How Brands Go from Survival to Significance

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

How can your brand go from survival to significance? 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 yours truly, 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 are 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 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 hardback book that I could give to my mum. And this is like all of my favorite 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 have 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 is 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 categorize all the different blog posts, all my favorite stories, my favorite authors. And I noticed that there were exactly five. So I started to build those out about a year ago.

5 levels of brand leadership

Jeremy Waite

This isn’t like where they follow you because they like you on Facebook or they follow you on Twitter. They may be your favorite football team, it might be your favorite fashion brand, or your favorite 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 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.

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 Southwest 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.

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 brands 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, 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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