How Brands Go from Survival to Significance

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

How can your brand go from survival to significance on social, digital and in general? I asked this and other strategic brand questions to Jeremy Waite, author of Survival to Significance and Head of Digital Strategy, EMEA at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
You can listen to the audio podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud (embed below) or keep reading for an abridged transcript of our conversation. Questions by me, answers by Jeremy.

What are the 5 levels of brand leadership?

The book came about by accident. I read an awful lot and I love to read magazines. I read maybe a book or two a week and I watch a lot of TED talks and Bloomberg and a lot of stuff that we both enjoy. And one of the things that I was seeing was there was always a lot of talk about leadership and it was about personal leadership and you’ve got all these coaches that are trying to help you be better in your professional and personal lives. But not as many people talked about brand leadership. What does that mean? How do you get a brand to be better than it is? And at what point do you achieve success or anything more and, how do you measure that? Some people have been trying on social media for years, right?

brand leadership 5 levels

Jeremy Waite

I was listening to people like Rick Warren who wrote Purpose Driven Life. I talk a lot about purpose driven brands that we’ll come to later. Leadership coaches like John Maxwell, great leadership guy, New York Times best-selling author, written a ton of stuff, about 85 books or so, and he talks about personal leadership, as well. And as I start thinking about this, it was like well there probably is these three levels that brands go through when they’re trying to succeed. They start off in survival mode, and then they become successful when they try and figure out what it is that they do. And then they put all the metrics in the right place. They create good content. They speak to their customers in the right way. They start to get the sales in order and measure it properly.
And then for some brands, the very few, they may achieve a level of significance where they stand for something more than themselves. And that’s where you have these ridiculously loyal brands like Toms, Patagonia and that kind of stuff. So I talk about that in the book. But basically what happened is, I started to break this down. The book was really just going to be a whole load of blog posts tied together. I just thought it’d be fun, right? I like creating stuff. I really just wanted a nice hard back book that I could give to my mum. And this is like all of my favourite articles all in one place. And as I started piecing all of these things together, I noticed that every brand that I’ve worked with and studied over the last sort of fifteen, eighteen years has gone through a similar process. Some go through that process a lot faster than others. Some don’t always go from survival, to success to significance. They go from survival to success, to survival to really bad survival to then significance. I mean Apple Mac being a great example, right? They were about three months away from bankruptcy, not long before they asked Steve Jobs to come back.
So as I started doing this, I thought actually maybe there’s a story in this that’s not been told before. And maybe there are levels of leadership that apply to brands that could apply to companies, that in the past we only thought applied to people. So I started mapping all of this down and kind of categorise all the different blog posts, all my favourite stories, my favourite authors. And I noticed that there was exactly five. So I started to build those out about a year ago.
And essentially what they are really quickly, you can read about them in the book. But you have this level of survival where it’s called the location level. People follow you because they have to. They follow you because of where you are, it’s about place. A utility company, maybe a bank, maybe a mobile provider, maybe a broadband provider. You haven’t got a relationship with them. You might not necessarily like them but the customer service or because of the location of the store. Maybe a supermarket. That’s it. You follow them because you have to. So that’s in survival mode and typically the behaviour on that level is where everyone’s trying to compete against everyone else, it’s all market share, they’re just measuring likes. They’re just throwing everything out all over the place, measuring every single metric that they can. Push content all the time. Discounts, promotions, deals, you know what it’s like, right? We see that in social all the time.
But then something interesting happens, and they start to become successful and they say actually, you know what? Maybe we shouldn’t measure everything all the time. Maybe we should only measure customers, or our unique customers or unique conversations. Maybe we should start filtering out all of this noise and only measuring the important stuff and starting to have a conversation. So like Vaynerchuk, Solis and Sinek that are advocates for how to build customer companies, you know, Marc Benioff talks about that a lot. It starts to flip, so it’s not about the content anymore, it’s about the conversation. And that’s where I believe a brand starts to become successful. So that’s where you’ve kind of got this level of where people follow you because they like you, right? So there’s a certain position that comes with that.
And then really success, I break these down into three levels and say they follow you because they like you, then you go to a leadership level where people follow you because of what your brand has achieved and that might be measured by ROI because it’s commercial success. You’ve done amazing stuff, you’ve performed well, your marketing’s done well, you’re measuring the right stuff, you’re making money. People like that. Employees are inspired so they want to work with you. And that might be the commercial level of leadership but then there’s a level above that that I think’s the highest level of success which is where people love you. And this where you’ve got a genuine emotional connection with a brand. And you start to become loyal with them.
5 levels of brand leadership

Jeremy Waite

So this isn’t like where they follow you because they like you Facebook or they follow you on Twitter. They may be your favourite football team, it might be your favourite fashion brand, or your favourite actress or sports star. This is where there’s a genuine connection because you love them because of what they’ve done for you. And you can do all of that on your own. This is where you start to measure customer satisfaction, you’ve got people like KLM that just do an incredible customer service, great experiences, they’re measuring everything properly, NPS customer service resolutions. And that’s about as good as you can get on your own. Now what happens is there’s a level above that, but companies can’t get there on their own by putting in a good strategy or buying expensive technology. You can only get that by your customers putting you there. And I believe that’s a level of significance where you’ve got a cause or a belief.
And I’m trying to take this one stage further than Simon Sinek talked about years ago when he talked about what’s your purpose. Why’d you get out of bed? I’m like well, there’s a stand. Because it’s not enough to have a purpose, you’ve got to stand for something now. And what you stand for is more important than you what you sell. And whether it’s philanthropy, whether it’s giving back, whether it’s some kind of foundation model, whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg trying to create, or it’s Patagonia giving away all its profits, or Salesforce giving away all its time and product. That’s the level where people are genuinely inspired by that company. And regardless of what happens, they are incredibly loyal and they’re always going to love that company regardless of price. And they’re going to start causes, they’re going to start groups, they’re going to write books about them even if they don’t work there.
So the book, essentially, for me is what are those five levels? How’d you get from one level to the next? What’s the tactical things you can do to get there. And then the book ends with a handful of stories about companies that I believe are significant. And it’s a debate, right, because it’s my opinion. This is the fun bit and this is why this is a social thing. This is really where it gets down into the exciting stuff for me. Hopefully this opens up a conversation about I agree with that, don’t agree with that. Uber is not successful, Uber sucked because of the way that they’re doing… But that’s good because that’s the conversation at the moment, we’re not having enough of.
To recap, the location level is level one. The like level is level two. The leadership level is level three. You’ve got level four which is all about love. And the other level, level fifth is about loyalty and that’s where most of the case studies happen when we talk at conferences. We see the blog posts written about this is what Zappos did and this is what South Western did. And we’ve heard the same case studies a million times. That’s all a level of success. What a lot of people don’t talk about is the level above that where you genuinely got some kind of mission or cause.

What happens to a brand when it becomes significant?

So it’s a really good question. I’ve been asked this a bunch of times already, and there’s two ways to answer this. The first way is that the top level’s about loyalty. And from a marketer’s point of view, if we put our strategic hats on we could really talk about how it’s six times cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new one. And if you’ve got levels of loyalty, like Kevin Roberts and Saatchi talked about this back in 2005 in his book Lovemarks about loyalty beyond reason. People will buy from you regardless of what price you are, because they’re genuinely loyal. They will always buy Levi’s, they will never buy Wrangler’s. You go and speak to cowboys, there’ll always buy Wranglers, they’ll never buy Levi’s. There’s a level of loyalty there that’s very specific, it’s very tactical. But the other side, which is where it gets a little bit fuzzy is what you’re kind of saying is that if you do have a cause, and if you are trying to have some kind of philanthropic vision, you are trying to create these profits with a purpose. And the founder of Patagonia said exactly the same thing. We want to make a lot of money, but we want to make a lot of money so we can give a lot of it away. And the more we make, the more we can give away.
The challenge is whether it’s possible to measure the fact that if you have a cause, and you give more away, you’re going to make more. But Bill Gates famously said years ago, and it’s obviously easy for him to say that being one of the richest guys in the world, “That the more I give away, the more I seem to get.” Which is a nice kind of spiritual vision. I think if we kind of go too much down that fox hole, we’re kind of missing the point. So the loyalty side, I think, is very tactical. Love our customers, love our employees, measure employee satisfaction is customer satisfaction. But that kind of touches on the top level of success as well. What I want to do is say there’s a level up here where it’s not so much about measurement, and it’s not so much about all these tactical things that we’ve done in the past. It’s about legacy. It’s about what are people going to remember in 20 or 30 years time or when you’re gone? If people are going to sum your life in one sentence, what are they going to say? What’s the one liner they’re going to say about your brand?
And there’s not going to talk about, “Nike’s got amazing customer satisfaction. They’re MPS score is five times better than the industry average.” They’re not going to say that. Somebody might remember, “Oh, damn, did you see that Nike did that amazing initiative in Ethiopia where they’re trying to solve healthcare issues and spending a fortune to invest in adolescent teenage girls.” And there’s a whole story there that doesn’t get told. But yet we get consumed with maybe the darker stories of “No, let’s talk about Nike the bad brand, or let’s talk about sweat shops, or ethical trading.” I think there’s really positive stories that we don’t hear enough of.

I can list a few. Yeah, and this was a really difficult one actually because it’s a very touchy subject as well. I work for an incredible brand myself and just the size of our company we deal with an awful lot of people, so we’re going cross paths a lot. So trying to be very sensitive, and it’s difficult as an author. How do you stay authentic and credible, and try and call people out, whilst at the same time not upsetting people? And I went back and I had a look.
I use an example of BlackBerry just because I worked with BlackBerry a few years ago and BlackBerry were incredibly successful, had a phenomenal market share, dropped through the floor. And they’ve now got a great CEO who’s trying to take them back up again.
Phones for You. I was the Head of social for Phones for You for a while. And they did some amazing stuff. And while I was there, we became the biggest telecom brand in the UK and we did all these wonderful things and put strategies in place, but where are they now? They’re gone.  So I talk about them and I feel like I’ve got a view because I can talk about them, I’ve been there and also, they’re not around any more, so they obviously did a lot of things wrong. So the future hasn’t played out as we thought. But Phones for You were interesting because they had a very, very transactional view of customers. And it was very much kind of click to buy. It was all money spent on search and display. It was very much how do we create an action to get someone to upgrade their phone, or buy more data, or to change their plan, or can we find a way of upgrading them before their plans and stuff? And obviously, it’s an incredibly competitive landscape in telecom. And Phones for You was doing some really good figures for a while.
But I think it goes to show that transactional relationships just don’t play out. Whereas loyalty does. Loyalty you’re in it for the long term. Transactional is very, very short term. ROI driven, let’s make some more cash tomorrow view. And essentially, that was the downfall of Phones for You. They didn’t invest in customer service. They didn’t invest in loyalty. They didn’t provide the best customer experiences. It was a very transactional experience to go in one of their stores and to try and buy one of their phones. Even though you may have gotten a phone cheaper in their shop than anywhere else. You may have gone in wanting to get a cheaper Samsung, and you end up walking out with an iPhone. I think that’s typical of a brand in survival mode, fighting for market share, trying to buy attention and eyeballs, cheaper deals, discounts and promotions. And exactly, you know, where are they now? They fell over.

How do you build a successful brand strategy on social?

So that came out of the Phones for You thing as well really because we ended up working with people like Vodafone. There were models I started to see some of these big brands putting into place. And they really wanted to figure out, not only how do we reach our customers faster, and how do we understand what our customers are saying? And part of that is the technology problem. But really the bigger problems are all people problems and they’re all internal. So I started to say, and you know, this gain this isn’t new news, you talk about silos and you’ve got teams that don’t speak to each other, technology that don’t speak to each other, hashtag data that’s coming in from different sources that you can’t match up. And still brands have got massive problems with all these silos. So what I started to see, and then I started to talk about this a lot publicly, is that maybe you shouldn’t have a social media strategy. Maybe you shouldn’t have the customer experience, or some kind of mobile strategy. What if… because what was happening is each team was taking ownership of it. And the team that didn’t have ownership… so say it was marketing, brand, or PR, but the social strategy might be doing amazing things around LinkedIn that could have huge benefits for employees, HR should be involved in that. But the HR team don’t want to get involved in that because it’s a marketing thing. And we don’t get bonused on it, so we’re not going to do a thing. So I was like, I’ll tell you what we should do, let’s call this a conversation strategy and let’s have this virtual team where people meet together, whatever it is either face-to-face or virtually, once a week, once a month, it doesn’t matter but there’s a regular thing. And one representative from every single team comes armed with the one metric that really matters to their team, whatever that is, and it’s obviously a consulting process that you would go through to figure out just what that one number is. It’s almost like the money ball number. Because everybody’s got one number. There’s million of things they need to measure, but there’ll always be one thing that moves it no matter what department you’re in. And the conversation strategy was well, let’s get representatives from each team. If that’s just five teams, that’s fine. We’ve got operations, we might have HR, sales, there might be digital, it might be brand and PR. And then you have one guy coming so the brand and PR guy wants to talk about awareness and eyeballs and reach. The digital guys want to talk about the click-throughs to the website, conversions, downloads of the thing. Sales guys just want to talk about who converted, customer service, resolutions, did we respond in the first channel, did we respond fast enough? What was the outcome of that? So the conversation strategy for me was a way of let’s shift this away from marketing, because it’s not about marketing at all. This is digital transformation, to coin a word that I hate. It’s like what happens when all of this stuff joins together? Whether you’re a social enterprise, whether you call it a customer company. It’s like marketing’s too important to be left to the marketing department.
So let’s find a way to get every other team involved because then what’s going to happen is a beautiful outcome of that, that HR starts to love the marketing team, operations start to understand why social media’s really important. Then you start to get more budget. Then you start to measure things better and then when things get tight, which they always do at some point, marketing budget’s not the first thing to get cut because everybody understands the value of it and you feel like you’re playing as a team. So for me, there’s a really, really strong story in that that’s beneficial for any company.

What department should own social?

Gosh, I don’t know. We had a debate yesterday at a conference I was at that should social even been canned and we’ve been talking about that for a long time. There’s still this ongoing debate around is it social media, versus social business which seems a bit redundant. And my official title’s Head of Digital Strategy and like digital, everything’s digital now, that word shouldn’t even exist. It’s a marketing function, it always should be. It’s about people. There’s going to be a CMO who’s in charge of the emotional side of the business and how to reach people faster and how to understand what they’ve said. And social obviously fits perfectly within that. The bit that I see where it starts to get blurred is when you look at it from a tactical point of view. Social isn’t that sales channel that we thought it was back in 2010. Because it looks like you’ve got the huge reach and the massive audiences but yet it didn’t convert because that’s not what people went onto social for. They went to see the photos and chat with their friends and look at bull dogs and do whatever stuff that they do. And it’s a customer service channel. And that’s where we see massive successes now. It’s a conversation channel, it’s a way to engage, it’s a way to build a trusted relationship, it’s a way to enhance your credibility to a company and look like you’re real people behind the brand. And customer service is going to be the biggest benefactors of that. So that’s where, for me, service and marketing need to be plugged together.
And social is in that little Venn diagram in the middle where it overlaps. So to say it lives exclusively on one side or the other wouldn’t be fair. You need a CMO that understands that social impacts everything now.

What’s the rule of 60:30:10?

This is one of my favourite things. I stumbled upon this by accident. I wrote a whole LinkedIn post about it. I was flippantly claiming that 60:30:10 was the new 80/20 rule, you know? The Pareto Principle, you spend 80% of your time on 20% of the thing, or 20% of your sales are 80%. That story, we all know that pretty well. I started to look at the way that brands split their money, and the way that brands split their time. Coca-Cola have got a 70-20-10 model which is about immediate priorities, medium priorities and a long term blue sky, crazy thinking 10% of their time. And they structure their time very specifically.
So I started to look at that and think well, what are their three priorities is that we’ve got as a business? And any business, whether it was back from Phones for You, whether I’m working at Adobe, whether it’s me consulting with brands at the moment, you can usually break it down to three things. In 2015, Gartner was actually saying that the three biggest priorities for CMOs is number one, growing profitable revenue. Number two is connecting with your customers faster, and number three dealing with competition in the market place. And whatever that is, that could change for every company. If you’re a CIO, it’s going to have a different skew than that one that said Gartner said for the CMO.
But what I was thinking is, if you could try and break things down to three simple things, well then what happens if you could break it down into priorities, 60:30:10? So if we are a brand that needs to make money, well 60% of our time, money, effort and resources should go towards how to build profitable revenue. Maybe 30% of our time is invested in customer insights and understanding what customers want, and the demographics and the data to reach them faster. And maybe 10% is invested in competition in the market place or competitive intelligence. So that’d be a good example of taking Gartner’s report and putting in 60:30:10.

It becomes really interesting when you’re trying to break your money up. I’ll give you a really short story. I can’t tell you the brand, but it was spending hundreds of thousands a day. They were trying to look at investing in Facebook strategies, and then it was like, “Well, we’ve got this money, we’re going to do this campaign. Where do we spend it?” So obviously, they go back to their agency, they get the data to try and tell them the thing. It’s what do we spend on creative and how much money do we spend to promote it? And then it’s weeks, and weeks, and weeks go past. But we can’t work like that anymore. We’ve got to be real time. We need to decide quick. I used a really rough… I tried to figure out where Angry Birds spent their money when they exploded years ago. And I read an article that talked about where some of the money went and how much it cost them to make it, and kind of looked at the clicks that they were getting, and tried to estimate kind of how many people it would have to reach.
And it looks like it was 60:30:10. So 60% of the money had gone on media, 30% on creative. Because Angry Birds, when it was built, was only $100,000, it was really a cheap app to build proportionately as compared to the size that they are. And 10% was on strategy and insight. So I started to map this out, and every time as I went back to build a new campaign and they said, “Okay. For argument’s sake, we’ve got $100,000 to spend on this new campaign, where should we spend it? Or we’ll go back to the agency.” No, no, no, let’s not do that. Let’s spend that $100,000, we’ll put $60,000 into media, we’ll put $30,000 into creative, and we’ll spend $10,000 on strategy. And we’ll split the $10,000 in half. We’ll put half at the beginning to measure where the money should go, on what channel, on what the app should be on the creative and why. And we’ll put the other half of the $10,000 to measure it and to see the outcomes. Did it work, what was the ROI, what was the success, could we report it, can we do it again, could we replicate it. If we can’t, why? How do we learn?
And it started to work and I’ve seen that time and time again when you’ve got any marketing campaign, and obviously, this changes for everyone so all the planners that might be listening to this are going to be shouting up and chewing their hats. But I think as a starting point, it’s the best model you could begin with because you’ve got to have great creative content. But that might only be a third of your time. But the 60%, because social isn’t organic, it’s not free anymore, we’ve got to pay, and we’ve got to pay to hit the right channel. Sixty percent of whatever budget you’ve got, paid media. It doesn’t matter influence, outreach, blogger’s strategy, Facebook, Twitter, investing in search and display, wherever you spend it, doesn’t matter but obviously you’ve got to figure out the best return for the best channel for your brand. The 10% to measure what works and figure out what to do in the first place. and I explain it quite a lot. There’s quite a big section in the book that talks through that. But I still, I’ve been in the industry quite a long time and I still haven’t seen a better model. So I’d be happy for someone to call me out on that and to make recommendations.

Is there a recipe for becoming a brand that puts purpose before profits?

So I don’t think it’s a step by step guide because once you talk about profits with a purpose, that is something that has to be embedded within the culture of the company. You can’t just say, and a great example might be a brand that says, “Right, we’re going to attach ourselves to this charity and we’re going to have this initiative, that we’re going to go out and support schools.” And it’s almost a very transactional view. Let’s attach ourselves to a cause because it looks like the right thing to do. And that’s CSR. A lot of CSR policies are like that. What I’m trying to talk about is there has to be a giving mentality that’s completely different. So it’s not so much that you’ve got a step by step guide because really, that’s what CSR policy is. It’s how do we figure out what it is that we’re doing to make the world a better place, and be responsible and all that sort of stuff? And it’s interesting stuff and we should all do it. But I think there’s a level above that that has to come from the founder.
So whether or not, you know even from Patagonia and you’re talking about let’s give 10% of revenue, or 1% of profits, whichever is greater and we’re going to donate all of that to outdoor charities that we believe in. Whoever he’s investing in, usually some kind of local charity around the mountains and stuff, the outdoor brands that he works with. Marc Benioff, you know, the 1-1-1 model, you give away 1% of product, time and equity. And that came right from day one when the company was set up. That wasn’t an initiative that we thought, well, we’ll do that because it’s cool and we’ve got a whole bunch of money. It was if we’re going to make a lot of money, we need to make sure that as we scale, our giving can scale as well. And the reason I ended up write the book when I was looking into it. And I’m not, you know, Charles Best from Donors Choose says, “If you give away one dollar, you’re a philanthropist.” And I think there’s this misconception that philanthropists have to be like Warren Buffet or George Soros and have billions of pounds before you’re a philanthropist. You give away one dollar to the guy on the street, you know, and you’re a philanthropist.
The issue with businesses, and you can look at and there’s a whole load of sites that you can go find out these stats, but of all the money that’s given in the world to do good stuff, only 5% of it is given by companies. And of the 5% that’s given by companies, 80% of that is given away for tax reasons because it makes sense to do that, because you can offset your tax against corporate giving and stuff. But that leaves a very, very, very small percentage of brands that are saying we want our profits to have a purpose.

What brands are significant and doing it right?

I used the, it’s kind of a really cheeky idea of an example, Levi Strauss, one of the biggest jeans brand in the world, one of the best socially connected brands, huge company, done incredible stuff, patented the denim and riveted the jeans together. He didn’t want to do that in the beginning. He didn’t want a make a ton of money, even though he left his family and he moved over to San Francisco in the middle of the gold rush in the early 1900s. He wanted to invest in universities, in scholarships, and orphanages. And he was like, “How can I do that? Well, how about if I set up a business?”
Then he saw people’s pants were ripping when they put their axes and stuff in it. So he buys this new tent material, he makes this thing that ends up being denim and then they figure out that they can rivet them together because they start to become torn. And his friend comes over and says, “We can patent this, but I’ve got no money.” And he says to Levi, “You’ve got a bit of money because you’ve got a camping shop even though you’re not selling that much stuff. Do you want to pay for the patent? We’ll split it 50/50.” Levi’s Jeans are born. Now Levi starts to give away a ton of money and they’re doing amazing things. And it came from he wanted to make profits with a purpose, but his purpose came first.
So now my challenge is, if you’re making a ton of money, fantastic. You need to put those principles in place. But you’ve got to make sure it’s authentic and your intent is correct. But the brands that are doing the best stuff like Toms, like Patagonia, like Levi’s and Salesforce, even Nike when you look at their foundation stuff, it happened on day one because their company was built on a purpose and they knew what they stood for. And everything was like secondary. I actually believe, provocatively, a lot of people don’t agree with me on this, I believe Facebook’s exactly the same. There’s a reason why Zuckerberg’s investing so much money into It makes no commercial sense whatsoever for Facebook to do that at the moment. Transactional brand, short term money, keeps stakeholders happy. The two-thirds of the world, that is trying to connect, are not going to spend any money on advertising, they’ve got no data plans. He’s trying to make people access Wikipedia by floating drones and giving Wi-Fi to everyone, or seeing a farmer that you can check your stock price and make more money to support his community. And that isn’t a financially driven incentive, that’s just we want to connect the world to make it a better place. And we can be really cynical, as we should be, because it’s Facebook, but again stories like that don’t get told often enough, I don’t think. And I don’t think people like Zuckerberg, and get enough credit for that sort of stuff.
Connect with Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyWaite.


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