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:


Customer-Centric Lessons from Wells Fargo, Disney, Five Guys and Zappos

Tell and sell traditional marketing is dead. The doctor pronounced it D.O.A at 10:13 a.m. EDT.

traditional marketing is dead

Cause of death was the empowered consumer:

  • Empowered to avoid advertising
  • Empowered to find their own information
  • Empowered to share their opinions.


Today’s marketers need to focus on what they can control… the experience of their current customers. The challenge is figuring out how to “plus” up the customer experience. Is there room for growth here? ABSOLUTELY. According to the 2012 American Express Customer Service Barometer, “93% of companies fail to exceed expectations.” Translation: Only 7% feel their business is valued and that the company is willing to go the extra mile.


one in hand

Great marketing is about being so remarkably different that current customers can’t help but talk about you. That if you provide a delightful experience, customers will not only come back but they’ll bring their friends. They become your strongest marketing asset.  In the recent words of Peter Shankman,

“Stop focusing on trying to get new customers. Focus on the customers you have. They will bring you the customers you want.”

The late Ted Levitt underscores the importance of standing out through experience:

“The search for meaningful distinction is central to the marketing effort. If marketing is about anything, it’s about achieving customer getting distinction by differentiating what you do and how you do it. All else is derivative of that and only that.”

Smart marketers realize there is only one question relevant to customers, “Are you willing to recommend the product or service to a colleague, family member or friend.”  In less than a decade, the NPS (Net Promoter Score) has become the leading measurement tool by thousands of organizations.

ultimate question


It begs the question:



Acquisition is becoming too costly. A brand can no longer afford to operate with a revolving door of churn. Retention is fast becoming the new acquisition. Let’s look at reasoning from both Wells Fargo and Disney:

Nearly 80 percent of Wells Fargo revenue growth comes from satisfying existing customers.  The average Wells Fargo customer carries over five products which is more than two times the industry average.

Wells Fargo understands the importance of servicing the needs of their current customers to fuel growth. This is a quote from Wells Fargo back in 2009:

“The more you sell customers, the more you know about them. The more you know about them, the easier it is to sell them more products. The more products customers have with you, the better value they receive and the more loyal they are. The longer they stay with you, the more opportunities you have to meet even more of their financial needs. The more you sell them, the higher the profit because the added cost of selling another product to an existing customer is often only about ten percent of the cost of selling that same product to a new customer.”



Walt Disney believed in the same principle. He was adamant about giving extras to retain his current customers.

walt giving more than expected

He called it plussing. Here is a summary of the concept by John Torre:

“Normally, the word “plus” is a conjunction, but not in Walt’s vocabulary. To Walt, “plus” was a verb—an action word—signifying the delivery of more than what his customers paid for or expected to receive….Because for Walt, nothing less than the best was acceptable when it bore his name and reputation, and he did whatever it took to give his guests more value than they expected to receive for their dollar.

Perhaps one of the best examples of Walt’s obsession for “plussing” comes from Disney historian Les Perkins’ account of an incident that took place at Disneyland during the early years of the park. Walt had decided to hold a Christmas parade at the new park at a cost of $350,000. Walt’s accountants approached him and besieged him to not spend money on an extravagant Christmas parade because the people would already be there. Nobody would complain, they reasoned, if they dispensed with the parade because nobody would be expecting it.

Walt’s reply to his accountants is classic: “That’s just the point,” he said. “We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.”



Customers who come via referral are worth almost four times as much as a regular customer gained through traditional means.  Why four times the value? I call this the v4 or “vouch for” principle. The simple equation is: v4 = 2LTV + 2XR

four times as valuable

Customers gained through referral will have upward of twice the average lifetime value (2LTV) compared to ordinary customers. They will also refer upwards of twice the amount of customers to the business (2XR).


Two companies that eschew traditional marketing to focus on the customer are Five Guys Burger & Fries and Zappos:

Jerry Murrell and his eponymous five sons at Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Matt and Jim travel the country visiting stores, Chad oversees training, Ben selects the franchisees, and Tyler runs the bakery) understand the importance of the customer experience. The concept of added value is baked into the business model at Five Guys. Here is the mantra from founder Jerry Murrell,

“We figure our best salesman is our customer. Treat that person right, he’ll walk out the door and sell for you. From the beginning, I wanted people to know that we put all our money into the food. That’s why the décor is so simple — red and white tiles. We don’t spend our money on décor. Or on guys in chicken suits. But we’ll go overboard on food.”

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh refuses to see the experience as an expense. Rather, it’s an investment,

“Our business is based on repeat customers and word of mouth. There’s a lot of value in building up our brand name and what it stands for. We view the money that we spend on customer service as marketing money that improves our brand.”

Zappos estimates they only touch 5% of their customers directly (e-mail or phone), but when they do… they make it count.  Faced with the tough situation that they can’t directly help a customer, they’ll even look to a competitor to satisfy their needs.


Your brand is no longer what you say it is. To quote Wells Fargo,

“Our brand is what people say about Wells Fargo to their friends and family. It’s how they feel about doing business with us and how they describe those feelings.”

Are you ready to move away from targeting eyeballs and earlobes? Are you ready to shift to reallocate your marketing budget from the prospect to the customer? Are you ready to navigate the longest and hardest nine inches in marketing… the journey to win the heart of your customers?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Want more? Here’s a slideshare that contains an additional five lessons from Apple, Kimpton Hotels, Zanes Cycles and Southwest Airlines:

[This post was originally featured on MENG Blend]