a Freudian psychologist meet at a conference. The Freudian asks the Buddhist to explain how their approaches could be different. Aren’t the things that make people unhappy the same everywhere, and don’t psychologists have to deal with those things to get people back to normal?

The Buddhist says, “Yes, with one difference. In Buddhist psychology, the goal is not getting people from negative 5 back to zero. The goal is to go beyond zero to plus five, to plus ten, to a hundred.”

The point of this story for psychologists is that they can do much more than undo deficits.

The point of this story for us is that most people in business would say that their goal is the same as the Buddhist. They want to get their profit beyond zero to plus five, or plus ten, or whatever the target might be.

They would be half right, like the Freudian. The shift in perspective for brands is recognizing that the customer is still stuck at zero.

Most of the time, we pay for things and get what we consider equivalent value. We trade money for something else we need, like food or clothing or travel. We take a chance that we’re getting roughly equal value for our money, and if we do, we’re even. Zero-sum game.

In other words, no brand loyalty. Nothing for the brand beyond the profit.

The best brands generate loyalty – and higher profits – by getting us way past zero, so far that we feel like we won a prize.

Think of a brand you identify with, one that beats zero for you personally. (This may take a moment.) When you identify them, there are almost certainly two reasons. First, the brand means something to you because of who you are. Second, that “something” is not about a product or service. It’s the way the company approaches its products or services.

People who love Southwest Airways love it because of how democratic it feels. Actually flying an airplane safely has nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. But it does make customers feel that they are treated equally, by their equals, without a lot of pretense. People who value those qualities feel good about themselves when they fly Southwest.

People who own BMWs used to drive me nuts the way they talked about the cars – until I got stuck with one as a rental. It hit me with physical force that people were not talking about the car. They love driving itself. A company that gets who they are, and makes them feel more alive behind the wheel, gets their love for life. Turns out I am one of those people. After I drove the car, I bought one. I went from sneering at BMW snobs to thinking of them as my brothers and sisters.

Again, you don’t have to love driving to build a car. But to make your customers feel something meaningful beyond the machine, you have to approach that engineering in a particular way.

To take the best-known example of all, look at how Apple relentlessly changed the emphasis in IT from technology to us, the people who use it. We humans don’t love technology, or technology brands per se. We love expressing ourselves, and technology that magically, invisibly makes us more expressive is beyond price.

It’s also beyond profit, even if Apple makes a ton of money. Steve Jobs’ legacy is a company that doesn’t care how hard something is, doesn’t take its cues from what other people are doing, doesn’t let conventional thinking limit what it does or where it goes.

And that’s only partly because he studied Buddhism. It’s also because we all want to be like that at some level.

We all have a best self we know we want to be and express. We want brands to recognize and speak to that best self — not just to the zero-sum consumer who needs to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead.

Purpose beyond profit means reaching into people’s hearts for where their sense of self lives, and lighting it up.

If you have your own examples – brands that take you past zero with what they mean to you – let us know and we’ll share.

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When people see their “best selves” reflected in your business

I recently had the opportunity to interview Gianpiero Petriglieri, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, Europe’s top business school.

Following our fruitful talk, as I rode the train back from Fontainebleau, the home of INSEAD, I reflected on a thought from our interview.

We were talking about how people identify with leaders, when Professor Petriglieri said:

“Leadership happens when you attract others through your thinking, your beliefs, and your behavior. Or more precisely, when others come to see their best self reflected in your thoughts, beliefs, and actions.”

As the train made its way through the forest that surrounds the Chateau de Fontainebleau, I related Gianpiero’s observation to the idea that drives emotive branding. We talk about transforming the way a business reaches out to people by making the business’s thinking, beliefs and behavior more meaningful to people. Our reasoning is that people can better “identify” with – or a Professor Petriglieri put it, “see their best self reflected in” – the business’s thoughts, believes and actions.

The idea of “best self” points to what I call the quest for meaning. I believe we have both an innate selfishness as well as a natural sense of empathy and compassion. We constantly go between “me” and “we” and seek the best ways to satisfy both.

As I’ve written about in The Age of Meaning, for years marketing exploited the “we” factor. However, the heady days of “the age of opulence” were disrupted by a massive economic reversal, coupled with on-going wars and crippling political logjams. At the same time, the Internet opened the flood gates of information and misinformation. It also lifted the curtain to reveal the ways business was either working for – or against – the common good.

Shell-shocked and disillusioned, many people no longer identified as “consumers”. They instead started looking for ways to create meaning in their lives – to live their “best self” through their beliefs and behavior. They started applying new criteria to the where they wanted to work, what they wanted to buy, and from whom they bought.

And while this awareness may not be top of mind for all people, their needs are awakened when presented by people, ideas or, indeed, business offerings that show them how to forge a better balance between self-interest and the good of their community, society in general, or the planet they occupy.

As such, meaningful businesses not only reflect the desire for greater meaning, they foster the demand by giving people ways to experience their “best selves”.

Read my full interview with Gianpiero Petriglieri here.

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Meaningful leaders resolution #10 for 2013

Stand naked in front of the mirror and ask, “What makes me so special?”

Be humble. Be just the little speck in the universe we all are. Be without possessions. Be without the mantle of power. Be without the expectation of respect. Be without the right to privilege.

Be essential. Be primal. Be human. Be you.

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