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Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands

Mack has had the honor of presenting Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands all over the world— from Boston, Massachusetts to Vancouver, Canada; from Dublin, Ireland to Raleigh, North Carolina. What follows are the highlights of her talk that explores how companies need to evolve their marketing and what’s required to build a successful and durable brand in the digital age.


Imagine your company is competing in a fairly saturated and competitive industry like fast food. You’ve been around for a little while but you’re really just getting started. You have something new and different and you’re ready to take the world by storm.

Taking on the world

Now imagine that you’re up against companies like McDonald’s who spent $800 million on their advertising in 2013. Or Panera Bread who spent $55 million on their marketing efforts in that same year.

Imagine this is your competition and these are their marketing budgets. What would your marketing strategy be? How would your company contend?

How would your company compete?

Chipotle did. In 2013 they spent a fraction of what their competitors did — less than $10 million — on their advertising and marketing efforts and they had a much greater impact because they were doing things like this:

  • Creating videos like the Scarecrow that takes a stand and challenges how the fast food industry typically operates and sources its food.
  • Holding free festivals like Cultivate where people celebrate good food, music, ideas, and connect with each other.
  • Sponsoring a “Food for Thought” column on the Huffington Post that is dedicated to creating awareness about how food is grown and the effects this system has on our world.
  • Investing in better ways of working that gives their employees more authority and empowers them to be better leaders.

All of these things that Chipotle has been doing aren’t just marketing campaigns. This is what they believe in as a company and this is authentically how they operate.

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And that is what has contributed to their durability and growth over the last decade.  From 2006 to 2015, Chipotle has grown revenue from $820 million to more than $4.5 billion.

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So how did Chipotle’s approach bring this much growth? Even as Chipotle has been faced with food safety challenges in their restaurants, what has helped them to endure?

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There’s no doubt that if you want to compete in the digital age, you must have a stellar product or service, and you have to provide a cross-channel experience that is unparalleled.

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Ultimately, these things must be baked into your DNA; this is the new status quo.

But competing today—for time, attention, and market share— is not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

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If you want your company to be durable and surpass the competition, your organization must be building from purpose and authenticity. 

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And here’s why:

More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
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In that same Cohn & Wolfe study, the #1 behavior that people expect of brands is the fact that they communicate openly and honestly about their products and services. They don’t let their customers down, and that they act with integrity at all times. Because people want to relate to you, they want trust you and know you’re going to do what you say.

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Additionally, a BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions.

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And when people care about your company, they tell their friends. And word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

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The fact of the matter is, if you want to earn and keep your customers and employees, and build a community of advocates who will support you and tell their friends about you, you can’t just focus your efforts on how your company is packaged. You must also focus your efforts on who your company is.

If your organization wants to experience growth, you need to focus on three very important things: 

  1. You need to clarify your purpose that so that you can effectively position strategy around it, rally your employees around it, and communicate it to your customers.
  2. You need to better understand your people so that you can connect with your customers and remove their roadblocks.
  3. You need to use strategy and action to prove you’re worth your customers’ time and attention; showing them you are willing to keep your promise to them.

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Chances are, your company or the company you work for is in business because you want to make some money. You want to grow. So how will building a purpose-driven, authentic brand help you do that?

Because your product is not what connects people to your brand or your company. It’s your purpose and that’s the key to growth.

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The thing is, our world is changing so quickly, and that means businesses must continually iterate and adapt to stay relevant and ahead of the competition. This has changed the way businesses operate because consumer behavior has changed tremendously.

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Consumers know that they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher for companies because consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society. You can’t just make a product anymore.

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Not only that, but as far as employees go, people want meaning in their work and they want to work for better companies.

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Purpose is something that can help companies hurdle each of these challenges. It also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives.

In a Harvard Business Review study they found that companies with purpose make more money and have more involved employees, all because they’re operating from purpose.

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Purpose drives everything and it’s not just the emotional sell in your marketing. Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, and your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business.

Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful growth strategy that will connect with the right customers and employees. When you’re talking to the right people and removing their roadblocks, those customers want to become part of your community, tell their friends, and drive your growth.

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The first step in building a purpose-driven, authentic brand is positioning your organization around that purpose. One of the ways we do this is by using an exercise from Ogilvy & Mather’s called the Big Ideal.

Essentially, your Big Ideal is the soul of your company. It’s also your point of view of how the world should be.

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It can take some time to figure out your Big Ideal (we’ll use Dove as an example from Arielle Jackson’s work on First Round), but essentially it works like this: combine two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address:

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with your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best:

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Dove’s Big Ideal is: The world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about their bodies. This purpose drives the focus for everything they do. Their job is not just to sell soap; it’s to create products that help women feel good about their bodies.

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This purpose and focus then comes out loud and proud in everything they do inside their operations and also in their marketing strategy. Dove has been running the Real Beauty campaign for over a decade now and it’s still relevant because it matters in our world and it’s rooted in their purpose.

And from 2004 to 2014, Dove saw a $1.5 billion dollar jump in sales as a result of focusing on purpose to drive their business. This isn’t just a marketing ploy. Dove eats, lives, and breathes this purpose throughout their organization. Just like Chipotle does.

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And that’s the thing about authenticity and a purpose-driven approach. Often times companies will disregard its power because they think it’s only applicable to environmentally or socially responsible companies like Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes. 

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But a purpose-driven approach is not solely an environmental responsibility thing. It’s not a give-one-get-one thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a corporate responsibility thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. This approach is about integrating purpose into your business model. 

It’s about building a company that people care about, want to work for, and do business with. That’s what brings durability and growth in the digital age.

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When you’re building a purpose-driven, authentic brand, how do people fit into the equation? Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try; a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. Having a great product, building a great company, being authentic, and doing the work to connect with your people will.

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The biggest thing to remember about growth and building your community of customers is that you’re not looking for everyone and you’re not just looking to raise vanity metrics. You’re working towards loyalty, word of mouth, and repeat customers. That’s connection.

So if you want that connection with your customers, don’t just focus on selling your product. Your job is to figure out how to bridge the gap between the purpose of your company and the people who want to be part of it.

Let’s look at an example.

Traveling Vineyard

Traveling Vineyard is a direct sales company. They have several thousand people, or Wine Guides as they call them, who are mostly women selling wine for them at in-home wine tastings.

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Before we met Traveling Vineyard, that’s exactly what they were doing. Selling wine. And they were struggling to connect with their people; their customers.

We worked with Traveling Vineyard to discover they actually don’t exist to sell wine. Their purpose is to change lives by providing fulfilling (and flexible) work.


This change in their focus from their product to their purpose made it a whole lot easier to drive their growth because instead of pushing a product, they were connecting their purpose with the right people.

Let’s take a look at how we did this with customer journey mapping.

This is an exercise that we borrowed and evolved from a company called Adaptive Path. Here’s how it works:

We selected the three audience groups who had the largest effect on Traveling Vineyard’s revenue. At this stage, they are essentially stereotypes.

With Traveling Vineyard, their top 3 customer groups were 3 different types of moms: a SAHM who loves her family but could use a little extra income without a lot of commitment. An empty-nester who’s looking for something new to consume her life now that her kids are gone. And an achiever – someone who is tired of just being a mom and wants something that’s just for her.

But when we were building their persona, we didn’t just stop here by identifying these stereotypes.
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We wanted to make sure we were talking to the right people, so we took the step of matching these persona to real, actual people.

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Once we mapped the characteristics of the stereotypes to REAL people in their community, we honored them as ambassadors. This allowed us to build better relationships with their existing community and leverage that community to find more people outside of their community who are like them.

This requires more than just looking at audience, psychographic, or demographic data. We spoke with their customers FACE-TO-FACE in order to map their journey and understand the desires, roadblocks, and fears that these women had and were keeping them from converting to wine guides.

We started by identifying the challenges and goals for each one of their persona groups, starting with those who are most like Kirby, their stay-at-home-mom audience segment who represents nearly 60% of their customer base.

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Through many conversations, group meetings, face-to-face interviews, and digital surveys, we identified Kirby’s biggest challenges and goals.
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goals

Once we knew Kirby’s greatest challenge and most important goals, we could begin understanding behaviors.

We began to break down what she is thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage in her journey in the lifecycle of becoming a Wine Guide for Traveling Vineyard.

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When we analyze what customers like Kirby are thinking, we look at the common questions that are holding them back. Stuff like: Is the company legit? Will I make money doing this? Do I have to be a wine expert?

Then we move onto how they may be feeling in each stage of their journey. These are the emotions that they are having that could also pose potential roadblocks like if they’re nervous about trusting the company, anxious to tell their friends they may do this, or even just excited to get started.

And then lastly, in the doing stage, we analyze their actions; the actions that the potential wine guides may take before they convert. Things like investigating other companies, talking to their friends and family, and watching videos or reading content on the website.

And even though Kirby won’t be thinking/feeling/and doing these things in a linear fashion, deconstructing her customer journey this way helps us understand what her overall experience must be like across channels and both on-and-offlinecustomer-journey

Now once we understood all of these things about Kirby, we can address all of her thoughts/concerns/fears/challenges through a content strategy that helps Kirby reach her goals and connect with the purpose of the company.

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For example, let’s say we’re breaking down the CONSIDER phase in the funnel and identify roadblocks for potential Wine Guides who have been comparing Traveling Vineyard with other direct selling job opportunities.

So for example, let’s say we wanted to address Kirby’s fear of whether Traveling Vineyard is a legitimate company:

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We created some content around the concern of pyramid schemes and how Traveling Vineyard isn’t one.

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We asked their existing Wine Guides (who Kirby can relate to) in order to help us create content so that they could tell potential Wine Guides about how Traveling Vineyard’s business model actually works and isn’t a scam.

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We even asked direct selling experts to provide an unbiased view on direct selling to address this roadblock.

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Then we built content to address Kirby’s ‘feeling’ behaviors; being unsure that this job will add stress to her family:

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We interviewed Jonelle, an existing Wine Guide who someone like Kirby would resonate with, to talk about what a day in the life is like with Traveling Vineyard and how she balances it all.

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In this video, Jonelle shows talks about her schedule and how she fits Traveling Vineyard into her family routine. Again, more real people (and user generated content) from the Traveling Vineyard community addressing these common roadblocks.

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Finally, we addressed Kirby’s ‘doing’ behaviors — the actions that someone like Kirby might want to take in order to become a Wine Guide.

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Each week, Traveling Vineyard provides a webinar which is an opportunity for potential Wine Guides like Kirby to better understand the business. It’s also a chance to ask questions about what it’s really like to work for Traveling Vineyard and learn that it is in fact possible to be a Wine Guide and keep your family in tact. 

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Doing this work to understand Kirby (and the other persona segments) and give her what she needs throughout her customer journey with Traveling Vineyard has brought tremendous growth to the company. Since they shifted the conversation from product to purpose, they’ve experienced a 365% compound annual growth rate over a 3 year period.

It’s important to note that none of this content went viral. What it did was connect with Traveling Vineyard’s specific customer because they were doing the work — face-to-face — to understand and remove their roadblocks. They were not pushing their product, they were having a conversation about their purpose. And that has been the key to connection and growth.

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Over the many months, Chipotle has been having a rough go of it. And for a brand that is supposed to be synonymous with “FOOD WITH INTEGRITY” being associated with words like Norovirus, E.coli, and Salmonella is pretty bad news. Even worse, when people are talking on social media about puking and pooping and going to the hospital because they’ve eaten your food, it is not so good for business.

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But in true authentic style, Chipotle has spent the last year reacting to this stuff from authenticity and purpose. They’ve not only been telling their customers that they’ve blown it, but they’re doing what it takes to make it right.

Chipotle has been transparent about how the outbreaks most likely happened. They’ve taken apart their current food safety systems and put them back together. They’ve provided their customers with a plan for action to pioneer and become a leader in food safety. Chipotle wants to make sure that this not only doesn’t happen again in their restaurants, but also inspire other fast food restaurants to operate the same.

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But had Chipotle not built such trust with their customers over the last 10 years — if they hadn’t operated from their purpose from the inside, and not just in their marketing — something like this could have ruined them.

And that’s what’s kind of remarkable about Chipotle’s community is that their customers were willing to give them a second chance. Even as their stock prices fell and the media chewed them up, their customers were still with them.

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And even though Chipotle projected a 65% earnings loss in 2016 due to the outbreaks, earnings have been projected to jump 125%. And even over the next many years, Chipotle is still projected to have a higher growth in earnings than McDonald’s and their big ol’ marketing budgets.

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So here’s the thing about living your promise and leading from purpose. It is a parallel path. Because the way purpose shows itself inside your organization is inextricably linked to how your company is perceived on the outside.

If your company wants sustainable, durable growth, your sales, marketing, and customer experience strategies must start with 4 simple steps.

The first step in living your promise and leading from purpose is clarifying the purpose of your organization.

Just like we talked about with Dove and Traveling Vineyard, look at the cultural tension you want to address in our world and combine that with your best self. This is what will make you relevant. It’s also the key to connection with your customers and your employees.

Which is why it’s really important that you’re clear with your team about what purpose actually is and what it isn’t.

Purpose is aspirational and belief-driven. It’s way bigger than your what you sell or what you make. It’s fully integrated into your business model and it’s the long-game of how you’re going to improve your customers and your employees lives.

Purpose is NOT your vision, mission, or values statement. It’s not solely focused on internal activities. It’s not making a bunch of money so that you can give it away (that’s great, but that’s not purpose). It’s not your brand guidelines or PR. It’s not a tagline or a trend. Purpose is connection and your teams need to understand what purpose truly is so that they can apply it effectively in their strategies.

The second step to living your promise is connecting your purpose to your people. Once you know your purpose, you’ve got to look at how you connect that with your customer.

Look at the journey of your customer and what they’re thinking/feeling/and doing at every stage. Remember, it’s not just assessing audience data, demographic data, or psychographic data; that data is plentiful but it doesn’t tell you about their fears, desires, or what’s truly on their minds.

The good stuff is when you participate in actual conversations with your customers in real life (not just through digital surveys but with 1:1 interviews) so that you can understand how to bridge the gap between the purpose of the company and the people who align with it. Your job is to understand and remove their roadblocks so that you can connect and be part of their lives.

The third part of living your promise is to connect your team’s purpose to the purpose of the organization. You can do this by asking 2 questions:

What does the organization that you work for exist to achieve as a whole, in addition to making money? In other words, what is the purpose of the entire company? And the second question, what role does your team play in achieving that purpose (other than to make money)? Your teams need to understand how their daily contributions matter to the overarching purpose of the company. Especially when they’re pushing hard on things that seem meaningless; understanding how purpose relates to their day-to-day can go a long way for efficiency, output, morale, and retention.

And the fourth and final step to living your promise is to effectively communicate who your company is on the inside to the people on the outside.

Especially in your sales, marketing, and customer experience teams, they need to understand that the conversation is not only about your product, it’s also about your purpose.

What that means is that rather than only focusing the conversation with your customers about your product (like Dove when they were just selling soap, or Traveling Vineyard when they were failing to connect with their customers)…

You can have a much more meaningful conversation about things that matter.

Like women feeling good about their bodies:

Like women working on their self-esteem:

Like having the body image conversation with young girls so that they learn to love their bodies from a young age, too:

The thing is, there are thousands of ways to talk about Dove’s purpose of helping women feel better about their bodies, but there’s only a handful of ways to talk about soap.

The same thing with Chipotle, there are thousands of ways to talk about food with integrity and its impact on our world, but there’s only a handful of ways to talk about a burritos. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk about or advertise your product. What I am saying is when you change the conversation from product to purpose, you open up the opportunity to exponentially connect with more people.

Look at all of these organizations, people, media outlets, communities, influencers who want to be a part of Dove’s purpose-conversation vs. the amount of people who want to talk about soap.

When you lead from purpose and live your promise, you have a competitive advantage.

In a Harvard Business Review study, 85% of purpose-led companies experienced positive growth of at least 10% annually.

An EY study shows that 72% of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose.

Not only that, but keeping your employees is an significant factor in contributing to your profits. The employees at purpose-driven organizations are 3 times more likely to stay. 

And the time is now. Only 37% of executives believe that their own business model and operations are aligned with their company’s purpose. Which means there are A LOT OF COMPANIES who are struggling to connect with their customers. 

It’s time for you to get ahead of the other 63%.

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If you’re considering building an authentic, purpose-driven brand, remember these things:

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Building your company from purpose gives people something to connect to and believe in. Even more, building from purpose gives your business focus. Focus that will bring growth.

If you want to earn the right customers who will support you and stand by you through the good and the bad, you’ve got to bust your ass, hustle and do the work to connect with people. In real life. The people who align with your purpose: both your employees and your customers.

You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be genuine, authentic, and human. For better or worse, customers no longer believe your advertising and marketing alone. You must earn your customers by fighting for and exhibiting your purpose through your actions and the experiences you provide.

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When it comes down to it, building and marketing an organization and brand in today’s world requires a different path than traditional marketing, advertising, and quick-fix tactical approaches.

It’s not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

Our world is different. Your customers are different. Your employees are different. The path to growth is different.

Purpose is not the only component to an organization’s success, but it’s a big one. It’s time to evolve and lead from purpose.

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