Tell us about the work you do at goodDog.
goodDog is a brand consultancy that helps mostly mid-stage, founder-built, mission-driven companies grow by locating and articulating an emotive, resonant singular storyline, then building corporate consensus and focus around it. I am a co-founder of goodDog, and I lead our strategy and ideas practice. First, this means that I’m responsible for finding this “singular storyline” based on both research and intuition. Then, I must build an unimpeachable case for it that will make it easy and exciting for leadership teams, boards, and employees to drive all of their resources towards living it every single day. We believe that it is this laser focus on a single framework for the brand—a framework built on fundamental brand truths, consumer desires, and cultural relevancy—that drives growth. We have seen this happen dozens of times over the last decade.
You are focused on working with brands that are building meaning. What does that mean? Is your process different when working with purpose-driven companies rather than “traditional” companies?
Our process would not be different for purpose-driven companies versus “traditional” companies. We could find a storyline for any company if we do the hard work of listening, observing, and processing all we learn about them, their consumer target, the category in which they operate, and the cultural mores that drive behaviour.
That said, goodDog has decided not to work with companies that are focused solely on driving profit. That is part of our ethos. The companies we choose to help are ones that know what they want to do and change in the world but have not yet been able to communicate that deep intent to consumers (and sometimes to their internal teams) in a way that makes them feel something when they interact with the brand. It is this feeling, this relationship that is built between consumer and company, that drives brand loyalty. If you don’t make consumers feel something about your brand, you don’t mean anything to them. If you don’t mean anything to them, they don’t stay with you. Our work helps build that meaning. And when you’re working with companies that are truly built with deep intent, it’s not that hard to find meaning that will resonate with people!
So, if companies who understand their purpose are good at driving growth, then wouldn’t it follow that social ventures have a leg up…
Absolutely. The stats don’t lie: According to a recent study by Wunderman, 80% of American consumers said that they are loyal to companies that share their values. And doing business according to one’s values isn’t just an American thing: 63% of consumers globally told Accenture that they prefer to purchase goods and services from companies that stand for a purpose that aligns to their own values and beliefs and will avoid companies that don’t. It’s good business to be good. But more importantly, if consumers are choosing to do business with values-driven, socially-responsible companies, eventually, the cumulative power of those choices should eventually mean a greener, safer, more compassionate planet.
Personally, I have been so inspired of late by companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods choosing to abandon the lucrative sale of guns, Laurence Fink’s letter to the CEOs of the world’s largest public companies asserting BlackRock’s intent to do business with only socially responsible companies going forward, despite potential impact on profitability, or even Nike’s alignment with Colin Kaepernick despite the diverse viewpoints of its consumers. We have only started to see companies donning White Hats and doing what they think is the right thing, having determined that the societal benefits outweigh the corporate risks. I can’t wait to see who will be next to join the party.
So, it sounds like you have witnessed more companies thinking about having a positive impact these days.
Yes! goodDog is a B Corp (a private certification issued to for-profit companies legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment), and our community has grown to include more than 2,500 companies in over 50 countries. And the movement’s growth to include publically traded companies worth billions indicates that the momentum towards shifting the balance between purpose and profit is here to stay. In just this last year, Danone North America and Athleta (owned by Gap, Inc.), for instance, have earned B Corp status, which isn’t easy. This says to me that even the largest companies on Earth are doing the hard work to make a positive impact on the planet we share. In a messy world where governments can’t seem to get their acts together to make things better for most, it seems businesses are picking up the slack more and more. This gives me much needed hope.
Do you have any advice for how inclusive business entrepreneurs can differentiate their companies and build trust with their customers?
Differentiation has three manifestations: product, consumer target, and message. So, first, don’t make a “me too” product. Look for a problem that needs solving, that no one is already solving or is being solved insufficiently, and address it by making a product or service that’s inherently unique. Secondly, talk to someone that no one is talking to, that no one is even thinking about. In fact, isn’t this what inclusive business is all about? Find the underserved population and serve them, making something that resonates with them. And lastly, check out your competitors’ messages. Don’t say what they’re saying! Be relatable, relevant, respectful and most importantly, real. If what you’re saying isn’t 100% true, people will smell it.
From your experience, what is essential when it comes to making a pitch and why?
When you’re a business built on ethos—on doing the right thing—there’s nothing more important than showing your heart to the people you’re pitching. Help your audience believe you. Make the case for why working with you, buying what you’re selling, is a win for the good guys. A win for the world, not just the bottom line. It’s hard to say no to that.