Ask The CMO: Joey Bergstein

Ask The CMO: Joey Bergstein On Cause Vs. Brand Purpose + Having A ‘True North’ For Your Business

Marketing continues to rise in importance inside the leading organizations in the world. As brand purpose goes from a marketing tool, to a critical driver of long-term growth and development, the creation of authentic experiences that allow brands to connect and engage with a consumer in ways that assure their safety and the hope of a better and brighter tomorrow has never been more important. As a result, CEOs are looking to collaborate with CMOs more so than ever before to ensure that these shifts take place quickly and effectively, in ways that deliver enhanced performance.

For my latest Ask the CMO column, a series dedicated to analyzing the latest trends and disruptions in the marketing landscape, I had the pleasure of speaking with purposeful business pioneer Joey Bergstein, former CMO, COO and now CEO, of Seventh Generation.  His rise within one of the world’s most purpose driven brands is a shining example of what we are seeing in the way of leaders and the brands they serve being rewarded for doing well by doing good, and setting a new bar on what is expected of business in today’s uncertain and challenging times. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee:  This column has been getting some attention because the marketing role is really in a period of flux. Instead of seeing that as a challenge, many smart marketers are viewing it as a major opportunity as the function rises in importance. I’d love to talk about your journey from CMO to COO and now CEO, and from that unique perspective, hear your thoughts on the changing face of marketing and its growing connection to overall financial performance?

Joey: It’s certainly been an amazing voyage that I’ve been on since joining Seventh Generation. I’ve been here for six years now. As you said, I came in as the CMO, leading the marketing team, but three years ago I took on the role of GM in addition to being the CMO which was pretty unique. It was a great opportunity for me to lead the business, while still overseeing the marketing team quite directly. Wearing two hats was a little bit like marking your own homework sometimes, but fortunately, it seems to have worked out in the end as we mastered that intersection and have built the business rapidly.

I would say over the last six years that our business has been through an incredible transformation. We’ve been remaining true to our founding mission, which is all about inspiring a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations. We have been able to continue to grow by sharpening our message, continually improving our products and building a passionate community base. People really want to get involved in the issues that we’re concerned about and believe in and the values that we stand for.

Billee: You were acquired in October 2016 by Unilever.  Can you factor that into your journey as well

Joey: That’s been an exciting voyage too and are discovering some really huge mutual benefits. Obviously, Unilever is enormous and brings a lot of scale and capabilities that were difficult for us to access on our own as a small company, but at the same time, we are playing a big role in Unilever’s sustainability agenda. They are clearly leaders amongst the multinationals when it comes to sustainability but there are many issues where we feel like we were able to help them find an even stronger voice.

Ingredient disclosure is a great example, as it’s an issue that we’ve taken a hard stance on and helped Unilever embrace authentically.  Starting in 2008, we listed all of the ingredients on the label on the back of all of our products, which isn’t required in the cleaning business but that was something that we felt the consumers had a right to know because these are products they use around their families every day. We’ve been advocating for that to become a standard across the industry and we’re seeing more and more companies moving to more disclosure of ingredients, particularly over the last year. So, for us with Unilever, it’s really been a nice relationship where we’re both giving and taking as we’ve been working through this integration.

Billee:  Wow. A ton of great information. I’m going to take a step back. It sounds like your evolution is emblematic of the shift that we’re seeing in the marketplace related to how you can no longer separate the brand from the product and how success is contingent upon an intersection of the two. Would you say that is the structure or path that you’ve taken?

Joey: Yeah, I think so. I’ve always believed that the consumer is at the heart of any strong brand or business. I think what I bring to Seventh Generation is the ability to bring together holistically what is it that we’re trying to achieve in the world. What is it that people are looking for and how do those things come together into a company to be able to reach all stakeholders in a powerful way?  One of the things that I’ve found amazing about Seventh Generation, as a company, is the fact that we are mission-driven and we embrace all stakeholders, not only in relation to the consumer.  So, a lot of decisions we make start with what is the change we’re trying to create in the world?  And, how do we move society and the business to a better place? Right now, I think what it takes to lead in the world today is just being able to think holistically about what any given company is trying to achieve.

Billee: I think that’s exactly right. You actually live brand purpose and ensure that it’s not just a nice ‘wrapper’, but actually a critical driver of long-term strategy and growth, regardless of what constituency you’re trying to reach. It’s at the core of your DNA. Are there any thoughts that you can share with other marketers about best ways of approaching that?

Joey: I love that you mentioned DNA. We talk about our DNA and purpose all the time and I think it is often confused with cause. I think real purpose is quite different. Purpose should be about why was a company developed and what is its mission ? What is it that it is trying to achieve? The key is identifying the things that you think are really important and driving that purpose through all aspects of the business. If you really believe in your purpose, then it affects everything that you do. It affects the products that you make. It affects every choice you make and how you treat your employees. It even affects your compensation system.

A great example of how purpose impacts our compensation system is that 20 percent of our annual bonus is based on delivering against our mission-oriented goals. Goals such as: improvements in post-consumer recycled plastic in our packaging or reducing the environmental impact of our diaper. We set very specific goals that go to 2030. And we’ve got a path that gets us from where we are today against each of those goals to 2030 and success in achieving these goals becomes a really substantial part of us of our compensation. It’s amazing how that helps everybody focus on the totality of what we’re trying to do. Not just driving sales and profit but making everybody into 360 degree stakeholders.

Billee: That’s fascinating and leads me to my next question. We’re in an experience economy. Regardless of who you’re selling to, be it a business, a consumer, or an employee, it’s really got to be about getting people to believe in the why and who, as much, if not more so, than the what. Can you talk about that and share an insider perspective from Seventh Generation?

Joey: I think that’s really true. People are looking for companies that are trying to make a difference. They want to support them with their dollars. And we live in a world where there’s just so much transparency, that people can learn almost anything they want to know about a company and it impacts the choices they make. Inside our business, we’ve been amazed when you run a market mix analysis and see the benefit of some of our advocacy efforts. So, taking a stance on ingredient disclosure, or taking a stance on toxic chemical reform, which isn’t really about trying to sell Seventh Generation products at all, but really just about trying to move the industry to a better place, benefits the business.  We do this simply because we believe business should be a force for good and instill trust.

It seems like many brands have just imploded on trust over the past years. I don’t remember a year where you heard so many stories about brands just losing consumers’ trust and I think a lot of these brands will get it back, but it won’t be easy, as it can’t be bought. It must be earned.

Billee: That’s brilliantly said. One of the areas that I’ve been looking at in my work in this column and with clients, is the reason behind that closing point, so I’m actually really glad that you brought it up. What I have found, is you can say you are as purposeful as you want, but if you’re not informed through the lens of emotional intelligence it really doesn’t matter. I’m seeing a lot of brands that are succeeding placing g an increased emphasis on emotional literacy across the board. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Joey:  I think you’re absolutely spot on. I think what’s going on, not to get all nerdy, but I often think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it feels like as a society particularly in a developed country like the U.S., that safety, security, health and well-being are generally pretty well met needs.  What people are actually looking for, is a form of self-actualization and in making the choices that they make, they are seeking to make more meaningful statements about who they are and what they stand for.  I think the brands that are doing it well have acknowledged that. I think the brands that are doing really well are not just creating marketing campaigns that are purposeful, but are really finding ways to truly bring purpose into the products that they create and I think that’s what’s making an exponential difference.

Note:  We have designed a platform to help businesses catalyze their growth through a unique blend of AI, neuro-based technology, business and creative consulting services. You can learn more about our Emotional Intelligence Accelerator Platform right here

Billee: Amazing. It kind of goes to what I think is a shift in business overall. Beyond just the notion of purpose, to this idea that in the uncertain times that we’re living in, there is an increased desire for business to step in and give back to the world as much as the bottom line. Almost a need for CEOs to have a grander sense of moral leadership and responsibility. What do you think about that?

Joey:  I think that that’s absolutely true.  Much of the change in the country is being driven by business and that it’s also amazing how people are looking to business leaders as a source of inspiration in many cases. I think that there’s absolutely a responsibility for CEOs and for business to take stances on issues that are important and to make their voices heard because ultimately, they can make a real difference. We certainly see that in our business and the issues that we get involved in. We are able to make a difference where we want to. I think when it comes to the greater social issues that are out there, when big business makes bold statements it’s hard to ignore.

Billee: Circling back to something you just said about scale. I’ve noticed two things happening. One is big brands trying to demonstrate authenticity and failing to do so. The other is that smaller brands are trying to become bigger and losing their authenticity in the process. Do you have any thoughts on the best way of scaling a business, but not at the expense of your ‘North Star’ if you will?

Joey: I think North Star is exactly the right word. I feel like we have the same dictionary sometimes (during this conversation). I think it’s exactly that. It’s knowing who you are, what you’re about, and what you stand for and holding yourself accountable to continuing to make the right choices even when that means making decisions that may not necessarily enable you to grow at the pace that you want to grow. Where Seventh Generation takes its name from is the Great Law of the Iroquois. In our every deliberation, we must take into account the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. So that’s where the name came from. We have that stenciled on the window of our big conference room and it makes a difference for us.

We’ve made decisions not to launch products because we weren’t 100 percent sure of consistency with all of the standards that we set. I’m thinking about one product in particular, and while it would have been a huge success, we’re pretty confident it wasn’t up to our standards so we actually took more than a year to improve it to get it consistent with our standards. Those are hard decisions when you’re growing a business. But if you don’t make decisions like that, then you know, with each decision that comes after that, it becomes easier and easier to lose sight of that North Star. Our new Maya disinfectant product is a great example of us staying true to our North Star throughout the entire process, from invention to market.

Billee:  So true, and so impactful. Just one final question. The end of the year will be here before we know it and it’s been quite an interesting one chock full of many changes.  I’m sure that business and leadership will continue to face some new challenges and opportunities in the year ahead. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with along those lines?

Joey: I think that business can be a real powerful force for good, especially during difficult and trying times. I think the stronger the voices are that keep us moving forward towards a true North Star, the better off we’re going to be as a society. I think there’s an opportunity for business to lead in a big way. It’s times like this that people need strong leadership most and today it’s the responsibility and duty of business to step in and accept that challenge.

 Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog

Brand Purpose Emily Culp

Ask The CMO: A Conversation With Keds CMO Emily Culp On Digital Transformation And Brand Purpose

There are many forces driving seismic paradigm shifts inside the marketing departments at leading organizations across the world. We are in a period of significant business change, catalyzed by the digital transformation that is upon us, which is requiring leading brands to deliver winning cross-channel experiences to consumers, where they live, work and play. With this in mind, I have decided to launch an “Ask the CMO” series where I talk to some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.

For my inaugural piece in the series, I had the privilege of speaking with Emily Culp, digital pioneer, change agent and current CMO of Keds, to get her thoughts on the key strategies that marketers, regardless of size or industry, should be aware of to effectively compete in our challenging and complex environment. Below is a recap of our conversation:

Billee:  Right now I’m looking at two big things: one is the digital transformation of business and its impact on marketing and the other is the intersection of creativity + technology and the impact it is having on an organization’s go-forward strategy. So maybe we could start with what your thoughts are on digital transformation and its connection to marketing?

Emily: For me a core part of marketing is digital. In fact, over 21 years ago I started my career in digital/eCommerce and I did that because it appeared to be a unique way to engage with consumers. It was a completely new and unchartered revenue channel. Fast forward to today, I believe if you are a consumer centric company you have to embrace digital as part of your core business.

Billee: Wow. That’s amazing. A true digital native. Can you tell me a bit about your focus on using digital as a catalyst for change and meaningful transformation?

Emily: A key element of transformation for many companies is pivoting from a wholesale or manufacturing centric business approach to one that is fully focused on direct to the consumer. A critical component to rapidly achieve this pivot is to focus on where the consumer is – and that is the digital/mobile world.  I also inherently believe that by having digital as the backbone of my career it has enabled me to be extremely receptive to the unprecedented rate consumers change behaviors because of the rapidly evolving omni-channel world they live in.

Billee: Can you give me an example of keeping digital as the backbone of a consumer centric approach?

Emily: You actually put your consumer at the center of everything you’re doing and see what untapped potential exists. You have to understand the whole ecosystem where your consumer lives, works and plays. Simply put, what I do is I come in and I unite all channels to then unlock revenue growth.

Billee: Well you definitely have a unique perspective. Is there any way of crystalizing your point of view on the need to have digital as a centerpiece of business strategy as opposed to a single channel approach for our audience that might still be grappling with a comprehensive digital strategy?

Emily: Most businesses, especially B2C, are focused on consumer engagement. If you look at how your consumer lives their lives you’ll see that they are engaging with digital experiences across multiple channels. As you said, it’s not just about focusing on one channel. It’s understanding what people are actually doing in the digital space and how that space connects with all other channels.  I teach at both Columbia and Stern and I make this analogy.  No consumer says: “I’ll leave my phone in a black box for two hours, and experience the store purely as you want me to.” That’s just not how they live.

Billee: Love the analogy. So, simple, yet spot on. So, what’s the best strategy for marketers needing to instigate these kinds of shifts effectively?

Emily: Getting the organization to pivot is most important. A core aspect of change is understanding the “why” and “how” a new way of working will ensue. Hence omni-channel education is critical, as is a culture that embraces innovation, smart risk and speed.  It is hard to change but if people have a clear vision, knowledge about new skills needed and a strong culture—anything is possible.  Additionally, the fastest way to implement shifts is by changing the organizational structure and bonus program. These two elements can powerfully re-align talent to focus on the consumer, which in turn will unlock revenue. Part of the work is not just giving people new titles and goals, but it’s also finding the fastest way to change behavior within a company while shifting to meet the changing needs of the consumer.

Billee: Let’s shift gears for a moment to pivot to internal culture as you mention needing to change behavior to keep up with the current vision of the brand and consumer behavior. There has been much talk of brand voice meeting culture and CMOs needing to begin to shape employee experiences, less HR focused, more so very similarly to how they do so for consumers or customers. What are your thoughts?

Emily: Internal campaigns exist to drive different factors, but in my opinion there is a distinct reason why. Yes, I absolutely have branded #LadiesFirst water bottles and T-shirts which I know are very tactical elements, but my point is by creating a whole experience for our team, I’m finding I’m retaining talent and I don’t have to be distracted by the brutal activity of looking for new talent. Finding amazing talent is akin to finding a purple squirrel. I will hold out if need be for 9 months for the right fit for one director position. I know what it takes to get the right talent and ingrain them into not only the company culture, but also what your brand stands for; because in every interaction they have, whether it’s engaging with the founders, or with consumers, they need to live the brand. The DNA of your brand needs to become a part of your team and you must absolutely market internally to them. Everything we do is designed to build culture and establish what our brand stands for.  A solid grounding in understanding the day to day purpose of our brand frankly helps me motivate my team.  That work helps all of us do our jobs better and helps us stay passionate about our consumer.

Billee: I totally agree and think your point is spot on. So, you know a lot of what you just talked about goes to a sense of brand aspiration. A lot of people are talking about infusing purpose into brands, which I believe is a result of the chaos of the country and the society that we’re living in. But, taking a step back, you know people sometimes think that purpose is about sustainability or being green or doing this or that when in reality, I believe that it is just feeling a sense of aspiration that a brand, like Keds, is about female empowerment, as much it is about sneakers. Simply put, it’s as much about the who and the why as it is the what… how do you feel about that?

Emily: I fully agree with that. It’s about authenticity. Our brand was founded on the idea of empowering women through accessible, fashionable footwear back in 1916. This history makes the female empowerment movement a very sincere and authentic effort for the brand that we communicate both to our consumers and internally. Everybody’s very clear on that. We also have environmental initiatives such as the recycled shoe boxes we produce, but there’s a certain point I don’t think we need to amplify every purposeful angle. I think it’s important to own what really makes you different in the marketplace and what’s really authentically you . And that’s where I feel very fortunate about this brand because championing female empowerment is authentically what the brand has done for 101 years.

Billee: I’m noticing that it’s almost like brands are feeling a greater sense of contributing to the world. And I’m not talking about their environmental footprint. I mean contributing to the world in a meaningful way, almost kind of stepping in certain places where maybe the public sector has dropped the ball. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Emily: I do. I actually think there is an amazing thing that’s happening at a macro-level surrounding championing women and Keds’ authentic role in this conversation. For example, on International Women’s day we did a panel with an amazing group of women: Allison Williams, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Reshma Saujani and ShiShi Rose we were talking about how you can be bold for change. We live streamed this on Facebook and had half a million views around the world because of this powerful message. So, I think going back to your original point, there is a place for brands to bring information to consumers.  What they do with that information is up to them, but we give them the opportunity to then vote with their wallet, and that’s most important.

Billee: Last question…connecting to consumers voting with their wallet. How do you use AI to be additive and create winning experiences that elicit positive reactions like that as opposed to being polarizing? What is the right balance?

Emily: I think AI is one of the most misunderstood things right now. AI to me is truly fascinating. The best way I explain it to everybody is that its powering everything you already do! Guess what?  If you want to use real time translation or anything like that, you’ve been using AI.  By demystifying it, AI becomes less of a scary thing. In terms of how AI helping business, it goes back to business rules. The amount of consumer data we now have access to requires a team of purple squirrels to use this information efficiently and responsibly. Frankly, I think the most important part is the talent, with sound judgement to manage the AI. I believe that’s even more important than just the technology capability right now.

Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.

brand purpose

Optimize Customer Experiences Using Brand Purpose + Data Driven Storytelling

The old rules of business were ruled by what GE dubbed TQM or Total Quality Management. Winning companies would win or lose based on their ability to deliver a quality product, seamlessly and consistently.  In their view, TQM would sustain customer loyalty and assure a category or market leadership position.  For the past decade, we have rapidly left that notion behind in lieu of the age of TEM – Total Experience Management.

As mass commodification has impacted all industries, it’s become harder and harder for a brand to stand out. Consequently, storytelling and the authentic content experiences it creates, has become one of the leading ways brands can engage with customers to drive distinction and competitive advantage.

The big news out of 64th International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, was that the current approach to content development, where storytelling is still pushed to the end of the supply chain, is missing authenticity – a brand voice.  This explains why many customers are moving from big brands to smaller ones as they tell better stories, infused with purpose and authenticity, to create winning experiences.  Simply put, if you want to compete in today’s marketplace you need to embrace TEM through a lens of purpose.

The bright and shiny objects no longer win, unless they are married with insights that make experiences go from good to great through personalized, emotionally engaging moments that set you apart from the pack.  Emotional engagement is based upon the stimulation of the heart.    In today’s experience economy, emotional engagement is proving to be a critical factor in achieving winning results throughout every customer journey, and effective, data-driven storytelling is at the heart of this movement.

With all this in mind, thinking about how to gain competitive advantage in the marketing realm today – inside and outside of the organization – marketers must capture key insights and then apply the principles of needs-based, experience design, combined with an understanding of the levers that impact each experience differently, in order to bring the brand to life for each customer.  No longer can a CMO do this from pure instinct, or in a silo.  They must listen, analyze and interpret data across all customer touchpoints, online and offline, and then use these insights to inform experience development.

brand purpose and storytelling

The formula for success in today’s CMO is simple:

Brand Purpose + Data Driven Storytelling = Optimized Customer Experiences

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Organizations that use artful storytelling to create winning experiences are the ones who are leading our new era of collaborative commerce forward – and moving product, improving engagement and retaining employees.  What follows are optimized experience frameworks that help bring this equation to life for each customer – B2B, B2C and B2E – and real-world examples of how purpose-driven thought leaders are bringing such experiences to life today.

1) B2B Experience

Pivoting from a product centric approach to one that is experience-based, B2B companies are harnessing creativity and technology to tell winning stories that will help educate, inform and activate necessary change in this period of business transformation. The following are the spheres of influence shaping an optimized B2B experiences that can be sharpened through an informed purpose-driven thought leadership platform:

Sphere 1:  Economic

Develop products and services stories that demonstrate contribution to positive earnings and to long-term value to shareholders.

Sphere 2:  Innovation 

Deliver innovative content solutions that capitalize on the strategic marriage of creativity + technology.

Sphere 3:  Agility/Transformative Ability 

Demonstrate necessary pivots that deliver competitive advantage and change.

Sphere 4:  Aspirational Motivation

Enable contribution to the world (and business) as much as the bottom-line and create moments that are aspirational and give people a reason to believe + engage.

Sphere 5:  Brand/Engagement

Develop engagement across all key constituencies to optimize the customer journey and improve financial performance.

A B2B Experience:  GE

GE focuses on telling engaging stories that make sense for businesses.  They invite customers in to see ‘Imagination at Work’, and give customers a reason to believe and engage with their innovation that builds, powers, moves & cures the world.  By harnessing storytelling, creativity and technology via content on digital platforms, including Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube, GE is delivering on their desired business outcomes:

  1. Increase audience awareness of the scope of what GE does and highlight positive experiences with the brand.
  2. Support pipeline for young engineering and business talent.
  3. Drive interest among the next generation of potential shareholders. The company needs to attract the next generation of shareholders.

2) B2C Experience

Consumers today want to be a part of a brand that does more than give them immediate gratification from a product or service. They want to become a part of a brand that they believe in – a brand voice –  one that can enrich their daily lives in ways that create meaningful and impactful engagement.  Conveying the cornerstone of your company’s purpose-driven thought leadership in ways that bridge to the world at large, beyond the bottom-line, is critical to success in today’s environment. Today’s best B2C experiences are defined by telling informed stories that impact the following spheres of influence and create emotional engagement:

Sphere 1:  Aspirational Motivation

Offer people the opportunity to believe in the brand through meaningful interactions.

Sphere 2:  Trust

Work to build a connection between the customer and the brand by showing that you care about what your consumers care about.

Sphere 3:  Personalization/ Loyalty 

Capitalize on real-time, predictive data, analytics and insights to create the experiences consumers want, before they know they want them, which will enhance consumer loyalty and advocacy.

Sphere:  Empathy

Fortify trust and a reason to believe by humanizing the brand and bringing a purpose-driven Living Brand to life.

Sphere 5:  Education

Build meaningful differentiation from competitors through empathic and
purpose-driven stories that inform, entertain and delight and heighten impact and effectiveness.

A B2C Experience:  Casper

Casper’s founders believed if you’re going to convince consumers to trust you that sleep is a pursuit as worthy of obsession as exercise or eating, you have to approach (the story arcs of empathy and education) differently.  Casper is combining science, design thinking, branding, and a winking sense of humor to redefine the humble mattress into lifestyle stories with a new cohort of evangelists proselytizing that the key to productivity and overall health stems from maximizing the quality of our slumber. Casper also upended some fundamental assumptions about consumer behavior that word-of-mouth sales would be impossible to generate because nobody talks about their mattress, a notion that was shattered by an immediate boom in viral unboxing videos that captured the exciting experience.

3) B2E Experience

According to HBR, 89% of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction; 84% said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform; and 80% said it helps increase customer and employee loyalty.  To operationalize your purpose-driven narrative into mantras that bring your brand purpose to life inside your organization, consider how the following spheres of influence can help you create an authentic B2E experience that delights, informs and engages:

Sphere 1: Aspirational Motivation

Work to inculcate storytelling directly into culture through training and a process of

Sphere 2: Leadership + Core Values:  Trust

Develop mantras through a lens of inclusion to be truly authentic and representative of

both brand and employee values.

Sphere 3: Reward + Recognition

Create appropriate reward & recognition strategies to reaffirm purpose-driven behavior.

Sphere 4: Education 

Facilitate workshops and build a Living Brand content hub where all physical content is made digital and showcase employees bringing the mantras to life.

Sphere: Immersion

Create distinct opportunities to “live the brand” for all of your employees such as
hyper-localized community giving programs or branded internal events that celebrate your employees.

A B2E Experience: W.L. Gore

The executive team began to see trends that employees were anxious that slow decision-making and a lack of risk taking might be weighing on Gore’s entrepreneurial endeavors.  At Gore, the risk of an innovation slowdown was particularly serious. Strong leadership, rooted in the company’s core values, worked quickly to streamline decision-making, encouraged the formation of small startup teams that were motivated to explore new ventures and also created an in-house team called the Innovation Center of Expertise to shepherd (and reward) promising employee ideas.

Todd A. Myers is the Chief Strategy Officer at BRANDthropologie Media. He will lead client engagements to directly connect purpose positioning to value creation and content solutions. You can follow him on Twitter at @ToddMyers123 

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Brand Purpose

Find Your Organization’s Purpose: How To Use Brand Voice To Achieve Desired Outcomes

A thought leader can refer to an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. Thought leadership is often used as a way of increasing or creating demand for a product or service. While thought leadership is not new, in our experience driven economy, where decisions about a brand are based off of who an organization is as much as what it does or sells, it has become an increasingly important vehicle to engage with both internal and external audiences. This notion is particularly true and can have exponential impact, when an organization frames its thought leadership platform around an aspirational purpose; one which aims to give back to the world as much as the bottom-line, and does so in ways that give people a reason to believe and engage.

In the era of experience, everyone, be they employee or customer, is a consumer who must be informed, entertained and delighted throughout every step of the consumer journey. Smart organizations are approaching creating these types of experiences by finding their purpose and then using it as a creative and aspirational theme with which to engage.  Consequently, an approach to building + operationalizing purpose-driven thought leadership can be increasingly valuable in achieving desired business outcomes.

By using thought leadership as the touchstone of any brand, with a through line of data-driven storytelling as not just a lever of awareness, but rather a powerful business competency, leading organizations can drive competitive differentiation and increased value with both employees and customers.


With internal audiences, the idea of an aspirational purpose or thought leadership platform, can be married with internal culture to deliver best-in-class storytelling and content experiences to employees with an eye on retaining them and turning them into brand advocates. Similarly, when applying this notion to customers and consumers, a brand’s aspirational platform must be connected to the themes driving external culture to achieve the same type of optimal experience throughout the consumer funnel. Both of these scenarios only happen when thought leadership is built around aspirational purpose and then operationalized by storytelling that is data-driven and harnessed as a powerful business competency. A key to success here is by moving storytelling from the end of the supply chain, to the inception of the invention process.

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Once a brand’s aspirational purpose is identified and built into a thought leadership platform, it can be operationalized through an inside-out approach designed to place a brand’s narrative of aspirational purpose directly into engagement efforts with consumers and employees alike. This can be achieved by:

  1. Crafting a Living Brand for employees instills a sense of aspiration and purpose at the heart of the culture , and highlights the increasing correlation between brand and culture. The goal is to work to transform employees into brand ambassadors through winning experiences, with the goal of transforming storytelling into an empowering business competency.
  1. Designing a strategic overlay for day-to-day business strategy which harnesses real-time data, analytics and insights to infuse purpose-driven storytelling into direct-to-consumer/customer efforts will optimize performance. Such thinking works to make any organization as much a content brand as a leader in a given industry and creates sustainable winning experiences.

Such an approach delivers value across an organization and enables it to drive engagement inside and out to deliver desired business outcomes such as:

  • Improved employee retention, productivity and engagement
  • Increased employee and consumer loyalty
  • Enhanced employee and consumer experiences
  • Optimized performance inside and out (i.e. productivity to profits)

To build and operationalize purpose-driven thought leadership platforms to achieve these types of results it is important to be able to deconstruct what the optimal experience of each target looks like and then work backward to build your strategy to achieve desired outcomes.

By transforming purpose and storytelling from overused buzzwords into critical tools that can help shape and define business strategy, any brand can operationalize thought leadership to achieve desired outcomes. By building thought leadership that is aspirational, and placing it as a touchstone driving the organization, audiences both inside and out have reasons to believe and engage, and do so in ways that define distinction and competitive advantage.

Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.

Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.

Why Taking the Brand Out Of Branded Content Is So Important

AdWeek just released a fantastic story about taking the “brand out of branded content” and I couldn’t agree more.

Eight years ago I left my post as head of the Global Strategic Media practice at Weber Shandwick for several reasons. Top among them was what I saw as the future of content: brands emerging as the leading studios or content purveyors of tomorrow.

Traditional PR and marketing has rapidly evolved since then from a transactional form of push communications to an interaction driven tool of quality engagement catalyzed by compelling content. However, it has taken us until, perhaps this moment, to realize that the best content created by brands is content that informs, entertains and delights , and has less to do with the brand producing it, and more to do with the experience it generates.

According to the AdWeek piece penned by Molly DeWolf Swenson:

“If a story is moving, no one is going to care that it’s brought to you by a brand. Rather, they’re going to be happy the brand brought it to them.”

I could not have said it better myself. For too long we have been listening to the phrase that for brands “content is king,” with few delivering on the promise. As we move into an age where leading organizations will be pushed to follow in the footsteps of brands like RedBull who have emerged as much as content brands as they have titans of their respective industries, embracing the need for not just content, but quality content, will be imperative….and taking the “brand out of branded content” equally as vital.

Just as all brands were pushed to become technology companies over the last twenty years, as technology became as much about day to day business strategy as means of infrastructure, a similar paradigm shift is ensuing around content. As a result, sooner rather than later, all top companies will be pushed to become as much producers of the world’s best content, as purveyors of top shelf products and services.

As this notion continues to take root, it is vitally important to understand how to harness storytelling as a powerful business competency, as opposed to mere tool of awareness generation.

With that in mind, following are a few quick and easy rules of thumb for any brand or entrepreneur to follow with an eye toward creating content that wins, and rivals any traditional network or studio:

1) Move storytelling to the heart of the innovation process. 

Historically, storytelling and other means of marketing and communication have resided at the very end of the supply chain. Products and services were created and then pushed down to the communications team to be shared with the world. Today, storytelling and content creation must sit at the inception of the invention process and be a critical tool in the day to day business strategy arsenal.

Case in Point: RedBull is known as much as a top media house as they are a producer of energy drinks. Through their deep cultural immersion with extreme sports, and the content that drives the platform forward via the RedBull Bulletin or RedBull TV, generating quality content is a driving force behind the brand’s business strategy and consistent growth as a leading consumer products company. In fact, they are viewed as one of the top brands in the world who has reached their level of prominence through little, if any advertising, yet a huge double down on storytelling and quality content.

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

2) Infuse your content with purpose.

The dialogue on the need for businesses to step up and be more purposeful in ways that continue to serve the world as much as the bottom-line has grown louder and more forceful in recent months, and much of that is less about pomp and circumstance and more about real need.

As the public sector continues to struggle to activate meaningful changes that will help society better deal with the transformative times we are in, the private sector is being tasked with picking up some of the slack where they can. Consequently, brands who can produce quality programming that addresses challenges before us such as better inclusion of the disenfranchised in all we do, obesity, or even environmental issues, will create meaningful connections with consumers that transcend mere transaction and become memorable interactions.

Case in Point: Apple is known as much for its inventive marketing and storytelling as it is it’s amazing technologies. The Think Different ad produced by Steve Jobs two decades ago is still among the top pieces of content produced by a brand.

Why? Because it’s less about Apple products and more about the possibilities they offer to change the world. The new Apple content series called Designed For carries this legacy forward, showcasing inclusion at its finest, and is a terrific example of this notion.

By highlighting the multitude of different people Apple products are carefully designed for with an eye on giving everyone, regardless of race, creed, age, gender or physical ability the opportunity to use technology in ways that make themselves and the world better, the company sheds as much light on its new product and services as it does the emerging cultural climate of equality that is upon us.

3) Tell stories that connect emotionally.

The best content always elicits a deeply emotional response. When you remember your favorite movies, TV shows, books or ads, it is likely you recall the emotion attached with it, as much as the story itself. For example, if you ask women of a certain age about Terms of Endearment, they will be able to tell you how hard they cried at certain points, as much as they adored Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in their iconic roles.

Case in Point: Dick’s Sporting Goods has produced some of the most terrific content created by a brand EVER, and none of it has anything to do with the cleats, bats, balls and sports attire it makes its money on.  Starting several years ago leading up to the 2016 Olympics, Dick’s has made us laugh, cry and understand the power of champion spirit and contribution that lies at the root of sport.

Whether it was their Who Will You Be  content push encouraging a new generation to be their best, or their Why Sports Matter series that showcases the great work done in impoverished areas to activate change through sport, Dick’s has both informed and  entertained us, with a hearty dose of empathy and emotion at the core of their content, and virtually no discussion of themselves or their wares.

So what does this mean for us as marketers and entrepreneurs in the weeks and months ahead? It means we all have the opportunity to say curtains up! and action! as the age of “executive producing your brand” is clearly upon us.

Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.

Note: This post was originally published on Billee’s Forbes blog