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One for All, All for One: A Manifesto for Brands To Usher in a New Era of Interdependence

We now have a unique opportunity to break away from the old me-first ways of thinking, doing, and being.

two women facing each other cmo marketing interdependence

When I published my first Salesforce blog post, From Breakdown to Breakthrough: A Game Plan for Brands During Times of Crisis, we were still in the very early days of the pandemic. I outlined a way for businesses to come out of the crisis stronger than ever after 18 months. I figured that by winter, we’d be in the breakthrough stage – or at least close to it.

It’s not breaking news that we still have a long way to go. Over the past nine months, we’ve stood strong as individuals in the face of a multitude of unexpected challenges. Collectively though, the COVID-19 crisis has divided our society more than it has brought us together. It has surfaced divisions that have long existed and put them at the forefront of our societal debate. That has made it harder to control the virus on all levels.

But I’m an eternal optimist, and I see a big positive in all this. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more hopeful I become for lasting positive change.

I see unprecedented collective consciousness emerging from this crisis. A lot of this discussion focuses on revamping the physical ways we live and work. However, we have a unique opportunity to take things even further. We must rethink what we need, whom we care for, and what we value to live happy and meaningful lives.

The COVID-19 crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to usher in a new era of interdependence.

There has always been a tug-of-war between two sides: me versus we. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from 1943 pushed our society further toward individualistic thinking and a path of self-fulfillment over the past 80 years.

Very few know that Maslow’s thinking was inspired by the Blackfoot Native Americans. But what Maslow misunderstood was that self-actualization wasn’t the end-goal for Blackfoot Nation. It was a means to an end, with community actualization and cultural perpetuity at the core.

The COVID-19 crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to usher in a new era of interdependence. Because my health and our health are equally important and intrinsically connected. My world and our world both deserve attention.

Only proper systems thinking – considering the whole and not only the parts – will enable the individual and the collective to coexist and figure out what’s best for the wider community and for the planet.

And guess what: brands play a big role in this societal shift.

I’ve come up with five ways business leaders can put interdependence at the center of everything they do. They are:

  1. Let everybody play. Allow your wider community of brand lovers to play a part in how you run and grow your business.
  2. Help everyone win. Design processes and solutions that everyone can benefit from. 
  3. Focus on regeneration, not sustainability. Shift your mindset from doing less harm to doing more good.
  4. Be courageous in your leadership. Take a stand on issues that impact the wider community. 
  5. Put compassion at the heart of your business. A noble purpose is not enough. It’s imperative to have built-in strategies and processes for making the world a better place.

Business leaders need to figure out how to let people play a role in the entire business process, instead of just buying and consuming our products.

Now let’s dig in on each tip.

1. Let everybody play

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, has written about his stakeholder capitalism model that builds a better system for all humanity. To turn this theory into reality, we must make underserved communities the engines of our growth. We must build platforms and ecosystems that enable all “players” to use them in a democratic way to cocreate their own source of revenue and economic benefits.

Business leaders need to figure out how to let people play a role in the entire business process, instead of just buying and consuming our products.

Apple’s iOS platform is an example of this. Look at the number of people it has enabled and empowered – from app developers to individual users. It has helped them all (not just Apple) derive utility and economic value.

Slack, Zoom, Clubhouse, Discord, and Patreon are other platforms that empower microcommunities, enabling members to pursue ideas they are passionate about. I’m also impressed by adidas Creators Club, a program that invites the customer community to collaborate on ideas and offers members special perks. Adidas has put its community at the heart of its business model.

This creates good creative friction, because when you let everybody play, not everybody will play the same game. The result is more numerous and narrower communities of superfans will be served. There will be higher engagement and therefore more opportunities for both the business and the customer to thrive!

2. Help everyone win

I recently had a walking meeting in New York City’s Central Park with Keith Grossman, the CEO of Time. I was testing my theory on interdependence with him when he suddenly asked, “Marc, what’s the best way to share an orange?”

I said, “Cut it in half, I guess.”

He said, “No, no, no. You have to understand what each person wants the orange for. If you are really hungry and need the pulp, and I’m a chef and just need the zest to cook, we both can have 100% of the orange that we need.”

He then went on to talk about one of his favorite concepts: selfishlessness — the need to design processes and solutions that help everyone get what they need. The question we all should ask is: can I get what I want without it being detrimental to others? And to go further, can we both benefit? I believe we can! Here are a few brand examples:

  • I’ve been struck by the different messages used by businesses during the pandemic regarding mask wearing. While many simply asked shoppers to wear a mask, Louis Vuitton redesigned its store with positive messages. It invited people to “protect our community” as a way to inspire customers to both help themselves (me) as well as others (we).
  • Burger King’s ad campaign asked customers to buy from McDonald’s and other competitors. Now, there are few bigger rivalries than Burger King versus McDonald’s. But this unusual move acknowledged that the entire food industry was in trouble during the pandemic, and solidarity was needed for anyone to survive.
  • Tesla has always done a good job of rethinking an entire industry balancing me and we. The cool, innovative design makes the individual feel good about their choice (me), and its all-electric function also helps the environment (we).

Sustainability has become a cliché, and it’s time to rethink it. We need to shift our mindset from sustainability to regeneration!

3. Focus on regeneration, not sustainability

This brings me to the point that if everybody can win, then the planet ought to win too.

Brands often talk about sustainability as a way to help the earth. “Sustainable” by its definition is not very desirable. It’s an attitude of doing less harm rather than growing and improving. Sustainability has become a cliché, and it’s time to rethink it. We need to shift our mindset from sustainability to regeneration!

Regeneration is defined as the process of renewal, restoration, and growth. So how do we move in this direction? The good news is we’ve become closer to nature due to COVID – we’re spending more time outside in the open air. That should lead to protecting nature more and even learning from it.

I’m a huge fan of Janine Benyus’ biomimicry thinking to design better living and working systems. What can we learn from ants, which have a greater biomass than humans but have a positive impact on the planet’s ecosystem, as opposed to the negative impact we have?

I am encouraged to see brands we can draw inspiration from:

  • With Converse Renew, the company is “putting old goods to new use,” recycling biowaste to create its new Chuck Taylor Crater shoes.
  • Danone’s One Planet. One Health initiative enables its US farming suppliers to adopt regenerative agriculture, using science-based techniques, and natural methods like crop rotation to enrich the soil, preserve biodiversity, and enhance animal welfare.
  • Alter Eco also uses regenerative agriculture to mimic the natural evolution of a forest – and create great chocolate. They plant a diverse mix of trees – such as banana and timber – around the cacao crop to mimic an abundant forest ecosystem. It’s another example of system thinking at its best.

4. Be courageous in your leadership

There’s an old African proverb that says while the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second-best time is now. Brands and business leaders are in a similar situation when it comes to taking a stand on social and environmental issues. They should have been doing it all along, but it’s not too late to start.

Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia are two brands that “planted their tree” early. Ben & Jerry’s has long been vocal about causes such as racial justice, LGBTQIA+ equality, and climate change. Patagonia (naturally) is passionate about environmental activism. Both of these brands’ actions are respected because they are honest and clear about what they stand for.

This type of courageous leadership can also be developed. Take Reddit for example. Co-founder Alexis Ohanian took two courageous stands recently. Last year, he advocated for parental leave after his own experience opened his eyes to hardships faced by those who are less fortunate. And in June, he stepped down from the Reddit board and asked to be replaced by a black candidate, explaining “it’s long overdue to do the right thing.”

There are so many opportunities to take a stand, and staying silent is not an option. Just make sure your stance is genuine and clear – otherwise, your audience will call you out on it. For a reason!

5. Put compassion at the heart of your business

Most businesses have embedded a “meaningful purpose” in their corporate mission statement. But how many turn those words into actions that have a real impact? Like sustainability, purpose has become a buzzword.

Nurturing a culture where empathy (understanding other people’s life challenges) and compassion (channelling that understanding into action) are valued is essential to activate that purpose across your organization.

The first step to making that happen is taking care of your own employees. What actions can you take to enhance their well-being, which will lead to them being more productive? How can you instill culture in a remote work environment?

The next step is building a vision, strategies, and tactics for a business model of enlightened self-interest. You don’t have to save the world or give away a large chunk of your profits. But your business should have a built-in process for helping communities and protecting your stakeholders from harm.

For example, Blake Mycoskie’s Toms shoes donates $1 to charity for every $3 the company makes. It has given nearly 100 million shoes to people in need.

Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model gives 1% of our equity, employee time, and products to philanthropic causes and the nonprofit sector.This has resulted in more than $1 billion in value for the community since its inception. Our CEO Marc Benioff has written about the need for building a new capitalism that values purpose and promotes equality.

We now have a unique opportunity to usher in a new era of interdependence and break away from the old me-first ways of thinking, doing, and being.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the late Tony Hsieh of Zappos, one of the most humble and compassionate leaders I have ever met, who infused “delivering happiness” into every aspect of his business. The likes of Blake and Tony put compassion at the heart of their business model and have inspired others to follow suit.

Looking forward, deep shifts in business consciousness will be needed, including the adoption of new metrics that change the paradigm to a risk / return / impact model. Sir Ronald Cohen makes this argument in his recent book, “Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Real Change.”

One thing is certain: we now have a unique opportunity to usher in a new era of interdependence and break away from the old me-first ways of thinking, doing, and being that have developed over centuries.

As his Holiness the Dalai Lama has said: “Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Our own survival is so dependent on the help of others that a need for love lies at the very core of our existence.”

I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas on how brands and businesses can build a new system of interdependence that will benefit individuals, communities and the planet. Share your thoughts at @MarketingCloud on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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