How to Lead with Meaning in Your Marketing

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There are a whole lot of companies who have been changing the face of business, and our world, with a very simple approach: prioritizing meaning over money. Rather than just make a profit, they recognize they’re here to do something bigger. They want to use their businesses to be agents for change and to build durable, worthwhile companies that leave a mark on our world.

Often referred to as mission-driven, companies who value purpose over profit experience a number of advantages. Their employees are happier and more engaged; they stay longer and make bigger contributions. Mission-driven companies also have a better understanding of their value and how to use it to retain a strategic advantage over the competition. As a result, they attract much more passionate customers.

The biggest caveat to this concept is that it can’t be just for show. To reap these benefits and connect people to your brand, your company must genuinely communicate your meaning beyond money with an authenticity that comes directly from your core.

The trick is to lead with meaning while, at the same time, effectively marketing your product. The best way to do this is by completely intertwining them so that no one thinks of your product without considering your meaning, and no one ponders your meaning without connecting it to your product.

This can be accomplished in a few ways.

Convey Your Meaning While Selling Your Product

As a mission-driven company, one of the biggest challenges in marketing is to communicate the fact that you care about more than profit while also letting your audience know that you have a product to sell. TOMS is a great example of how to balance both.

TOMS isn’t just in business to sell shoes and accessories. Ingrained in the fibers of their company is the desire to change our world by giving back and improving lives. This is their meaning beyond money and this is why they’re in business. But this presents two problems: in order to give back, they need to sell stuff, and in order to stay true to who they are, they need to help their customers understand why they’re here in the first place.

So, TOMS does both. On their website, they give equal real estate to their online store as well as their meaning beyond money. You can easily shop TOMS products, but you’ll also find it easy to access all the necessary information about why they give, who they give to, and the difference they’ve made. Their mission is the most important part of their company, so it’s front and center on their main nav along with the ability to purchase their products.


Giving equal weight to both meaning and money, the hero image on their website also rotates between the two components of their company. One that focuses on how they give and one that focuses on what they sell:


What’s great about how TOMS does this is that even in the second hero image – the one focused on promoting their products – they use messaging that puts the emphasis on their main purpose for being in business in the first place: giving back.


On Facebook, TOMS also varies posts that communicate their meaning beyond money with information about the products they’re selling.

toms-fb facebook-toms

As on all of their channels, their meaning beyond money is what drives the majority of the experience you have with their brand, rather than a sales push to buy more shoes and accessories. TOMS does a great job of leading with their meaning and weaving their mission into all of their content. And, at the same time, they’re very good at marketing their product in order to make all of their giving possible.

Align Your Insides with Your Outsides

Another great way to ensure that you’re communicating your meaning alongside your product is to interweave them from the very beginning, within your company.

In a value- or mission-driven company, your marketing should start with your meaning beyond money. You use that meaning to derive your marketing goals: what success looks like to you. These goals then drive your integrated strategy and the tactics that you execute in order to reach them. As you chip away at accomplishing the right things in the short-term, you’re on the path to becoming the company you really want to be several years down the road.


The way this works is that, internally, your teams are aligning all of their tactics and deliverables with your meaning, goals, and vision. Not only does this make them happier, it also shines through the experience they’re creating for your customers. So, externally, your customers and community are able to see your authenticity and understand your meaning beyond money through your marketing.

Patagonia is a shining example of how, through your marketing, you can get your outsides to match your insides. They have long been known as the poster child of a socially and environmentally responsible company.


Although they fully embrace that they’re not perfect, they’ve gone to great lengths to reduce the impact they have on the environment and are paving the way for future companies to follow in their footsteps.

At the core of Patagonia is their desire to reduce consumption and use their business to affect global change by making high quality products that last a really long time. In fact, they want their products to last so long that you won’t buy more of them. That’s how much Patagonia believes in and lives their meaning beyond money. This is reflected in their marketing – both on- and offline.

On their website and through their email marketing, you can learn more about Patagonia’s recent “Worn Wear” movement. It’s a campaign aimed at helping their customers keep their favorite, worn-out gear in commission.


In a video about the program, Patagonia reveals the fact that their company now employs 45 repair technicians who carefully stitch and patch Patagonia products —that their customers have worn out and love dearly —back together.

The video tells the stories of these products coming back to life, clearly communicating how they’re living up to the higher purpose that sits at the core of their company.

The best part about Patagonia’s Worn Wear campaign is that it’s so authentic, it really doesn’t feel like marketing at all (which is exactly how it should be). Additionally, they’re not just talking about the campaign on their website and on their social channels. They’re actually hitting the streets with a biodiesel repair truck that drives cross-country helping people fix their favorite gear. They’re showing their customers and community their meaning beyond money live and in person, one city at a time.


There is no doubt that Patagonia’s marketing comes directly from their core. Efforts like these make their meaning real. Although Patagonia may not be trying to actively sell more products with marketing efforts like these, it is certainly helping their company to thrive.

Allow Your Community to be Part of Your Story

Conveying your meaning beyond money is also best done in more voices than just your own. It only seems natural that companies who place meaning ahead of money attract a community of loyal advocates who want to be part of their growth. When you’re leading with meaning, you’re inherently working to continuously improve your company, not just promote it. This organically invites your community to play an integral role in building your brand and your company over time.


A great way to involve your community and encourage them to participate in your marketing is to allow them to be part of telling your story. Let real users, with genuine experiences, show-off how your product is working toward your meaning. Some of the simplest ways to do this are through social media, your blog, and your website.

GoldieBlox doesn’t give away free product like TOMS, and they’re not saving the environment like Patagonia, but their meaning beyond money serves another extremely important need in our world: pioneering for young girls.

GoldieBlox creates toys that expose girls to invention. The toys help them learn to solve problems and inspire them to grow up and be part of building the future. Girls get a taste of engineering through storytelling (different from how boys learn) which helps them develop an affinity for science and technology. Ultimately, over time, GoldieBlox will be an agent for change by closing the gap between men and women in the tech and engineering workforce.

On Pinterest, GoldieBlox shares the stories of these real girls (and some boys) who are learning to build and invent the GoldieBlox way. Using this platform to gather their community inspires other kids to do the same and it’s a great way for GoldieBlox to communicate their meaning and also show what a great product they have.


GoldieBlox keeps these stories specifically for their Pinterest board, a great place to attract moms-of-daughters. Others, like Traveling Vineyard have found ways to weave these types of stories through many channels in their marketing.

Traveling Vineyard, a client of ours, is providing opportunities for women (and men) to change their lives by building a home-based business. All of the people who work for Traveling Vineyard sell wine, but more importantly, they’re part of a community of wine guides who are looking to add more meaning and satisfaction in their lives. In their marketing, rather than put the emphasis on selling wine, Traveling Vineyard focuses on their meaning and welcomes their community to be part of telling their story.

Through photos, videos, blog posts, and on their social media outlets, Traveling Vineyard invites their community to tell their stories and how being part of their company has changed their lives.

These profiles officially began as a way to connect with potential wine guides with similar stories. It has since turned into an organic ambassadorship that has the entire Traveling Vineyard community displaying shining examples of what being a wine guide means in the lives of real people.


The wine guides who are selected to be part of Traveling Vineyard’s external marketing are not paid for their advocacy. The satisfaction they’ve experienced as a result of working for the company is what drives the passion inside of them to encourage others to be part of their community, too.

Traveling Vineyard wine guides take the opportunity to share their stories very seriously. They are extremely proud to be part of the community, true representatives of the company, and they earn the honor every day.


In their own way, TOMS does this, too. On their blog, TOMS tells real stories about the impact their giving has made. These stories aren’t just about TOMS and the contributions their organization has made. Even better, they’re the real-life journeys of the TOMS community as they take it on themselves to contribute to the movement (and as a result, become a part of TOMS’ core meaning as well as building their business).


Your Marketing Comes from Your Core

No matter what your mission: serving people in need, saving the environment, championing for girls, or providing the necessary resources to build a business, the way you communicate your core meaning in your marketing is integral to the success of your community and your business.

Anyone can sell a product once. The companies who lead with meaning are the ones who look beyond that one sale and see the long-game of a thriving company and community. They find a genuine passion and they they use their business as a way to make a difference because they know there’s something bigger to business than making money, and they’re smart enough to invest in it.

Author Mack Fogelson

More posts by Mack Fogelson

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