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Profit with Purpose: Center Your Brand Around Mindfulness and Meaning

Manny Headshot Manuel F. Valencia

People value authenticity and purpose in brands. This shift toward meaningful business models reflects the importance of mindfulness and the why in what we do.

At CONNECTIVE Agency, one of our core values is to ‘do good in the community’ and we love to work with clients who contribute to making our world a better place, which is why we started this Mindful Matters conversation.

We also love learning from and sharing ideas with friends and partners — it’s part of a mindset to always be open to new things and fresh perspectives.

CONNECTIVE founder Manny Valencia went to business school at the University of Michigan with Rob Eisenbach, a good friend who is also a marketing leader focused on mission-driven brands. They worked together on an international project for Sprint Corporation (a telecom company that has since merged with T-Mobile) as part of the U of M Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) program. One of the things Manny admires about Rob is his ability to stay calm under pressure and his ability to think strategically in even the most challenging circumstances.

Rob is the founder of IRON RIVER, and he has a passion for building companies that use business as a force for good. With 20 years of leadership in marketing, sales and business development, his unique perspective helps companies large and small do good in the world, attract top talent and grow their cultures along with profits.

Valencia and Eisenbach got together to share insights on how companies can center their brands around mindfulness and meaning — no matter where they are now.

MANUEL F. VALENCIA: Owners, founders and leaders juggle many demands in business and in life. Technical talent and soft skills are needed to survive and thrive. One theme we see at the forefront today is mindfulness. Could you please share with us your thoughts on mindfulness and how much it matters in business?

ROB EISENBACH: Absolutely. I see mindfulness as the practice of being less distracted and judgmental and more present and aware of our thoughts and feelings. At the interpersonal level, it influences how people communicate with each other and encourages them to treat each other with dignity and respect.

In business settings, studies show that employees who take part in mindfulness activities at work, like meditation, are more generous and helpful with their co-workers and customers. This is great for teamwork, for collaboration, for organizational effectiveness — clear benefits for business.

VALENCIA: Great points, Rob. On our team, we see mindfulness as a key driver of more sincere, authentic internal and external relationships, including happier teammates and improved client-agency relationships. What’s your perspective on how mindfulness can contribute to organizational success?

EISENBACH: Starting with my own personal experience, I know that mindfulness has allowed me to live more intentionally, which has brought a deeper understanding of my own purpose and values. This has had a major positive impact on my life, especially in my relationships and in where I focus my time and energy.

I believe companies can do the same thing. That is, dive deep into their purpose and values and act more intentionally. Doing this well is a major win for both companies and employees. According to the 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, purpose-driven companies increase employee engagement, are better able to unify their organizations and are rewarded with more loyal customers.

At the same time, employees want to feel passionate about the products and services they deliver, feel appreciated for their contributions and be inspired by their leaders. And yet, according to a 2016 study published by LinkedIn, only about a third of employees actually feel enthusiastic and committed to their work. So, instilling purpose and values in your organization is a win-win proposition.

VALENCIA: Definitely. Employees need to be viewed as the primary customers of company culture. Companies and leaders have to be intentional and mindful of the culture they set and the conversations that are — or aren’t — happening. We have found that a strong, consistent and transparent internal communication approach is integral to keeping values and purpose at the forefront of employees’ mindsets and behaviors.

Now, let’s talk about external audiences. How have customers changed?

EISENBACH: Customers are paying attention. They want to know more about a company’s values and how it treats its customers, employees and communities.

Today, customers can learn almost anything they want to about your company. We take it for granted that companies no longer control their brand conversations online, but we should remember that this was a huge transfer of power to the customer. Through social media, customers are organizing and using this power to hold companies accountable for their actions, especially when those actions don’t match up with their public statements and values.

Further, these mindful customers seek to make a difference with their spending, and I believe this ethos is becoming more widespread. In fact according to Nielsen, “73% [of global consumers] say they would definitely or probably change a behavior to reduce their impact on the planet.” Nielsen also notes in the same report that consumers are expected to spend $150 billion on sustainable products in 2021.

Companies that want to compete for these customers need to capture customers’ attention with their purpose and how they live their values.

The benefit of having a clearly defined company purpose is well known, and many companies already do this. Employees want to be inspired, and the best companies articulate a clear and inspiring company mission that galvanizes the organization. I often think about how Jim Collins and Jerry Porras talk about profit in Built to Last — that it’s like oxygen for the human body. Without it, there is no life, but oxygen is not the purpose of our lives. And so it is with profit. Businesses need profit to exist, but profit should not be the purpose of business.

VALENCIA: Agree 100%. Profit is only a result; it’s not a strategy, and we have worked with many mission-driven companies that are very successful. What do you think is different in the business climate today when it comes to purpose and values, and what types of organizations do you see doing it well?

EISENBACH: What is perhaps different is the willingness of companies to articulate and broadly communicate their values. “Willingness” is the operative word here, because putting your values for all to see invites scrutiny. In my view, the best companies want to be held accountable — because that’s how organizations get better — and so they publish their values. It’s part of having a growth mindset.

Large companies like Patagonia have been getting this right for years. They’re an amazing benchmark. But perhaps more impressive are the small companies that get this right from the get-go. They build in purpose and values from day one. Two of my favorite young brand examples are Cotopaxi, a certified B Corporation that makes outdoor clothing/gear, and REBBL, a plant powered beverage company. REBBL is a particularly interesting case because it was co-founded by the founder of the nonprofit Not For Sale. Both REBBL and Not For Sale have as part of their purpose a goal to end human trafficking, and the for-profit business REBBL donates 2.5% of its net sales to Not For Sale.

Davis Smith used his passion for the outdoors and the Andean people of South America to start Cotopaxi, creating a brand that’s all about doing good. From the beginning, Cotopaxi focused on the livelihoods of its Andean workers and sought to empower them in ways that other outdoor companies had missed.

VALENCIA: My family is from Ecuador, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cotopaxi volcano twice in recent years. It is an awesome mountain, and it is good to see how the company is mindful in the way it genuinely honors the place and the people of the region.

One of the things that we find exciting is helping clients capture, articulate and then activate their company’s purpose and vision. For companies that want to build a purpose-driven brand, what are some good ways for them to get started?

EISENBACH: Here’s what I recommend for early-stage companies or entrepreneurs who want to build purpose-driven brands:

  1. Define and analyze your company’s purpose. How can your company best contribute to this purpose? What will be its unique contribution? How do you want to impact the category itself? How does sustainability play a role in your purpose? Is there a social benefit, and what’s the best way to pursue that goal? This requires some soul-searching and some honest reflection. Whatever you come up with, make sure it rings true.
  2. Avoid “good washing.” Be transparent with the real benefits of your solution and separate out where you are today versus where you want to be three years down the road. If you intend to add a nonprofit as a benefit of your product, proceed cautiously. If not done thoughtfully, this can feel like a bolt-on to your company or that you’re just checking the cause box. A great alternative is to focus on your supply chain. Determine how you can decrease the environmental impact of your supply chain and improve the lives of those who contribute to your product or service. This makes a great cause that your company can fully own.
  3. Define your values. I often say purpose is your WHY — why your company exists — and values are your HOW — how your company will go about delivering your product and service every day. What are the core beliefs of your company? What personal characteristics are required to succeed? Describe your organization’s culture and what values make it unique. Finally, make sure the stated values are consistent with the unwritten rules of your company; if they aren’t, identify the conflict and make changes.
  4. Get feedback. Engage your team, partners, customers and other stakeholders. Do your purpose and values resonate with them? Are they inspired? Is it believable? What’s missing? Make sure you get honest feedback and that people have the option to do so anonymously.
  5. Integrate, track and get better. Take a look at all of your internal and external communications and make a plan to energize them with purpose and values. Build internal activities around your values and integrate them into your hiring process, company meetings and performance reviews. Make sure everyone knows how they can contribute. Develop KPIs that support your purpose and values, track them and celebrate milestones and achievements. Be real. Be candid.

Ultimately, this is about building culture, which takes strong leadership and starts at the top. If the most senior leaders in your company are not committed to building a purpose- and values-driven culture, these efforts will not be successful.

VALENCIA: Agree. Leadership is so important in that regard. It definitely starts at the top. I find that leaders who understand the importance of creating a mission-driven culture tend to be more inspiring and are able to attract better talent to their organizations. Their customers tend to be more loyal, too. How does defining a company’s purpose and values help with branding and marketing?

EISENBACH: Having a clear articulation of a company’s purpose and values is the foundational building block for great brand building and marketing communications because it taps into the universal truth that humans need purpose in their lives and want to make a positive impact in their world.

Clearly defining your company’s purpose and values:

  • Breeds authenticity. With today’s savvy consumer you can’t fake it.
  • Anchors your brand story. It answers the question: “Why should I care?” In fact, if you want to take all of your storytelling to the next level, infuse it with your purpose and values.
  • Drives brand consistency. Coupled with a strong brand strategy, it drives all internal and external communications and customer interactions so that your company and brand speak with one voice.

The big payoff is that, over time, this builds incredible emotional meaning in your brand. Since there is no brand loyalty, in my view, without emotional connection, doing this well can have a big impact on your business. The holy grail I believe is when customers use your brand as a way to express their identity, such that your brand becomes a public display of their own belief system and values. That’s when you know you’ve been really successful.

VALENCIA: Awesome insights. Thanks for the conversation, Rob. Let’s go make the world a better place, one mission-driven company at a time.

Connect with Rob Eisenbach and Manuel F. Valencia.