The Power of Purpose in Business

It was the spring of 2013 and my first full year as an entrepreneur. I had been introduced to S. Chris Edmonds by a mutual friend. I mentioned to Chris that I was working on launching my business as an author and speaker. He recommended that I speak to Mark Levy.  

Mark Levy leads a consulting practice called Levy Innovation focused on positioning. Described as the “horse whisperer” for writers, Levy had worked with prominent thought leaders such as Marshall Goldsmith, Simon Sinek, David Meerman Scott, and Cali Yost. I hired Mark to help me with my platform. Over six weeks, he coached me on creating marketplace differentiation, crafting an elevator pitch, mining my backstory, and developing a go-to-market strategy.

Mark is brilliant. He taught me about crafting a big idea and developing a backstory. We spent a considerable amount of time on not only the what and how, but also the why. To illustrate the importance of communicating my why, Mark shared a story about one of his clients. It was one I’d never forget.

The Power of Purpose

CalculatorThe client was a financial planner serving small business owners. Let’s call him Ed. Ed had shared with Mark that he recruited the majority of his new clients by speaking. He would give a 90 minute seminar on managing finances. At the end of the seminar, Ed would offer a free one hour consultation/assessment. If there was 40 people in the room, he’d typically have only two or three take him up on the offer. The need to grow his client base led him to Mark. Mark asked Ed why he chose to pursue a career in accounting. He shared that the inspiration began during his teenage years. His parents had passed away in a car accident and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather had worked at a local company for over 30 years. His grandmother was working as an office administrative assistant in a local school. Ed could remember sitting in his living room at age 14 like it was yesterday. His grandfather was next to him reading the newspaper. An advertisement caught his eye. The ad was for the sale of a local butcher shop. He approached his wife and expressed his desire to purchase the business. They both would quit and go into business for themselves. She was skeptical, but eventually agreed.

Ed watched his grandparents cash in their life savings to start the new business. The butcher shop didn’t make any money the first year, lost money in year two, and a little more in year three. By the end of the fifth year they had lost the remaining capital and were forced to close the business. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they went back to getting full-time jobs and both worked until they passed away. Ed shared that he went into accounting because he didn’t want to have other small business owners experience what had happened to his grandparents. Mark asked Ed to share this personal backstory during his next seminar. The results were staggering. Ed merely told his backstory on why he became a financial planner before starting his regular session. At the end he made his usual pitch. The difference was that 37 out of the 40 attendees took him up on the offer, many of whom became clients for Ed.

Arriving at the Ultimate Differentiator

I began writing back in 2008. For one year I blogged about 50 different topics in marketing. Searching for what I thought would be a game changer in business. The following year I would have a “moment of truth” in New York City that changed my life. I walked away from that experience believing the biggest myth in business was the idea of meeting customer expectations. Too much attention was being placed on acquisition. Going forward businesses  would need to find the little things to maximize the customer experience by putting customers first. Taking care of the customers they had, so those customers would bring them the (referred) customers they wanted.

I became a disciple of the late Ted Levitt. Levitt believed that business should put the customer at the center of everything they do. Levitt asserted that “The search for meaningful distinction is central to the marketing effort. If marketing is about anything, it is about achieving customer-getting distinction by differentiating what you do and how you operate. All else is derivative of that and only that.” I believed the focus of business should be on customers and not just chasing bottom line profits. Profit was the result, not the aim. Customer experience was to become the new marketing.

PurpleGoldfishAfter collecting over 1,000 examples and writing Purple Goldfish, my thinking was slightly altered. I found that the companies who did the little extras for customers, also applied the same principles for their employees. In fact, many of those successful companies seemed to place a greater emphasis on culture and putting their employees first. It led me to crowdsource another 1,000+ examples. These examples were focused on the little things for employees to help drive engagement and reinforce culture. The result was my second book, the Green Goldfish.

GreenGoldfishMy outlook after Green Goldfish was altered once again. I had previously held the view that you treat all of your customers and all of your employees the same. I came to realize that for most companies, 80% of profitability is created by just 20% of customers. In addition, 80% of the value that is created by a business, comes from just 20% of the employees. I realized that you don’t treat everyone the same, you treat everyone fairly. My third book in the original trilogy, the Golden Goldfish, focused on the little things you do for your “vital few” in business.

GoldenGoldfishI now believe there is an ultimate differentiator. While writing Golden Goldfish I was introduced to Chris Malone. Chris Malone co-authored The Human Brand with Susan T. Fiske. The book examines the concepts of warmth and competence in relation to business. As humans, our brains are hardwired to sense warmth and competence immediately. Warmth trumps competence. It starts inside your organization and radiates to your customer. If you want to win the hearts of employees and wallets of customers, you must go out of your way to put their interests ahead of yours. Malone and Fiske call this the principle of worthy intentions. These worthy intentions are typically linked to the purpose of your company. Purpose is now becoming the ultimate differentiator.

The book Red Goldfish, co-authored by Graeme Newell,  (launching 2/14/17) will explore how business is evolving, the importance of putting purpose first, how to define your purpose, the eight purpose archetypes, and how to create the little things that bring purpose to life.

Red Goldfish Book

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here is a slideshare presentation on the concept of a Red Goldfish:

Is It About You or Them? Make a Choice

By this time, it was mass chaos. Exacerbating matters was the fact that this was a post–September 11th world, where cute disguises don’t go over so well with airport security or law enforcement. Still thinking it was a heart attack, a defibrillator was used to shock me as Lindsay looked on in complete horror.

This is an excerpt from a story that my good friend, John Ruhlin, tells about his proposed engagement in his new book, Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention

John reflects on the situation and notes that his elaborate plan to dress up as an old man and surprise his then girlfriend was based on the fact that he loves surprises. She would have been happy with something simple and the engagement should have been more about her rather than him.

John then expounds on this notion and comments, “We make a gift all about us. It’s our event, our colors, our themes, our preferences, our whatever—and it has little to do with the recipient. Be thoughtful about what’s motivating you, and be honest with yourself…[giving] isn’t about stepping into the spotlight—it’s about shining the light on someone else.

This principle of putting others first and genuinely serving them applies to every Goldfish concept. Too often, companies and people are quick to ask how the Goldfish concepts can build the top-line instead of giving from a generous heart to make the lives of the people that they serve better. Here’s a synopsis of the Goldfish:

Purple Goldfish- Give the little things to your customers to touch their hearts and create a better experience.  

Green Goldfish- Go beyond dollars to drive employee engagement and reinforce culture.

Golden Goldfish- Take extra special care of the top 20% of your customers and employees.

Blue Goldfish- Leverage technology to create a better customer experience and differentiate from competition.

Red Goldfish- Embrace purpose to drive employee and customer engagement, and make an impact on the lives of those the purpose serves.

When most people hear those concepts, they typically comment that they share these values and believe that they they’re important, but…

That’s when all of the “but’s” begin to set in and negate everything that was said before:

  • We have to experience growth and have quantifiable metrics and returns for our shareholders and investors. We can’t gamble on an “expensive” initiative and not have it correlate to results.
  • My boss and the board just don’t share these ideals.
  • We just don’t have time. We’re too busy.

On and on it goes. What starts as a positive, fruitful discussion transitions into the same old focus of financial results and nothing more. Oftentimes people will even comment and talk about participating in these business principles but it’s almost always about them and their organization. For example:

  • You give nice gifts branded with your logo to try and buy the loyalty of customers.
  • You’re nice to your employees because it’s expensive to replace them.
  • You invest in technology to alleviate long-term costs.
  • You establish a “purpose” as though it’s a marketing campaign to convey how thoughtful and philanthropic you are.

What can you do about this? Here are the three easy steps that you can take immediately:

1. Make a deliberate choice. You don’t have to overhaul your entire organization today to embrace these principles. You simply need to be intentional about positively impacting your customers and employees and make this the focus of your decision-making. Make it about the people that you serve and the strategic plan and little bits of action will follow.

2. Be the catalyst for positive change. If you truly believe that giving, serving, and making a positive difference in the lives of others then why have you not made this clear to your organization? Is it because you’re afraid of being talked about, not fitting in, detracting focus, or temporarily failing? Relentless commitment to creating and sharing vision with others is how positive change will permeate in your business.

3. Establish a plan. Would our team like to work with you to make executing these principles faster and easier? Of course. However, you can do this yourself if you’re willing to take little bits of daily action to intentionally design your customer experience, employee engagement, technology, and purpose. When you figure out what the right inputs are then you’ll inherently discover how they correlate to your top-line results.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – If you have an hour, check out Lewis Howes interviewing John Ruhlin about the principles of radical generosity. It’s worth your time!


"For Purpose" or "Not For Purpose"? That is the Question.

“Brooks, we’re going to make so much money together, buddy!”

This is what the CEO of our newly created entity exclaimed to me on a warm spring night while sipping an expensive craft beer atop a rooftop bar overlooking the Charlotte, NC, skyline.

For some reason, that statement really struck a nerve with me.

Maybe it was because I liked to focus the last few hours of my day on personal and professional development, and was reminded about the time that I was sacrificing to be here.

Perhaps it was because he was drinking a $12 bottle of beer while a majority of the world was starving to death. (Sorry, the inner hippie in me just came out).

Ultimately, I realized that the purpose we had set forth was not consistent with the type of value that I wanted to create with, and for, others.   

Without skipping a beat, I quickly responded, “Yes, I hear you, and that’s awesome. To be candid, I care more about creating something remarkable together and genuinely serving the community. The money will be a byproduct of our service. Whose lives are we going to make better as a result of our existence?”

He looked puzzled and the conversation quickly tapered off. Most of our group had worked together in a previous life and they clamored about the “good ol’ days.” They excitedly made plans about how big we were going to grow and what they would do with their newfound wealth. I stood there knowing that as badly as I wanted to fit in; this square peg was not going into a round hole. Our values just weren’t congruent.

The Elusive Red Goldfish

It’s easy to get “cause marketing,” and the overall new wave of philanthropic infused business models confused. The newest book to emerge from the Purple Goldfish platform is entitled, Red Goldfish, written by my colleagues, Stan Phelps and Graeme Newell, and it argues that all businesses must choose to be “for purpose” or “not for purpose” in 2016 and moving forward.

The most common problem that I see is entities treating “purpose” as though it’s a campaign or integrating this aspect because they’re “supposed to” or because “everyone else is doing it.” The end result is an effort that typically comes across as contrived, and ultimately, chock-full of lackluster results.

Let me be clear, profit should be a primary goal in business. Without properly stewarding over your finances and investment, you’ll never have the ability to create more opportunity for others. My argument is that entities must begin, or reinvent themselves, with the end result in mind.

In essence, businesses must ask, “Whose lives are we looking to positively change, and how are we going to make the world a better place?”

Enter “For Purpose” Entities

As I just mentioned, companies seem to align with a different cause and are all out to make a positive difference in the world virtually everywhere you look now. While all of this action is wonderful to see, I came up with five keys based on my failures, overall experience, and copious amounts of research to create and sustain meaningful “for purpose” entities.

1. Start with an idea.

John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse didn’t set out to create Florida’s largest barbecue chain. John cooked his now world famous brisket to serve his community, raise money for those in need locally, and to gently evangelize.

At the root of it all, John lives out his vocational purpose. He acted on an idea which begets excitement which begets passion which begets purpose. When you have a joyful heart toward your cause you’ll always take massive action, and this all comes as a result of being led by the right idea.

2. Be inclusive.

Too often entities want to make their impact all about them. You’ve seen it time and time again when entities make proclamations in their communications to say, “See, look at what we did for all of these people and how awesome we are.” They’ve made it all about them and how great they are.

They talk about what their vision is and how they are going to accomplish their goals. But what about the people that they serve? What about their employees and the people that want to help? Everyone wants something to believe in. Are you giving them the opportunity to be a part of your movement and inviting them to do so?  

3. Intentionally permeate your purpose-driven culture. 

One of the largest disconnects with purpose are the personal connections to the stories about the end results. So what can you do about it?

I highly recommend creating internal and external communications that celebrate how your employees, customers, and community align with your purpose. Take the time to celebrate the instances where your purpose has manifested as often as possible. Hang up pictures or post them on your website to tell the stories of the people that you have helped by living out your purpose. The possibilities here are endless.

4. Lose yourself in service. 

Too many entities focus on the outcomes in the form of a P&L and financial statements when they need to be focusing on a few strategic inputs. My suggestion is to garner that focus on a few customer impact measures, i.e. what are the few activities that we can take scalable action on that drive our customer’s overall experience and the top-line?

The biggest disconnect that I see is the inability to correlate the right measures of service to profitability. Therein lies the key to truly losing yourself in service to others and the commitment to become a servant leader.

5. Say what you mean and execute.

Have you ever seen a speaker that looked the part, put on an excellent presentation, and said all of the right things but you just couldn’t bring yourself to trust them? Something about them just made you think that they are going to jump off stage and engage with the superficial (and typically illicit) pleasures that money buys.

Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School has argued that our primitive brain immediately evaluates every person that we meet by asking two questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “How strong and competent is this person?”

Competence is the key word in those questions. Your employees, customers, and community are all counting on you to follow through with what you say you’re going to do. The second you start making successions; you’ll have broken trust and will create a slippery slope of incompetence.

The unfortunate part that is never addressed is that no one wants to deal with confrontation head on and call out your incongruence.

Instead, your employees will talk after hours over drinks and let their discontent fester. Your customers will leave without saying a word because they don’t care about you. And the community will talk behind closed doors about how they don’t support you. Before you know it, you’re out of business and feeling empty inside.

If you make bold promises, stick to them no matter what. Your word is your bond.

Et Tu, Brute?

Will you be one of the “for purpose” or “not for purpose” entities moving forward? Either choice is completely acceptable and I hope that you don’t choose the “for purpose” angle just because everyone else is doing it or that you want to look good in the eyes of others.

Personally, I look forward to the day when I’m able to turn to a group of young men and women to cast vision and make a statement very similar to this one:

We’re going to develop 100 million transformational leaders together. As a result, we’ll be able to take care of our families and create amazing experiences with people that we love and care about.

…Oh yeah, and we’ll make some money too as a result.

Not All Goldfish Are Created Equally


Like businesses, not all goldfish are created equally. The average common goldfish is between three to four inches (10 cm), yet the largest in the world is almost five times that size! Imagine walking down the street and bumping into someone over 25 feet tall. How can there be such a disparity between your garden variety goldfish and their monster cousins? It turns out that five factors determine the growth of a goldfish. Part of our obsession is our firm belief that the growth of a product or service is similar to that of a goldfish.

Read more

The Edelman Earned Brand Study Reinforces the Importance of Purpose in Customer Experience

I had the opportunity to be the opening keynote PRSA Houston’s PR Day last week. The luncheon keynote was given by Edelman’s Tonia Ries. Tonia presented findings from their Global Earned Brand Study.

Tonia Ries Edelman Earned Brand

Becoming an Earned Brand

Here are some highlights from the study of over 13,000 consumers in 13 countries:
  • The pace of change in marketing is accelerating rapidly.
  • Upstarts like Uber, Tesla, Warby Parker and airBNB are challenging long-established brands, and categories are being re-imagined.
  • Purpose is emerging as an expectation. The study found that 62 percent of respondents would refuse to buy a brand if it fails to meet its obligations to society.
The Study aimed to codify the strength of consumer-brand relationships. The Edelman Brand Relationship Index measures brands on a 100 point scale based on 18 variables. The average score was just 38. The Takeaway: There is a tremendous opportunity for brands to strengthen and grow.

5 Stages of the Relationship

The Study showed five distinct stages of a brand relationship: Indifferent, Interested, Invested, Involved, and Committed.
Photo Credit: Edelman Earned Brand Executive Summary

Photo Credit: Edelman Earned Brand Executive Summary

To quote the Study,
At the Indifferent level, shoppers buy without much thought. At Interested, they might choose a brand over competitors based on their recall of a review or a logo. By Involved, consumers actively scan the shelf for the brand. But the real commitment comes in the last two stages, where the consumer mindset moves from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ At Invested,the consumer believes the brand shares his or her values, and might try to convince another shopper not to buy a competitor. Finally, at the top of the scale [Committed], the relationship truly becomes about shared benefit—the consumer will take action with and for the brand.

Where are the Opportunities?

earned brand indexOut of seven attributes, there are a couple clear opportunities for brands (highlighted in yellow and purple. Those attributes are acting with purpose and telling a memorable story. This aligns with the work Graeme Newell and I are doing in the Red Goldfish Project. A red goldfish is when a brand embraces being for-purpose and does the little things to bring that purpose to life for both customers and employees.

Final Takeaways

Here is how Edelman defines an earned brand:
The Earned Brand’s story is not simply told, it is demonstrated and experienced; and, to do that, brands can’t operate with a style guide alone.The Earned Brand has a world view and a belief system, a purpose and a reason for being—one that defines not just the communications, but how the brand behaves online,offline, and in all contexts.An expressed set of values informs which products are made, which language is used, how customers are treated, and ultimately the legacy the brand leaves in the communities it serves.
Here’s my takeaway: Your brand is no longer what you say it is. It’s what your customer experiences, what shared beliefs you have, how they feel about your brand, and most importantly… what they share with others.
Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here’s a video with Richard Edelman and Michelle Hutton talking about the Earned Brand Study:

The Fuller Cut Barbershop Embraces Kids And Literacy To Be For Purpose

Walk into The Fuller Cut barber shop and you’ll find something interesting happening in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Kids are reading as they are getting their haircut. It’s good business for both the child and The Fuller Cut. Kids who read receive $2 off their haircut.

Photo Credit: The Fuller Cut

Photo Credit: The Fuller Cut

The shop is owned and operated by, Alex Fuller, a lifelong resident of Ypsilanti.  In 1994 Alex opened his first barber shop, a small, three chair establishment. Years later he purchased a building, did some renovations and brought in some great barbers.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, this idea is taking place in other barber shops across the country in places like Dubuque, Houston, and Columbus. Credit Alex Fuller for adopting a great idea. To quote Pablo Picasso, “Talent borrows, genius steals.”

More Than Literacy

Promoting literacy is only one aim of the discount offer. The purpose is to promote confidence and culture. According to Alex Fuller, “All our books have positive images of African-Americans — whether it’s astronauts, athletes or writers.”

Photo Credit: The Fuller Cut

Photo Credit: The Fuller Cut

Red Goldfish

The Fuller Cut is a great example of a Red Goldfish. A company that embraces purpose before profit. It’s learned that by being for purpose, you can create prophets.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here’s a video about The Fuller Cut from MLIVE:

The Foolproof Method to Uncover Corporate Purpose and Ignite Your Team's Passion

It brought me to tears often.

It was only one simple word: significance. Yes, our new business had made our “corporate purpose” revolve around just one word, and yet almost none of the 107 employees could recite this one word without being prompted.

I thought that we had checked every box off of our operational checklists, and done everything right as we started our new venture. Not only did we have the tangible tasks completed, but we had also taken the time to intentionally develop a culture that served both our customers and our team.

Every single day, I would ask the team members the same question, “Why do we exist? What is our purpose as a business?” The answers were varied, but again, virtually no one could succinctly answer the question.

At first I foolishly blamed the team. I often thought to myself in a childish manner, “What kind of dope can’t remember a one word answer?” My initial gut reaction, of course, was not correct nor fair to the team.

I knew that frustration would not get us closer to our goal, and I began to take the disconnect to heart…

I felt like a total failure for developing the culture that did not understand what it stood for.

It wasn’t until I made the revelation that although the culture’s purpose was simple and strictly defined; it was the team that was missing purpose in their work.

It didn’t matter what our leadership had written on a piece of paper, and was preaching to the company. Without the employees having conviction and feeling meaning in their work, there was no way that they were going to buy into the purpose that was constructed in a corporate boardroom.

You might be thinking that a lot of companies have a “corporate purpose” though…

I would tend to agree, but what percentage of employees actually know what this statement means? More importantly, how many employees actually live these words with all of their heart, spirit, mind, and action?

I would venture to say that corporate purposes fail to work for two predominant reasons, which are as follows:

  1. They’re too complicated.
  2. Employees don’t feel purpose in their contributions, and don’t align with the company.

Let’s start with that first point. Oftentimes, corporate boardrooms form these statements and “purpose-driven” cultures because “it’s the right thing to do” or “it’s good for business.”

The problem is that they turn their corporate purpose into more of a slogan, a contrived attempt at garnering employee buy-in, jam pack the statement with every buzzword, and/or all of the above.

The repercussions of not having a clear, easy to understand purpose in business is just as bad, if not worse, than not having one at all.

If the team doesn’t understand why the entity exists, then how can the people that you serve possibly know? On top of that, how can your customers excitedly share your business’ story with their network? 

How does one uncover corporate purpose?

I believe that you only have to answer one question: how do you improve the lives of the people that you serve? There are other questions that you can ask. However, it all starts and ends there. Once you have an exact statement that answers that question, the rest becomes much easier to develop.

The other reason for lackluster results with corporate purpose are employees that don’t have personal purpose in their work that aligns with the company. Call it purpose, meaning, or whatever else but it’s the fuel for all of the other positive qualitative factors.

Without purpose, a career quickly becomes the dreaded “job.” The position becomes all about the individual, and the employee demands to know how their employer can service their needs in the form of education, compensation, and stature.

If you think about it, solely profit-driven companies are only looking to leverage its employees for its shareholder returns, and the employee treats the company in the exact same way.

…How do we do help our people uncover more purpose?

I’ve read just about book, listened to every podcast, and watched every video on this topic. I’ve disseminated all of this information, and applied these principles using my life as the guinea pig. This is how I discovered the BASIC framework which is as follows:

Baseline– Notate what is providing and taking energy, and formulate a system for measurement and awareness. (I recommend physically writing everything down in a pocket-sized notebook, and translating it to Evernote).

Assessment Proactively become more self-aware by asking everyone in your network hard questions about your work, and identifying trends in your vocation. 

Strengthen Steward over your relationships, thoughts, behaviors, and actions to identify and focus on positives.

Intentionality Envision the perfect work day, and strategically add little positive behaviors to make daily progress toward that vision. 

Commitment Go “all in” with your current job, lose yourself in service to others, and assume or align with the corporate purpose.

Ultimately, when your people uncover more purpose that was divinely created for them in their work, they’ll either align with the larger corporate purpose, or strengthen the corporate purpose with their own.

This is all good and well, but you’re about tangible results on your P&L, right?

The fact is that purpose-driven businesses are more productive, generate higher sales, keep employees longer, and are more profitable. Entities such as Deloitte, Gallup, and Millward Brown have provided copious amounts of data that state “for purpose” businesses are beating the pants off of strictly profit driven companies. 

Millward Brown summarized this concept best when they said, “Our 10-year growth study that reviewed over 50,000 brands showed that companies who put improving people’s lives at the center of all they do have growth rates that are triple that of their competitors, and they outperform the market by 383 percent.”

Did you get that? You have the opportunity right now to outperform the market by 383 percent by just doing right by your people. Or you can choose to get tears in your eyes when people can’t remember one word.

Speaking from experience, a system of purpose a lot more fun and profitable.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Check out this brief clip from Advisory Board which shows how their deeper purpose applies to their people, and the communities that they serve.

How to Create Lifetime Customers and Get Paid to Make People Happy

I’m not angry and I’m not upset. I just wanted to let you know.

This is one of the worst, or best, things that you can hear from your customers (depending on how you look at it).

I was on the receiving end of the phone call where I heard that phrase, and knew immediately that our restaurant had screwed up. I was told that upon arriving home after the guest’s first ever visit, that she had been shorted a chicken tender, and her dipping sauce had spilled all over her food.


Why not choose to look at a mistake as a blessing?

Luckily, our team believed that every connection mattered, and I knew that we would do what was necessary to turn this negative into a positive.

…Why did we have to do anything though?

Was it because it was the “right” thing to do? Were we afraid of being ripped to shreds on Yelp as a new business? Do we serve others to make ourselves feel good? Sure, all of those factors and more. Read on.

The guest that had called, whom I learned was named “Karen,” insisted over the phone that she only wanted to let us know because she wanted to see our new restaurant be successful. While thanking her, yet remaining adamant that we would exceed her expectations, I informed Karen that we had a manager on the way.

Flash forward a few years earlier when I handled my first customer complaint, I asked the regional manager what the policy was for dealing with mistakes. He was a hardened veteran that had a decade of experience on me, and replied, “Just send them some coupons in the mail.”

I thought for a moment and responded, “Isn’t that what everyone else does? How do we differentiate ourselves, and show that we care more?”

He quickly retorted, “It’s what we’ve always done, and what everyone else does because it works. Don’t bother them at work or at home…it doesn’t matter.”

I never agreed with that sentiment, and so our young manager departed on that fateful day to prove yet again why under promising and under delivering actually does matter.

Making Amends

The manager set out to take the order that had been made “on the fly” and zipped to his destination. He jumped out of his car, and scurried toward the door. He stood with his chest held high, and slowly rang the doorbell as he exhaled. The chime echoed inside of the hollow apartment.

His “lizard brain” set in and questions frantically raced through his brain. He thought to himself, “Is this going to feel contrived? Is she going to see this as an attempt to bribe her for loyalty? Did I go a little over the top?”

A few seconds later, he heard some rustling inside and light footsteps approached the door. “Too late now, here goes nothing,” the manager thought to himself. Karen hesitantly opened the door, and reiterated, “You really didn’t have to do this.”

He smiled back softly, and began to explain the policy that they had developed as a team.

He went on to explain, “It hurts my heart that we disappointed you. I wanted to accept responsibility, and look you in the eye when I gave you an apology. I’m sorry that we fell short today, Karen. I promise you that this was a great deviation in our quality, and that it won’t happen again.”

He continued, “I remade your order myself, I brought all of the complementary sauces, a few extra sides for you to try, and a VIP invitation for you and a friend to come back and have a meal on me. I’m going to take you on a tour and even let you spin a milkshake if you’d like!”

He began to describe the products that he had brought for her, and about 15 seconds into his story about the chipotle barbecue sauce (which was the culprit that had ruined Karen’s initial order), he saw her eyes well up.


A customer’s pain is an opportunity to serve

Karen interjected, “I’m sorry and I don’t mean to interrupt but I just can’t believe this.” She stammered a bit, her lip quivered, and the tears began to roll down her face.

“My husband died six months ago, and I have felt so alone. I had to sell the house, move to this little apartment, and nothing ever seems to go right for me. When I opened that bag, I almost expected something to be wrong because nothing ever seems to go my way anymore. It’s as though a little storm cloud follows me around just to ruin my day. But you…but you…”

Her voice trailed off as she began to sob.

The manager reached out to hug her. “Maybe we can help make things start going your way again,” he said with a smile.

Karen returned a few days later and raved about the thank you card that she had received from us in the mail (a little lagniappe if you will). This visit back would become the first of her many weekly trips.

Karen beamed from ear to ear when she came to the restaurant and always brought in a new friend with her. She would proudly proclaim, “Look! Look! I brought someone new!” She grew to become a great friend and tremendous proponent of our fledgling restaurant brand.


How many people have you truly served today?

What You Can Do

I believe that when you receive critical feedback, it’s a blessing. It’s hard to believe that your business can ever fail, but self-awareness is arguably the greatest skill that you can cultivate.

Why not accept people at their word and treat these instances as an opportunity to get better? Every chance to serve gives you the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Are there people out there that will take advantage of you, and try to game the system? Sure, but so what? Is it worth it to close the door on someone, and miss out on a lifetime customer, or even a friend?

The fact is, you never know what people are going through, and perhaps your kindness might just touch their hearts enough to help steer the course.

There are three components to establish the daily action necessary and create a remarkable brand:

1. It starts and ends with your values, ethos, and culture. Mission statements, your vision, and your “purpose” are just words on paper if you don’t live and exemplify them every single day.

It’s nearly impossible to tell you the long-term ROI of positively impacting others and making them smile. Quantifying the impact of touching people’s hearts, and how many people that they’ll tell as a result is a tough metric to garner. Frankly, I don’t want to.

To try and quantify effort and care with a P&L is a waste of time. You’re either committed to losing yourself in the service of others or you’re not. It’s that simple.

2. Empower your organization to touch the lives of the people that you serve. This is where we take the subjective human elements, and become more objective in our execution.

How do operations run while the leader has stepped away? How do we systematize and improve the way that we care for our customers? We go to give without looking for anything in return, but how do we financially account for what we’ve given?

3. Make time to inspire. The importance of long-lasting and meaningful relationships with consumers needs to be emphasized, and the stories about how you impact your customers need to be shared constantly.

Greatness manifests when a culture guides and supports the decision making of individuals, provides the resources to take action, and the encouragement from their organization to continually improve.

Your other option is to merely hear the people that pay your bills where you fell short. The choice is yours.

I hope you choose greatness.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here are some of the best in the game emphasizing the importance of serving customers and engraining this aspect into ethos/culture:

Breaking Down the Purpose of the Goldfish Series

Helping Companies Get Closer to the Hearts of Their Customers and Employees

Here is the purpose of the Goldfish Series of Books: Help companies get closer to the hearts of their customers and employees.

There are currently six Goldfish colors. Each represents a different focus:

Six Goldfish Books

Let’s look at each of the six colors individually.


Purple Goldfish was the first book in the Goldfish Series. It examines the little things that make a big difference in customer experience. Purple uncovers the key ingredients of creating signature added value. The book is based on over 1,000 examples from the Purple Goldfish Project, showcasing 12 different types of purple goldfish in the two main categories of value and maintenance. Little extras such as the importance of follow up and how to handle mistakes. There are two Purple Goldfish books. The original and a version focused on Hotels, Restaurants, and Airlines co-authored with Brooks Briz called, Purple Goldfish – Service Edition.
TAKEAWAY: Actionable ways to improve the customer experience


Green Goldfish was the second book in the Goldfish Series. When writing Purple, it became evident that the companies that did the little extras for customers also applied the same concept for their employees. The book uncovers the fact that you can’t have happy enthused customers without happy engaged employees. Based on a collection of our 1,000 examples the Green Goldfish Project, Green shares 15 types of green goldfish. They are little extras for employees such as onboarding, team building, flexibility, recognition, pay it forward, and empowerment.
TAKEAWAY: Actionable ways to improve the employee experience
Photo Credit: Alana Jane Gifts

Photo Credit: Alana Jane Gifts


Golden Goldfish finished the original trilogy of Goldfish books. It was based on the simple fact that eighty percent of  your profitability is driven through the Top 20 percent of customers and employees. These are your vital few. You don’t treat all customers and employees the same, you treat them all fairly. Golden shares nine different key drivers of overall performance from over 200 examples in the Golden Goldfish Project.
TAKEAWAY: Actionable ways to improve the customer and employee experience for your top 20%


Blue Goldfish is the fourth book in the Goldfish series. According to a recent study, 76% of customers expect brands to understand their individual needs. Blue Goldfish makes the business case for leveraging technology, data, and analytics to create a competitive advantage and increased customer loyalty. It shares cutting edge examples and insights from over 300 examples from the Blue Goldfish Project.
TAKEAWAY: Actionable strategies to turn big data into useful data to improve the customer experience


Red Goldfish will be the fifth book in the Goldfish series. It reveals how purpose is changing the way we work and how customers choose business partners. By 2020, there will no longer be a distinction between for profit and non-profit companies. Businesses will either be seen as “for-purpose” or “not for purpose.” In the book Stan Phelps and Graeme Newell share lessons from the Red Goldfish Project. Cutting edge examples that reveal the five ways businesses can embrace purpose to drive employee engagement, fuel the bottom line, and make an impact on society.

TAKEAWAY: ​Actionable ways to leverage purpose for all stakeholders in the business


Pink Goldfish will be the sixth book in the Goldfish series. It is based on the simple concept that what makes us weak also makes us strong. Smart businesses don’t shy away from weakness, they double-down and amplify them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. The book by Evan Carroll and Dave Rendall will share lessons from the Pink Goldfish Project, showing business that what makes you weird is what also makes you wonderful.

TAKEAWAY: Actionable ways to differentiate yourself in business

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here is a video by Stan Phelps that describes some of the concepts around the Goldfish series:

Exploring The Meaning Behind A Red Goldfish

red goldfishA Red Goldfish is a brand differentiator. It’s how you embrace purpose in business.  The little things you do to help you stand out in a sea of sameness. 

Why a Goldfish?

The goldfish is a metaphor for something small. A little thing that can make a big difference. But goldfish are interesting creatures. The average goldfish is just over three inches in length, yet the world record is nearly 20 inches.

Average goldfish is 3 inches (8 cm). The world record is close to 20 inches (50 cm)

Average goldfish is 3 inches (8 cm). The world record is close to 20 inches (50 cm)

How can there be such a difference? Well, it turns out the growth of a goldfish is influenced by five factors. Your business is influenced by these same factors.

Here are the five factors:

#1. The size of the bowl or pond the goldfish is in.

Impact: The larger the bowl or pond, the larger the goldfish will grow.

What’s the equivalent of the bowl or pond if you are in business? It’s the market for your product or service.

#2. The amount of other goldfish in the bowl or pond.

Impact: The less goldfish, the larger a goldfish will grow.

Who are the other goldfish if you are in business? The other goldfish represent the competition.

#3. The quality of the water in the bowl or pond, specifically the nutrients in the water and its cloudiness.

Impact: The more nutrients or less cloudiness, the larger the goldfish will grow.

What are the nutrients or cloudiness if you are in business? It’s the economy. The nutrients represent the ability to get capital to grow your business. The cloudiness is the buying climate and represents consumer confidence.

#4. The first 120 days of the life of a goldfish.

Impact: How a goldfish grows in its first four months will influence how large it will ultimately get.

What are the first 120 days in business? It’s the earliest stage of business as a start-up. It can also represent when you develop a new produce / service.

#5. The genetic makeup of a goldfish.

Impact: The genes of a goldfish will determine how large it can get. It’s the DNA of the goldfish, how it stands out from the other goldfish.

What is genetic makeup in business? Genetic makeup is differentiation, what makes you different in the marketplace.

Why Red?

Red is the fifth color in the Goldfish series of books. The initial trilogy of books were an ode to an iconic American city and its most famous event. That city is New Orleans. Purple, green, and gold are the three official colors of Mardi Gras. It’s a reference to New Orleans because there is one word from New Orleans that exemplifies this idea of doing the little something extra. That word is lagniappe. Pronounced lan-yap, lagniappe is a creole word for an “added gift” or “to give more.”

purple green golden blue goldfish books

In the trilogy, Purple Goldfish focused on the little things you could do to improve the customer experience, Green Goldfish examined how to drive engagement to improve the employee experience and the third book Golden Goldfish uncovered the importance of taking care of your best customers/employees.

The fourth book Blue Goldfish revealed how to leverage technology, data, and analytics to improve the customer experience. Blue was a reference to a 10th century Danish king named Harald Gormsson. Gormsson united Scandinavia and converted the Danes to Christianity. His nickname was Bluetooth, a reference to a dead tooth that had turned blue. In the 1990’s, Bluetooth became the name for wireless area networking.

Why Red? Red is the color of blood. It’s historically been associated with sacrifice and courage. In the U.S. And Europe, red represents passion, whereas in Asia, it symbolizes happiness and good fortune. Our inspiration for RED comes from the (RED) movement.

(RED) was created by Bono and Bobby Shriver. Launched at the World Economic Forum in 2006, it’s purpose was to engage the private sector and its marketing prowess in order to raise funds in the fight against AIDS in Africa.  On the back of a napkin, they outlined their idea for a unique union of brands and consumers. The plan had three goals:

1. Provide consumers with a choice that made giving effortless
2. Generate profits and a sense of purpose for partner companies
3. Create a source of sustainable income for the Global Fund to fund the fight against AIDS.

(RED) has a clear manifesto:

Every Generation is known for something.
Let’s be the one to deliver an AIDS FREE GENERATION.

We all have tremendous power. What we choose to do or even buy, can affect someone’s life on the other side of the world. In 2005, more than 1,200 babies were born every day with HIV. Today that number is 400. We must act now to get that close to zero.

(RED) can’t accomplish this alone. It will take all of us to get there –governments, health organizations, companies, and you. When you BUY (RED), a (RED) partner will give up some of its profits to fight AIDS.

It’s as simple as that.

BE (RED). Start the end of AIDS now.

Before (RED) launched, businesses had contributed just $5 million to the Global Fund in four years. Since its inception, the private sector through (RED) has contributed over $350 million. One hundred percent of the funds are invested in HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, with a focus on countries with high prevalence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The branding agency Wolff Olins helped build the platform for (RED). They created a unique brand architecture that united participating businesses by literally multiplying their logos to the power (RED).

Photo Credit: Wolff Olins

Photo Credit: Wolff Olins

Global brands such as Apple, Nike, Dell, American Express, and The Gap came on board. The appeal of (RED) was clear, it allowed them to tap into a purpose beyond their own profit. Partner brands created special (RED) versions of products and a portion of the profits from the sales would contribute to the Global Fund to fight malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. (RED) helped reinforce the simple idea that doing good is good business for both your customers and employees. American Express saw an immediate lift in brand perception with younger customers, while GAP saw a major improvement in employee engagement, as well as the quality of incoming recruits. 

Know any good examples of companies that are leveraging purpose in business? Leave a comment on this post or contribute to the Red Goldfish Project.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Gap’s INSPI(RED) T-shirt in 2006 became the biggest-selling in company history. Here’s a video to celebrate the 10th anniversary and the continuing mission of (RED):