Once a decade or so, I fall in love with a book by a business founder. In the 90’s it was Herb Kelleher’s Nuts, the inspiring story from the founder of Southwest Airlines. In the aughts it was S. Truett Cathy’s Eat More Chikin Inspire More People, a remarkable rundown on the rise of Chick-fil-a. [Though I don’t share Cathy’s politics, I couldn’t help but respect his accomplishments.] So here we are in the twenty-tens and boom, the recently released Do the Kind Thing by Daniel Lubetzky rocks my world! Admittedly, I’m a sucker for stories about brands that do well by doing good BUT take my word for it, this is a book for marketers big and small, entrepreneurs and corporate chiefs.
I read the book after seeing Lubetzky speak at the recent PSFK conference and more importantly to this post, after he agreed to be interviewed. Our subsequent conversation covered the gamut, from book writing to purpose branding, sampling programs to child rearing. And every minute was delightfully instructive. One of the things that I really appreciated about the book was how honest he was about his mistakes along the way and he was equally frank in our conversation. The passages below focus on why he wrote the book and his conception of purpose-driven branding.
Purpose-driven branding, for the uninitiated, is the notion that companies and brands need a reason for being such that everyone at the organization can answer the question “why are we here?” Gordon Methune, former CEO of Continental, credits the turnaround at that airline in the late ’90’s by getting everyone in the organization behind a clearly defined purpose, “on time with bags.” As you will see in our discussion below, KIND’s Lubetzky set the bar for his organization quite a bit higher, aiming to turn kindness into a movement, one KIND bar and one KIND act at a time.
Drew: You’re a busy guy to say the least. What really compelled you to write the book?
A few things… One is that I have been the recipient of a ton of guidance and advice from people over the years. And I felt I needed to do the same things for others. The book also shares very honestly a lot of my mistakes – hopefully this will help others avoid making the same ones.
The second one was I very sincerely aspire for KIND to do something very different from what other companies have done–to really push the frontiers, to transform the company into a movement and a state of mind, a community that people connect to. And by no means do I think we are there. But to get closer to this aspiration, we have to share our vision with others and stake a claim to what we are and what we’re living to accomplish, to get a community to help us build the movement and take ownership over it. Writing a book was the first step in sharing more of our philosophy, a little bit of where we’re coming from and what we’re aiming to do so that people can hopefully join us in pursuing our vision.
Drew: Any other reasons?
I also wanted to write a book because frankly I’m very aware of my own mortality because my father was a holocaust survivor and I just think about those issues perhaps more often than others. And I have 4 children and I just wanted to document my values and my way of life for them. And I also wanted to share these ideas with the KIND team, which is especially important as we grow, so there was a lot of motivation.
Drew: Speaking as an entrepreneur that has made more than his fair share of mistakes, I love how honest you are about yours.
It shows a certain sincerity and ability to look at yourself with a degree of circumspection. It also makes your success that much more impressive.
Drew: You spend a fair of time in the book talking about “purpose.” Do you think every company needs a purpose, and does that purpose necessarily need to be tied to social good?
I think every company that is trying to succeed has to have a purpose because it’s another way of saying that it has some sort of reason to succeed, it has something to offer consumers or society that serves a greater purpose. As far as a social purpose, I don’t think every company has to have it. I think companies that have it feel fulfilled and motivated. But it can be dangerous to inauthentically incorporate a social purpose. It’s not the same if the people that are driving the business don’t wake up in the morning and feel the purpose is important to them. Consumers will be able to tell if it’s not authentic and it will probably backfire.
Drew: Does having a purpose help you as the leader?
I personally derive more meaning from having more than a financial purpose and doing our small part to make this world a little bit better. And I do think that there is a trend for society to appreciate the power of businesses incorporating social purpose into their mission when it’s sincere. But I don’t think it’s a requirement and I think it’s very dangerous to force it into something where it doesn’t fit.
Drew: How else does having a purpose help?
I also think the exercise of talking to people about their core principles and asking what’s important to them can help them pursue a bigger vision. But it has to really, really connect with their efforts, with their spirit, with their DNA, with who they are, with what they stand for and frankly with the brand heritage.
Drew: What about brands that don’t have a social purpose?
I think there are incredible brands like Snickers whose purpose might just be to satisfy a hungry craving. And they don’t need to pretend to be something that they’re not –they play a role as a fun and delicious experience and a satisfying candy bar. I think there are many other great brands that do what they promise to do and are very successful without a social purpose.
Stay tuned for more of this interview in subsequent posts.