Blog: From Survival to Significance – Interview with Salesforce’s Jeremy Waite about creating profits with purpose.

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We’ve been seeking input into an exciting new project we’re undertaking – a book exploring the theme ‘beyond customer centric’. This project includes a series of interviews with business thought leaders, and to kick things off we spoke to Jeremy Waite, Head of Digital Strategy, EMEA at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He’s just released his new From Survival to Significance book on Lulu, so that all the profits from sales can go towards teaching children to code. We were interested to see if and how his ideas about brands creating profits with purpose are linked to the ‘beyond customer centric’ idea we’re exploring.

Is it enough now to be just customer centric?

For Jeremy, it depends on what is meant by ‘going beyond’ customer centric – he says a lot of people in his company would argue that being customer centric is the only thing that matters. His take, and the reason he’s written his book, is that there seem to be specific stages that brands go through from survival to significance via success. This progression covers what he calls the ‘5 Levels of Brand Leadership’, and Jeremy outlines the challenges that brands face at each level and what it takes to get to the next level.

5 Levels of Brand Leadership

To reach the top and become a significant brand, Jeremy believes you need to transcend being just successful. For example, despite the superfast growth of the disruptive business Uber and its $40 billion valuation, he wonders whether it has the foundations for longer-term success if its model continues to put profit before people:

“There’s a level that you can’t get to on your own – the only people who can put you there are your customers. And this is where I believe the business world is going, to a kind of loyalty beyond reason where people don’t care about what you sell, they care about what you stand for, and regardless of what price it is they’re always going to follow you. So that’s where you’re not talking about purpose any more, you’re talking about your mission. This foundation of philanthropy and what you stand for is much bigger than just making a whole lot of money.”

That’s why Jeremy doesn’t think being customer centric is enough if you want to become a truly significant brand that inspires people. He believes there’s a level above being successful that’s about having a mission, which answers the question “What are we doing with all this money?”

“That’s my book. It’s essentially about profits with purpose – how do we make more money so we can give more away? – because that’s what’s going to inspire people and make a difference. I thought this would be a useful thing to talk about as it seemed to be the future of brands.”

What was your inspiration?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIaAAAAJDllYmQzMGRlLTYwOWMtNDM4Mi1hN2ExLTAzNGM4ZDFlNjhhOQJeremy’s book includes a long list of inspirational quotations running the gamut from Dale Carnegie to David Lee Roth. It also includes a comprehensive list of what else to read, what to watch and who to follow, as well as giving credit where credit is due.

I picked up on the ‘loyalty beyond reason’ theme from Love Marks by Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts who Jeremy cites. There also appears to be a link with the People Planet Profit theme of Peter Fisk’s book that has informed the thinking of Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer at Cool Brands, both of whom I’ve also interviewed as part of this series.

But it was the Maslow-like ‘5 Levels of Leadership’ that most struck me, because it provides a framework for thinking about organisational development and growth that’s akin to personal development and self-actualisation. This is something I have also spoken to Anouk and Maarten about, particularly Maslow’s idea that we become better people by helping others, and how what applies to us as individuals should also apply to organisations. Jeremy seems to be coming at this ‘humanisation’ of brands idea from a similar place:

 “The two people who basically inspired my book are John Maxwell and Rick Warren, both Christian pastors with big congregations. John Maxwell is now a leadership coach and he talks about five levels of personal leadership, which is rooted in Maslow. So that’s where my five levels came from – I thought brands are now acting more like people so there are going to be a lot of similarities.”

The bigger picture for Jeremy was Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life book all about how to become a better person:

 “He just says people go through three seasons of life: they start off in survival, they get successful and then they become significant. He didn’t really look into it in much detail, but I thought that there was something there and you could mash this up with John Maxwell’s ideas and apply brand leadership to them.”

Jeremy mentions the likes of Facebook with Internet.org or Philips trying to improve people’s lives as examples of brands that reach a level of significance that is beyond just making profit. The tipping point for him was in December 2014 when Internet entrepreneur and former Twitter CEO Evan Williams launched his new company Obvious Ventures, saying:

 “We’re now going to only invest in companies who have profits with purpose. If you just want to make a shitload of money then get out, have an exit, that’s fine but it’s not for us.”

Jeremy thinks that the next generation of brand leadership is where you’ve got to have profits with a purpose, and he says Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia sums up why better than most:

 “Businesses need profits to survive. The less we make, the less we will have to give away, and the less other companies will think we have a mission that is worth imitating.”

This leads to the key reason why Jeremy joined Salesforce: their CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff has embedded philanthropy at the heart of the company:

 “When it comes to philanthropy, I have one pitch, and it’s been the same since the founding of our company 15 years ago: the 1-1-1 model of integrated corporate philanthropy.”

This commitment is important to Jeremy because he thinks there’s a moral imperative to do business this way, rather than it being a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative that gets dropped when budgets get tight. Nor is it about just making charitable donations for tax purposes. It’s about a growing number of brands that are giving for genuine reasons, and he believes that those brands are the ones that should be considered the ‘Love Marks’, the cool or significant brands.

What about the intangibility of what it takes to be a significant brand i.e. to reach that higher level.

Jeremy believes that businesses are at the point now where it’s possible to know the value of every single interaction, so that you can measure every part of your customer journey and never need to waste any of your advertising.

Yet paradoxically, he points out, 80% of CMOs are overwhelmed and underprepared in the challenges they’re going to face in the next five years, and 37% of executives are unable to measure the lifetime value of their customers. So rather than marketing being the most protected budget, as Jeremy thinks it should be, it’s usually the first to get cut when things are tight because businesses don’t think that marketing can be measured properly.

That’s why the first four levels in Jeremy’s book are about what needs to be put into place to get from one level to the next, from becoming obsessed with customers and using the right technology to knowing exactly what customers are worth and when they’re worth it at every stage, in every channel, on every single device. Then, once all of that has been achieved, he says it’s more about how to keep customers, particularly when there’s a downturn. It’s at this stage that he thinks the progression to being a significant brand becomes more intangible:

“It was Gary Vaynerchuk who got me into social in the first place, and one of the things I loved about him was what he said about ROI in social being bullshit because what’s the ROI on your mum, or the ROI on your dog? How do you put a value on a relationship? What’s the ROI of us having this conversation right now?”

Jeremy thinks Simon Sinek nails what it is to become a significant brand in his famous Start With Why TED Talk when he said that “the goal in business isn’t to sell to people who need what you have, it is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

That’s how Jeremy thinks the kind of loyalty beyond reason that Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts talks about is achieved, and it’s this that can provide businesses with the foundations for ongoing success and longer term sustainability – not least because it is the antidote to consumer distrust in a world where 77% of people say they don’t want a relationship with a brand.

He hopes that his highlighting of brands that are going beyond just being financially successful to inspiring their customers through their philanthropy and higher purpose will help inspire other businesses to follow suit. That’s not to say that significant brands always get it right ethically, or that their transgressions should be overlooked. However Jeremy thinks that inspirational examples shine a light on how the circle of customer distrust can be broken. This organisational equivalent of self-actualisation is something he believes is better for brands and everyone else, and necessary given the current societal and environmental challenges we all face.

Jeremy will be talking about his new From Survival to Significance book in London this Thursday as part of a Like Minds Fireside Chat, you can find out more about the event here. There’s also more on his book here, including diagrams of his ‘5 Levels of Brand Leadership’ along with the preface and introduction where he talks about his inspiration and outlines his framework.

Next up, I’ll be speaking to Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer at CoolBrands. In the meantime, Jeremy’s manifesto is below:

The Significant Brands Manifesto.

  1. Significant brands are run by companies whose intentions lie beyond profits. They want to make profits with purpose.
  2. Significant brands stand for something larger than themselves, and by doing so they inspire and add value to the lives of everyone they touch.
  3. Significant brands understand that customer service is just as important as generating sales, because their most loyal customers are their most valuable assets.
  4. Significant brands think big and act small. They believe in the value of knowing each customer by name, no matter how large their customer base is.
  5. Significant brands know that they only need to measure a few metrics each day in order to monitor their growth and success. They also understand that just because they have the ability to measure everything, doesn’t mean that they should.
  6. Significant brands understand that engaging with their fans, followers and subscribers, and building a community, are two totally different things. They prefer the latter knowing that a real community loves, supports and encourages each other. This not only drives sales but also accelerates innovation, increases the quality of customer care and provides better insights.
  7. Significant brands value employee satisfaction as highly as customer satisfaction.
  8. Significant brands communicate with just six objectives, but they execute those objectives with power and precision. They inspire, inform, educate, entertain, challenge people and solve problems.
  9. Significant brands appeal to the head and the heart.
  10. Brands cannot become significant on their own, because the true value of a brand lies in what its customers say to each other, not what the brand says to its audience. Brands are not in control any more. Customers are.