Marketing expert Bobby Jones on why “good is the new cool”
Ten years ago, Bobby Jones launched a global movement and book, Good is the new cool, to inspire leaders to use their talents and resources for good. Now, he is an author and consultant at Conspiracy of Love, where he helps Fortune 500 leaders use purpose to motivate employees, delight customers and drive business success. Jones was a keynote speaker at last year’s World Retail Congress in Rome, where we chatted with him about the roadblocks stopping retailers from becoming purpose-led, what
good” business looks like and how to make long-lasting change.
Jo-Anne Hui-Miller: You wrote your book on purpose, Good is the new cool about 10 years ago and you’ve worked with businesses for a long time around this idea of conscious capitalism. What are your thoughts on this evolution?
Bobby Jones: It’s been an incredible journey. Over the past few years, there have been so many things that have happened to accelerate that shift, everything from Covid to people around the world really thinking about how their work is making a positive contribution to society (or not). There are a lot of people who have had the opportunity to reflect on the work that they’re doing and the roles that their companies played and how they showed up for a lot of communities and societies that were struggling throughout that period from an economic standpoint but also physical and mental health.
So now a lot of employees are looking at the world through a very different lens and want to be part of organisations that are appearing for the communities that they are a part of, but are also making a positive difference in the world – and doing so in a way that is financially sustainable.
With the killing of George Floyd, we’ve also seen a global reckoning when it comes to racial injustice. I think that this has manifested itself in all forms of new conversations around inclusion, equity and justice: you see companies that have recognised that they have diverse workforces, customer bases and investor communities – and all of these different stakeholders are expecting that they have a certain stance as it relates to diversity and equity and inclusion. And I think you also are starting to see that consumers are becoming much more selective and thoughtful about what they buy, particularly as it relates to their values, but also, the impact of their products and their choices have on the environment.
If you look at all these different forces coming together, you’re seeing a radical shift in terms of how businesses see themselves, of rising expectations of customers and consumers, and employees who are showing up at work in a very different way than they did a few years ago. Part of that is in the advocacy and activism that they’re showing inside of it. Some of it is also manifested in this great resignation, in terms of employees saying, “Is this a place that I want to work and show up?” So I think we’ve seen a wide range of different forces that are all coming together to make purpose such a timely and important topic to think about in terms of our businesses.
JHM: What do you think is required for businesses to actually make these changes for the long-term, rather than simply a knee jerk reaction to the great resignation? How do you actually make sure purpose is systemic in the world of business?
BJ: Ultimately, if you look at it from an organisational standpoint, everything starts at the top. We always say purpose starts inside out. And within an organisation, it’s only going to last as much as the leadership team embodies it, integrates everything that they do and actually look at it through the lens of how we define success. So I think if you look at the companies that are getting it right, I think we see some common traits.
They have leaders who are very committed to purpose and are very clear about why the company organisation exists and they are very clear about that, to their customers, shareholders, and employees. When that leadership is very clear on what that purpose is, that cascades down to the employees and they actually create cultures within the organisation that are rooted in that purpose. So the employees not only see the organisational purpose, but they see how they can use their own gifts and passions, in ways that are of service to that higher purpose. They’re creating cultures that actually are driven and rooted in values, whether it’s around equity, inclusion and diversity, but also the values of equal opportunity. When those employees are able to see that they can bring their full selves to work, and there’s something about the work they’re doing that brings them alive and gives them a real sense of satisfaction, then they now create products, innovations, campaigns, and stories that are now much more rooted in purpose. They’re telling that story to customers and consumers in ways that really gets them excited about what they’re seeing and how their company is aligned with these values, so when a consumer buys it, they know they’re buying into something that matters to them.
So in order for this to be a lasting thing, I think those things have to live within the organisation. And beyond individual organisations, the industries have to understand that the long-term success of these businesses have to be tied to the long-term health and well being of societies and planet. There’s no business to be done on a dead planet. And if we don’t address some of the issues of income inequality, who is going to actually buy these goods and services at a retail level?
We’re seeing businesses at a macro level starting to see that their long term ability to thrive is connected to planetary and social success as well. That begins to create an encouraging dynamic, where leaders are starting to say that we need to make sure that not only are our shareholders thriving, but our stakeholders are thriving, as well.
If we continue to have companies that lead that way, we have categories and industries that begin to lead that way. And we continue to have customers that reward those businesses with their dollars, employees that feel really connected and excited and stay with these companies, and investors who continue to invest in those companies.
JH: I’d be really interested to hear what you consider to be “good” business. Sometimes I think we mix up words like “sustainability” and “ethics” and use them interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. What does “good” look like to you?
BJ: Oftentimes, when we talk about “good”, particularly in the context of purpose, we define it as having an aspirational reason for being that inspires actions that benefit shareholders, stakeholders, as well as local and global societies. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every company has to exist in order to save the planet, or to eradicate inequality. But it does mean that you exist for a reason that adds value to the wellbeing of the stakeholders, as well as your shareholders and local and global societies. And so when we talk about “good”, we’re looking at it through that lens. Are you behaving in a way that’s making a positive contribution to the world and communities? Is that contribution in line with your commercial objective and reason for being? We’re not just talking about your CSR campaign or your charity. At the core, is the work that you’re doing every day contributing to the well being of people and planet. And if so, how are you measuring it? What are your commitments to that? And how do you hold yourself accountable to stakeholders as you continue to go along?
JHM: From your point of view, what are the gold-standard businesses doing good in the industry?
BJ: Probably the gold standard would be Patagonia, as a brand that has embodied purpose from the beginning. As much criticism as its founder has faced, Tesla has done a tremendous amount of work to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. You just look at the breadth of cars now that are electric compared to 10-15 years ago. You have companies like Hanes that did a really great job in terms of showing how they can protect and support your employees. Through a very difficult time, they showed up with the communities that they serve, but also their employees as well. Unilever continues to be another great one in terms of how they look at sustainable products.
The good news is that the number of companies and organisations that embody this are continuing to expand. You’re starting to see a lot of these startups that are coming up, like Who Gives a Crap in Australia which is telling these really powerful stories in terms of raising awareness on a wide range of issues.
JHM: Through your work with different businesses, what do you think are the common roadblocks businesses face when they’re attempting to be more purpose-driven? What’s stopping them?
BJ: There are a couple of things. I think a lot of times, you have employees who are really hungry for it, and want to do it, but are now working in organisations where leadership needs to be brought into it. And so you see a lot of employees have this uphill battle of trying to be advocates for more purpose, but they’re fighting against leadership who are still looking at success through a very narrow lens and seeing purpose as somehow being outside of commercial success. One of the biggest things is helping organisations understand that these two things interconnect. As a matter of fact, in our work, we think that every purpose effort should be rooted in a commercial challenge. Purpose should be a way that you help grow your business, as much as it is about making a positive impact.
Particularly more established companies struggle with trying to figure out how to actually bring purpose into an organisation that may or may not have it embedded into it from the origins. How do you retrofit it? How do you reimagine the organisation? What does it mean for an organisation that may not necessarily have those muscles, and exercise those things over the course of years?
You also start to see a lack of courage, and a lot of times, it’s when that courage is really necessary. Sometimes, doing the right thing that is in the best interest of the communities that you’re part of and the stakeholders that you share may not necessarily be the most profitable choice in the short term. But it may be the thing that best positions you for long-term success, and gives your employees and customers a reason to be more excited about why they choose you over others. And so a lot of times, you see companies who struggle during those times with making those difficult choices, whether it’s their product supply chain, the diversity of their leadership. You start to see people faced with challenges and criticism along the way. Sometimes they get scared and retreat, versus using it as an opportunity to listen, learn and continue to build and grow with their customers.
I think those are some of the challenges that companies and people are facing, particularly in the retail space. But the ones that will thrive are the ones that lean into it. They’ll be brave, bold, listen, learn. They’ll be open about their imperfections. And they will look to show up in ways that align with their values and support those organisations, consumers and groups that are doing the work out in the communities that they want to impact.
JH: I’d like to make a left turn. You’re an advisory board member for non-profit organisation, Games for Good. Tell me how and why you entered the gaming sector and the role that purpose plays in it.
BJ: The gaming industry is massive, you’re talking about billions of people who use games and play games every day, whether it’s on mobile devices or consoles. What we’re starting to see is that gaming is becoming a way for not only people to have an enjoyable escape from reality, but it’s also an opportunity to infuse messaging and education into it as well. For example, the United Nations has used gaming as an opportunity to understand young people’s awareness of a variety of issues around the environment and sustainability. The more that you participate in the game, you actually can earn points by learning more and more about these particular issues.
As you’re playing, you can also share information that you’re learning that you invite other people to participate in. And it creates this sort of morality to it that is very difficult to do in a traditional sort of media function.
Because it’s so active, the way we learn and engage when we’re actively participating in something versus passively viewing an ad is different. Gaming allows you to actually interact in a very proactive way that makes what you’re seeing, learning and how you’re participating become more memorable. You’re more involved and you’re much more likely to act on what you see. Gaming is a really powerful thing.
We’re also seeing people use the metaverse as a way of actually designing virtual societies based on different sets of values. People are thinking what a just and equitable society would look like, and how to create that in a virtual realm in ways that have space for dialogue. There are all sorts of ways that people are using gaming and there are infinite possibilities in these virtual spaces, as a creative platform to test and learn, to connect and explore new ideas, but to also build virtual societies in ways that align with desired values. It’s a really interesting time to see how people create new spaces, but also how brands and retailers can participate in that. So many products can potentially live in it and be part of the dialogue in ways that bridge the gap between the virtual, physical and social worlds that particularly young people are moving in and out of.
Comments are closed.