Wisdom//

How to Be a Galvanizer

Here's how to become a leader who stimulates and excites people to action.

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Shutterstock

So what do you call a company, brand or individual who has activated purpose via a movement? We’ve settled on the term ‘galvanizer’, which is defined as ‘a leader who stimulates and excites people to action’.

When we think of the consummate brands that exemplify our philosophy – activating purpose through movements – we can’t help but notice that they share not just a common penchant for great business results, but also a common spirit. Think about Patagonia, Pampers, Seventh Generation; think about Method, REI and Mahindra. They wear their values and aspirations on their sleeves and invite those of us who believe similarly to join their mission. They rouse us, they energize us. In short, they galvanize us.

Being a galvanizer is not about convincing, coercing, fooling, incentivizing, or even bribing someone to act. A galvanizer gets people to act because they want to, because they agree with the cause and mission that the brand is on. It identifies a shared burning motivation that unites consumers and brands in the same quest. It is a brand or a leader who has identified a disconnect between the way things are and the way they should be and seeks to close the gap between the two.

We set out to write a book that dispelled some myths about purpose and put forth our philosophy. But where we felt other books fell short was on real-world advice about actually doing something with purpose. And as movement-makers for over 20 years, we felt we were in a unique position to offer that kind of ‘from the trenches’ guidance. In this closing chapter, we wanted to sum up our best advice to organizations seeking to be galvanizers and transform their business through an activated purpose.

We’ve offered some pretty detailed ‘how-to’ advice throughout the previous 10 chapters. So in closing, here are seven principles to live by if you want to think and act like a galvanizer. We’ll use examples from our previous chapters to illustrate each point and as reminders of the brands and companies that are getting it right (and sometimes wrong.)

Escape the herd

Flee the confines of category competition and adopt a pathfinder mindset

Before even thinking about purpose strategy or a movement to activate it, there’s important mental preparation to be done for you and your team. You need to adopt a mindset that breaks out of ‘category think’ and shuns warfare with industry rivals. This matters because, to be a true galvanizer, you have to break the mould rather than play by the rules of your industry or category. Competing head to head with competitors actually makes you seem more like them than truly different.

Consider how for years luxury cars have been in a game of one-upmanship on the same set of competitive drivers. If one added a safety feature, another tried to outdo them. If BMW made technological innovations, Cadillac was sure to counter-punch with its own version. This ongoing street fight meant cars in the luxury space, which were once highly individual, were becoming commoditized. The differences between the brands were simply getting smaller and smaller.

Then along came galvanizer brand Tesla in 2008. It didn’t fit on a traditional luxury car positioning map because it was playing by a different set of rules. It combined two things nobody thought were possible – being a performance vehicle and being eco-friendly. It gave people a combination of benefits they didn’t even realize they wanted. It was seen as visionary, opening up a whole new way to think about a vehicle. It was true to its purpose of speeding mankind towards sustainable energy. Even if Tesla never sold another vehicle again, it has reformed the luxury car category. Next to its innovative and purpose-driven technology, it makes all others seem traditional, inside-the-box thinkers that resemble each other more than they do Tesla.

So the first step in becoming a galvanizer is to realize that when we compete on the same category parameters as our direct competitors, the best we can hope for is to become a somewhat different version of them. A galvanizer is never captive to category competition but rather breaks free from it altogether.

Once you’ve got out of a ‘category think’ mindset, you need to replace it with thinking like a pioneer and a pathfinder, pushing beyond the boundaries of what’s supposedly possible in your industry or category. For example, the Always brand, referenced in Chapter 3, ignored the category conventions in feminine hygiene and took on the issues of girls’ self-esteem – a bold and controversial stance in a highly functional and staid category. The TrueNorth snack brand, referenced in Chapter 1, broke from the repetitive marketing of the snack category and encouraged Baby Boomer self-actualization. REI went beyond thinking of itself as a conventional retailer, took up the cause of greater time in the outdoors and closed its stores on Black Friday. These were mould-breaking moves which helped rally people to the brand’s stand. And that’s what being a galvanizer is all about.

Align with an idea on the rise in culture

Understand where the culture is headed and your role in it

If you don’t compete in a category, in which arena do you compete? For most galvanizers, that realm is culture. They understand their place not just in the industry but in both popular culture and overall society. As such they are current and talked about. They are part of issues that are in the news, and they often make news themselves. Patagonia, for example, is frequently mentioned in coverage of climate change, and Ben & Jerry’s on issues of social justice. Understanding and then aligning with ideas on the rise in culture is the way to make that happen.

Competing in culture comes with potential pitfalls, however. That’s why some brands never attempt it. This is true, for example, in much of packaged goods, where companies and brands tend towards competing on functional attributes. Think about the seemingly infinite number of skincare brands touting new ingredients or the food brands with new flavours or improved taste, devoid of any reference as to their larger role in the culture. Other brands try competing in the cultural realm and miss, as we discussed in Chapter 1 with the example of Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner fiasco. Still others hit on a relevant idea on the rise in culture, but lack the credibility to pull it off – think Gillette and toxic masculinity that we discussed in Chapter 1, or possibly even Nike and racial injustice discussed in Chapter 7.

Galvanizer brand Smart Car put itself on the map by aligning with the rising backlash against overconsumption with its ongoing ‘Against Dumb’ movement. Jim Beam began moving towards galvanizer territory and became relevant to a new generation when it aligned itself with the female empowerment trend. Spokesperson Mila Kunis helped the brand be seen as fighting the patriarchy and in the process grew the brand at levels not seen in decades. Orexo (Chapter 6) aligned with and helped fuel the trend towards putting the taboo subject of opioid addiction out in the open.

In Chapter 6 we also discussed some of the ways we go about identifying and digging into cultural trends, including secondary trends analysis and semiotics. This work can help potential galvanizers understand not simply where culture is but where both culture and society seem to be headed. Doing this kind of cultural analysis is a necessary early step in the purpose journey because it helps you understand your role in the world.

Finally, aligning with an idea on the rise can ultimately also give you a jumpstart on activation. That’s because when you do so, your brand can quickly become part of conversations that are already happening out in the world.

Go to the jungle

Get a hands-on understanding of your people

Sandy Thompson, head of marketing consultancy Fixt, has said about consumer research, ‘If you want to understand how the lion hunts, go to the jungle, not the zoo’ (Thompson, 2006). By this she means seeking to understand people from behind your desk or a focus group mirror doesn’t give you a realistic picture of who they are or how they view you and may leave you misinformed about what really motivates them. When we seek to understand people outside their natural habitats, it changes how they respond.

While we believe that brands should be more purpose-centric than consumer-centric, that doesn’t mean we don’t put huge value on consumer insight. But we feel strongly there’s a wrong and right way to go about gathering that insight. Specifically, to get to your higher purpose, you need to understand not so much people’s opinions, but the meaningful role you can serve in their world. To get people to care, act and join your movement, you need to learn not what they say they do but observe how they live and what they do. Galvanizers have a deep, intuitive understanding of what people will do, and things they don’t yet know that they want, that you can’t get just by doing traditional market research. Less-used techniques like ethnographic research, discussed in Chapter 6, are a much better alternative.

Too few companies and brand leaders make the effort to get out from behind their desks and observe their customers, prospects and employees directly. A spirits brand came to us a few years ago asking for help with strategic direction for the brand, and they shared with us extensive focus group and survey research among their primary audience – 20-somethings – indicating they felt technology was too omnipresent in their lives. Based on this, the client’s hypothesis was their role in 20-somethings’ lives was to get them to put away their technology and have more human interactions. Over cocktails made with the client’s products, of course.

Realizing that what people say and what they do are two different things, we had a hunch there might be more to the story. Sure enough, when we went out to spend time on college campuses, at frat parties and in 20-something bars, it became clear that the clients’ research was misleading. That despite whatever these consumers said in focus groups, when you observed their behaviour, you saw that mobile phones were actually at the very centre of socializing and real-life human interaction (especially ‘hooking up’), and that they’d never willingly give them up. The brand needed to work with technology, not against it, to find a meaningful role in their lives.

The same principle applies inside companies with employees. The Japanese have a phrase for direct observation as a management tool called ‘genchi genbutsu’, which roughly translated means ‘go and see’. It’s based on the idea that indirect information such as research reports is not the best way to get insight. Rather, actually going and seeing the situation first-hand is more likely to get you beyond the obvious to a real ‘a-ha’.

To practise ‘go and see’ means that leaders don’t spend all their time in offices and meeting rooms, and don’t receive all their information via emails or reports, but rather go and see for themselves. One advocate for ‘go and see’, Toyota’s chief engineer Taiichi Ohno, has been quoted as saying: ‘Don’t look with your eyes, look with your feet… people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all’ (Miller, 2017).

Galvanizing leaders don’t just sit behind a desk – they get out and understand people in the real world. Before embarking on finding or activating your purpose, ask yourself how recently you sat down face to face with customers, prospects or employees and asked them about their lives. Doing so will give you an understanding of your role in their world you can’t get any other way.

Lead with purpose

Articulate your ‘why’

Armed with a pathfinder mindset and an understanding – or at least some hypotheses – about your role in culture and people’s lives, you’re ready to articulate your higher purpose. As we stated in the first chapter, this book is not intended as a primer on ‘finding your purpose’, as there is an overabundance of books and articles on that topic. That said, as we saw in Chapter 7, our Purpose Power Index research indicates there are four questions proven to identify brands with a true higher purpose. Asking them of yourself may help you ‘land’ your own purpose:

  • What is your higher purpose that’s bigger than just making money?
  • What is your role in improving the lives of people and their communities?
  • In what ways are you committed to changing the world for the better?
  • What are you doing that doesn’t just benefit shareholders, employees or customers, but society as a whole?

In this process of articulating their purpose, we’ve observed that some companies and brands don’t aim high enough. They land on a purpose that’s either highly functional or emotional but doesn’t really state their greater role in the world. This includes purpose statements you’ve probably seen before, like We exist to delight customers and To make the highest quality products. Other purpose statements are full of meaningless corporate-speak that leave you scratching your head. For example, To empower the creation of scalable, bleeding edge solutions and expand core competencies. Still others just don’t ring true. For example, Monsanto, often criticized for causing health and environmental problems, has this as its purpose: To deliver products and solutions, to meet the world’s growing food needs, conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Contrast these with the purpose statements of some of the galvanizers we’ve discussed in this book. For example, Mahindra is A federation of companies, bound by one purpose – to rise. Smart Car’s purpose is about finding unconventional transportation solutions to urban congestion and environmental issues. Verizon exists to create the networks that move the world forward. LifeBridge Health exists to care bravely. Walmart exists to help families save money so they can live better.

Galvanizers have purpose statements that are clear, meaningful and inspiring. Warby Parker, for example: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. Or The Body Shop: To become the world’s most ethical and truly sustainable business. Or Patagonia: Patagonia is in business to save our home planet. Or Crayola: To unleash the originality in every child.

Galvanizers manage to define their role in a way that shows not just what they are good at, but what value they bring to the world at large. If you can do that, you’ll attract not only customers and prospects but fellow believers in the higher mission you serve.

Pick a fight

Move to Movement Thinking to make your purpose actionable

Activating purpose with a movement is the defining characteristic of a galvanizer. We stated it before, but it bears repeating: nobody joins a purpose. They join a movement inspired by a purpose. That’s why you need to reframe your purpose statement in Movement Thinking to make it actionable. Purpose is by definition often a lofty statement, and it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what to do with it – even a great one. A movement can fix that. Furthermore, while purpose points to what is important about your company or brand, it doesn’t necessarily point to what is different about your brand – a movement can help you not only activate your purpose but also make it more distinctive and ownable.

The soap brand Lifebuoy is a great example of this. It has sparked a global movement to help reduce child death rates by promoting handwashing. Earlier in this book, we illustrated a range of other good examples, including:

  • Pampers ‘For Baby Development’

The brand, working with StrawberryFrog, decided to take a stand for baby development rather than just create a poop catcher, and in the process we developed and launched the world’s first performance-enhancing nappy that was two times thinner than competitors’, allowing for more movement. It led to a collaboration with Pampers, the NFL and Drew Brees, and Olympian parents in the US, the UK, Canada and around the world.

  • Always ‘Like A Girl’

The brand took a stand against a deeply ingrained insult and sought to rewrite what it means to play ‘like a girl’.

  • American Express Stand for Small

Amex took a stand against the dominance of big-box and online shopping and stood up for bricks-and-mortar entrepreneurs and community-based businesses.

  • Bombas Socks

In starting a movement for dry, comfortable feet for all, Bombas has donated over 5 million socks to places like homeless shelters that desperately need them.

Verizon’s purpose of creating the networks that move the world forward was reframed in movement terms to become the ‘Forward Together’ Movement Inside, which is about moving the world forward together, one good deed at a time.

SunTrust’s purpose of lighting the way to financial wellbeing was reframed to become SunTrust: the ‘onUp’ movement, which seeks to take people from financial stress to financial confidence. By identifying the enemy of pervasive financial stress in people’s lives, and the quest of bringing an end to it, SunTrust gave its purpose a sense of urgency that motivated both employees and customers.

But there are some major pitfalls we’ve observed when brands move to Movement Thinking. These include failing to define the change they want to see in the world, choosing the wrong enemy (hint: it’s not your competitor), or, more frequently, taking a stand that’s really just an ad campaign.

Ultimately, a galvanizer is about action and changing important things. Brands like Seventh Generation, Patagonia and REI have a real dissatisfaction with something important in the world and seek to enlist people in transforming it. Sparking a movement is the secret weapon for unleashing your purpose out in the world.

Fuel the groundswell

Activate top–down, bottom–up and middle–out

Internally, galvanizers activate on three levels: top–down, bottom–up and middle–out. And as we saw in Chapter 2, research has shown that the middle layer of management is the key to successfully cascading the cause throughout the organization. Externally, galvanizers inspire mass participation and small group buy-in among ‘believers’. Movements activate people rather than just advertising to them.

LifeBridge Health, as we showed in Chapter 5, had successfully created a groundswell in its various divisions by rolling out an ambassador programme for its ‘Care Bravely’ Movement Inside. Busy and often sceptical physicians actually requested to be included in the training. Verizon’s ‘Forward Together’ Movement Inside is symbolized by a purpose coin, a physical coin given to the top 300 leaders to bestow on members of their teams who were leading by example and inspiring those around them to put purpose at the centre of what they do. After two weeks, recipients pass it on to someone else living the brand purpose.

As we saw in Chapter 5, the enemy of a successful Movement Inside is only having a top–down mandate coming from the C-suite. Employees have to want to participate. It can’t be an order. When this happens, energy and enthusiasm for the underlying movement are either non-existent or quickly fade. A big watch-out for Movement Outside is that some companies have a tendency to turn them into advertising campaigns. There’s nothing to join or participate in; there’s only a message about the company and its so-called stand.

Without mobilization, a movement is meaningless. By activating top–down, bottom–up and middle–out, you can ensure yours doesn’t die on the vine.

Mind the gap

Measure the Purpose Gap and be prepared to pivot

Galvanizers know that energy and enthusiasm can easily wane over time. So they measure energy and enthusiasm. Is purpose still your rudder 18 months later? You need to measure the Purpose Gap.

The Purpose Gap essentially describes the distance over time and down through the organization between a purpose being announced and its continued understanding and use at the bottom of the organization 18 months later. So the test of a purpose is, obviously, not whether it is met rapturously when it is unveiled by the leadership team, but whether it is still being used by front-line staff a year and a half later (or three years later). If it’s still vibrant and alive, that’s the sign that it’s healthy. If not, it’s a sign that something’s amiss and it might be time to pivot.

We measure the Purpose Gap by actually asking people some key questions, usually through an employee survey. The things we measure include:

  • understanding of the company purpose and movement;
  • feeling like they are living the purpose;
  • degree of participation in the movement;
  • level of energy and enthusiasm they have for the purpose.

Too often, by the time the vision from top management trickles down to the rank and file, it’s lost clarity, energy and passion. A movement can help purpose gain energy as it cascades throughout the organization. But galvanizers know that without paying attention to the Purpose Gap, they won’t know if their team is losing energy and passion.

How you can be a galvanizer in your own organization

A galvanizer isn’t just a brand or organization leading change in the world – it can also be an individual, a leader that is seeking to drive that same kind of change. For instance, if you’re the CEO of a company aiming to transform and grow, the language you choose can affect the outcome. When seeking a new chief marketing officer or chief human resources officer, the job description should say: play a big, important role, leading the company’s efforts to boost revenues and profits by galvanizing the people who matter to the brand/company inside and out.

While being a galvanizing leader is probably the subject of its own book, we wanted to close by sharing some advice we gathered over the course of writing this book from people who’ve done it. But first, some advice of our own: if a picture is worth a thousand words, a movement is worth a million.

Lean on your personal purpose

‘I’m crystal clear on my personal purpose – to have the biggest impact on as many lives as possible by helping people become their best. I have this urgency to make a difference. That urgency drives me to keep the message fresh, exciting and interesting so that people connect. Because the only way you’re actually going to have change is if people find your movement interesting and fun.’ (Susan Somersille Johnson, CMO, Prudential, and former CMO of SunTrust)

Share your purpose with prospective hires

‘The key to getting a movement started and driving real change is connecting your company purpose with people’s personal purpose. You have to focus on telling people the why. Why are we doing something? Is this something that you connect with? Is this something that you’re passionate about? Because if it is, then let’s do it together.’ (Christy Pambianchi, EVP and CHRO, Verizon)

Approach purpose with passion

‘If you’re going to lead a purpose-driven company, you really better care about it, because at the first sign of a challenge in your business, or a new investor coming in with a different set of perspectives, if you don’t deeply, deeply care, you’ll fall. And that passion is what’s going to drive people to want to join your company and be a part of it.’ (Scott Tannen, CEO, Boll & Branch)

Be clear about your purpose

‘Deep in our bones, we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. When a company is clear about its purpose, it becomes incredibly aligning and unleashing. It creates a level of connective tissue and mutual understanding that is an undeniable forced multiplier. When given a bit of oxygen to breathe, purpose comes alive as a movement that propels an organization to become an even more compelling expression of its reason for being.’ (Stacey Tank, Chief Transformation Officer, Heineken)

Listen to your people

‘What are your major stakeholders, beyond your shareholders, telling you about the purpose you fulfil in the world? Go listen to your employees about where they feel unfulfilled, where are they disengaged? Are your accountability systems dehumanizing them? Because if your people don’t feel seen and heard and regarded, and they feel undignified in how you treat them, you’ve got a lot of work to do. If every day they feel like another cog in the wheel, then you have not activated their souls to care about what they’re doing because you’ve demonstrated that you don’t care about them as human beings and their own growth and development. You’ve got to start there.’ (Ron Carucci, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Navalent)

Start small, then scale

‘Creating a movement often starts small. But as a big company, we have the potential to scale and create a meaningful difference. It is clear to me that a positive vision can begin with a passionate individual or a group of T-Mobile employees – I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also seen it gain force and result in real, meaningful change as other partners and influencers join the effort.’ (Mike Sievert, President and CEO, T-Mobile)

Acknowledge it’s not a fad

‘Some agencies and brands jump on purpose and treat it like a fad or something that could be used to add a layer to your marketing. But they don’t understand quite how fundamental a shift is going on in the world. You have to really see that this isn’t an ephemeral thing. That something really substantive and tectonic is happening and this is going to be around for a long time.’ (Afdhel Aziz, Co-founder, Conspiracy of Love)

Anyone can be a purposeful leader

‘If I were to say that I was the kind of leader that was born to be leading people with purpose, that would be a white lie. Being a purposeful leader doesn’t have to be in your DNA. But what does have to be in your DNA is the ability to listen to people who tell you that you’re being either short-sighted or blind and that you can’t see what’s going on out there.’ (Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group)

Are you ready to be a galvanizer?

We started this book with a story of how StrawberryFrog evolved from a creative-driven advertising agency to a Movement Marketing agency, into a company helping leaders galvanize people and organizations around shared purpose via Movement Thinking to achieve competitive advantage. We have done it for Google, Emirates Airlines, P&G, SunTrust and Mercedes, and in so doing, set out a new competitive advantage with Movement Thinking. This idea will galvanize you while challenging your habits and the formulas of the past, providing new ways to think about insight, sources of growth and sources of meaning for modern businesses and the people who run them.

All of this emanates from how we ourselves were seeing how the world was changing, that people were expecting companies to be better corporate citizens, they were demanding that brands actually give a damn about people and the planet. Movement Thinking is a tried and tested business process to galvanize human beings – to turn on the switch in people’s minds that leads to action instead of turning it off.

Being a leader today means being a galvanizer. What you do, in many ways, is as simple as that: being ready and willing to ignite and empower people to be part of the solution. As much as we’ve spent this book recounting stories of those who’ve successfully activated their purpose with a movement, and as much as we’ve outlined a framework for activation, both inside and out, the truth is, there is no definitive map. There is, however, a caseload of movements that we have designed and stewarded, and through all those experiences, we can add value to those wishing to spark and grow a movement that delivers measurable results. When you are galvanizing thousands, millions of people, you can recognize and appreciate the power of movements to move people, with a business goal in mind. It requires the humility to know that your audience – whether employees or consumers – will be the carriers and translators of your message. It demands deference to the amount of time, money and effort required to authentically activate purpose. And oh how difficult it is to galvanize people with a blank sheet of paper.

As we hope you’ve come to realize through reading this book, there are excellent strategies that really work to get leaders from A to B. Purpose is not a novelty; it’s a business necessity. How you activate it depends on people being champions of the cause. It requires galvanizers. Just like you.

Excerpted from Activate Brand Purpose: How to Harness the Power of Movements to Transform Your Company, published March 30, 2021. Kogan Page.

References

Miller, J (2017) Toyota’s top engineer on how to develop thinking people, Gemba Academy, 15 May. https://blog.gembaacademy.com/2008/08/04/toyotas_top_engineer_on_how_to_develop_thinking_pe/ (archived at https://perma.cc/N25E-79F6)

Thompson, S (2006) One in a Billion, powerHouse Books, New York

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