Often we spend our entire time talking about new technology is and how they will transform society, but today we are talking about corporate social responsibility and doing good at work. What role employees expect of their companies? What will consumers expect from brands that they transact with? To answer these questions, we turned to Alain Sylvain and Frank Cooper. Alain is the founder and CEO of Sylvain Labs, a strategy and design consultancy that helps companies seize the reality and potential of their business, products and brands. Frank Cooper is the Global Chief Marketing Officer of BlackRock. As Global CMO, he’s responsible for shaping BlackRock’s global brand and marketing strategy for institutional and retail clients. The two of them teamed up for one of the more compelling panels at Collision 2019, discussing the future of brand purpose.
Note: this conversation was recorded outside the conference center in Toronto, so you’re definitely going get to hear a little bit of background noise here and there. When we weren’t able to get good audio on account of the wind, we did have to make a few edits, but hopefully does won’t be too distracting. Also, we started Recording after we had already begun a great discussion about whether or not words like corporate social responsibility are being appropriated, so you’ll be entering the conversation about one minute in.
Alain Sylvain: Is being purpose driven, sustainable. That to me is a real question. Like, can you, can you really commit to it? And habit enduring.
Jeremy Goldman: Hi, I’m Jeremy Goldman and this is FUTUREPROOF.
Speaker 3: Oh,
Jeremy Goldman: So this is admittedly a little bit of a different type of a episode. Often we spend our time talking about new technologies and how they’ll be transforming society, but today we’re talking about corporate social responsibility and brand purpose and all those other good things, you know, doing good at work and feeling good about the company that you’re building. What role will employees expect of their companies? What will consumers expect from brands that they transact with? To answer this question, I turn to Alain Silvain and Frank Cooper Atlanta. And I’m hoping I’m saying that well because I did not do that well at French. He is the founder and CEO of Silva labs. A strategy and design consultancy that helps a company is it sees the reality and potential of their businesses products and brands. Frank Cooper is the global chief marketing officer of BlackRock as global CMO.
Jeremy Goldman: He is responsible for shaping BlackRock’s global brand marketing strategy for institutions and retail clients. The two of them teamed up for one of the most compelling panels at Collision 2019 discussing the future of brand purpose. By the way, this conversation was recorded right outside the conference center in Toronto. So you’re definitely going to hear a little bit of background noise here and there when we weren’t able to get good audio on account of the wind. We did have to make a few edits but hopefully those won’t be too distracting. Also, we started recording after we had already begun a great discussion about whether or not words like corporate social responsibility and design thinking and brand purpose are being appropriated. So you’ll be entering the conversation about one minute in. So let’s jump right in. Sorry. You were saying?
Frank Cooper: No, I was wondering whether you think they take the well, no, by by misappropriating those words and exploiting them in ways that
Alain Sylvain: Actually confused me because they’re not living out what they’re, what they’re talking to them. I think so. I mean design and one of these concepts, it’s been confused because business that seized upon it because Stanford and ITU, they create design thinking all these things happen. And like what, what is design? No one really knows what design is. I think purpose is in danger of that same sort of thing. Yeah. You know, and frank talks a lot about this, it’s corporate purposes, brand purposes, a lot of different ways you can conceive it, but ultimately there should be a shared definition around what we mean by super. Yeah. I mean otherwise this, I mean is in a weird way, it’s kind of like the idea of artificial intelligence now where everybody tries to the term
Jeremy Goldman: And say, oh my, you know, stock will rise as a startup by just saying, oh, we’ve got some AI trust us to. But, but if you define it, have you put some parameters around doing good or CSR or you know, ethical behavior and it, what it is and what it is. And then you, you don’t have other people encroaching on the term without actually doing it. Right?
Frank Cooper: Yeah. Yeah. We look at me. So notion though that this is something totally new and out of the blue and never existed before. I think it’s not correct. I think it’s not a trend. I think it’s, it’s, it’s reclaiming what’s always been there. I mean, people go back to all the way back to Adam Smith and everyone talks about the wealth of nations, right? But he wrote theory of moral sentiments before that. And that was much more about ethics and virtue and relationships and how that plays culture. Really. How that plays into economics. To me, this exploitation issue is true and some companies are going to use it as a cloak and said like, hey, look at me on purpose driven in some way use it as a shield to try to defend against attacks. But there’s still an underlying truth to it all. And that truth is that I think more and more people want to have a sense that it has, employees are contributing to something larger and it doesn’t have to be so, so spectacularly large that it’s about, I’m going to solve water scarcity in the world.
Frank Cooper: It can be as simple as I’m giving you more time back to the means, you know or it could be that I’m providing a sense of community or I’m actually giving you a sense of both individual and collective identity. You’ve been historically marginalized. I’m pulling you to the center stage. There’s a bunch of ways to come at it. But the most important pieces is that it’s not purely CSR, it’s your commercial operations are tied to that as an ultimate goal in profits. Just happens to be one of the outcomes of it. That to me is the, that’s the opportunity that kind of, that lies before us.
Jeremy Goldman: You know, the, I guess the challenge obviously with it is that I think that most companies you can’t just do good without figuring out like, how do I do good, but at the same time generate the profits as expected for my shareholders or for my, you know, employers or investors, whatever. So how does you know, company balance those two things by saying you know, it or is it just a matter of saying it? Trusting that by doing good the other things will follow. Right?
Alain Sylvain: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean I, I think you know, what frank ended on I think is really key as a prophet. That’s one of the metrics at the end of the day. And when you brought him in, let me broaden it to include purpose. You know, are you committing to your purpose as an output? I think inevitably you’re thinking more than you’re thinking about more than shareholder doubt or you’re thinking about community. Think my employees think customers, suppliers, vendors, you know, what we talked about on stage but I talked about on stage was Ben and Jerry has this thing that they, that they talk about called linear prosperity of your, this thing is pretty cool. It’s basically they’re committing to the idea that as the company does well, all their employees and customers, all that will do well. And I think that that perspective is a new way of thinking about business. You’re not thinking about shareholder value, you’re not thinking about short term. You’re thinking about the collective and as the company grows, so too will the community beyond it. And I think that’s the throwback to the inception of what the role of companies were meant to be as organizations and institutions that were communal. So sure. You know, the idea of shareholder value I think is relevant as just one part of what the expectations should be I think for the company.
Frank Cooper: Yeah. And I think this whole bifurcation doing well by doing good should go away. You know, I think, I think now it should be just merge it together and it’s just doing well inherently is defined as you’re serving some human need. Just merge it together because the separation of the two in a way create some kind of strange thing. The doing well piece. It’s like make your profits and serve the world. I’d say flip it, serve people and in serving people you figure out how you actually sustain the company and sometimes that might not mean maximizing profit at every single term. You know when cvs said I’m going to pull the cigarettes off the shelf. They weren’t maximizing profits in the short term, but they pivoted toward this idea that we’re a healthcare company in long term that it actually will benefit us. It also virtual event. But but, but the point was they had a sense of like, here’s why we exist in the world and that’s going to be our ultimate goal and we’re going to keep that front and center about, about our strategy. We’ve got our decisions, it’ll be the north star for our employees. And I think that’s just, I don’t know if we can call it doing well by doing good. I think it’s just doing what you do to serve people.
Alain Sylvain: Yeah, I mean the concepts, again, businesses seized upon this in so many different ways. That’s great. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks. You got that on audio right? You heard it here first. I’ll send you guys that. Yeah, like you did hear it enough times today, but yeah, business is kind of theirs. Theirs doing well by doing good. Doing good. Which is a trope that you hear a lot about, which is about, you’re right at trivializes good doing good part CSR. It’s a whole other way to think about it. In the corporate sector, it’s completely different. Like you said, you mentioned you’re writing a piece about CSR, partly not CSR. That’s completely different than the way you’re defining purpose. And you know, CSR is almost like a, it’s almost like big companies showing contrition because of their impact on the world. You know, and it’s, and I’ve worked for some of these groups in big companies and it’s pathetic CSR but budgets fit relative to big, big.
Alain Sylvain: It’s to say we did something and not necessarily to orient the company around that. Exactly. It’s really troublesome. I and I worked with a big beverage company one time and they, and they had, you know, their, their imprint cause their environmental and Pronto was horrific and they, but they created a little, like a little girl and they would distribute water at crises or something that was CSR. And I was like, wash their hands and they’re independent immigrant. So, so, so I think what we’re talking about three definitions of how approves corporate purposes, right? There’s the, there’s the CSR piece, which to me is about contrition. There’s the do well by doing good piece, which is about compromise, two different motivations at the same time. And then there’s this thing that Frank’s talking about, which I think is do well as, as a key priority and everything else will fall into place including profits. Yeah. Those are three different,
Jeremy Goldman: Yeah, no, you’re right. Different strains of [inaudible]. And I think part of the reason why it’s been almost like these different, these different parallel discussions is because different people can be won over by different arguments, you know? So there’s some people where you say doing well by doing good, because that’s the only way you can get them on board. And then there are some company people who do believe, you know what, we need to achieve a 30% profit, but we don’t need 32 so maybe let’s figure out what we can do with that so we don’t get above our levels and actually act as a good citizen.
Frank Cooper: Yeah, yeah. Don’t think it’s right. I mean, those, you’re exactly right. What I hope though is that more leaders, purpose driven leaders ask themselves one question is, how do we serve people in this world in what we do? Like if we, if we were extraordinarily successful and we achieved every single goal that we put out, [inaudible] what is the outcome of that on the world? And, and we start to ask that question, then you start to reframe your ultimate goal. Your ultimate goal is much bigger than on profits, as much bigger than, than CSR as much bigger than doing well by doing good. Now the reality though, and kind of the, the cold water on the face is quarterly earnings pressure, right? And, and that’s, that’s a piece I don’t have. We’ve talked about this during our panels today. Don’t have a direct answer for that, except it requires, I think, investors academics consumers all to kind of coalesce and say, we actually value companies that have purpose at the center and we’re gonna vote with our, with our wallets. We’re gonna vote by investing differently. We’re gonna vote by buying things differently. It hasn’t happened yet.
Jeremy Goldman: Yeah. Well, and it’s also, it’s one of those things where it’s very easy I think for most people to say, okay we, we have like quarterly earnings coming up. Can we cut one thing to then just this quarter to hit our numbers to make our numbers look a little bit better? And then next quarter it’s like, I know we said we would just do it once, but then we do it twice. And it’s kind of like this whole, is there an inherent tension between short term and longterm thinking? That short term will always win if that’s how the average person is incentivized. Whereas if you, if someone’s pay is tied towards the longterm performance of the company and not towards the short term, could that be a way of incentivize longterm behavior?
Frank Cooper: We should take the pressure off of quarterly earnings reports so that people start to think more more long term. I hope that happens. But, but this is on both ends of the spectrum. You know, if you look at the soul of a startup early on, even though they stated purpose, they’re really out to survive and they do whatever it takes to survive in the end. And they’re like, this is one time we’ll make a change. And same thing on the other end. You know, people who are large corporations, they’re looking to survive and, and and survive quarter by quarter because their, their tenure as a CEO depends on it. Somewhere in between there, there’s like this, I won’t call it Nirvana, but there’s almost this moment of, of equilibrium. You know, where the actual purpose is lived and believed and and people fully engage in, it just doesn’t last very long because the ecosystem doesn’t support it. You know, the structure is not there to say
Alain Sylvain: What’s long term. Yeah, yeah. That’s, that’s really, yeah. I mean, it’s not, this is being purpose driven, sustainable. That to me is a real question. Like, can you, can you really commit to it and have it enduring? I’m really encouraged by what’s happening in blackrock. I’m not saying that because Frank’s my client likes truthfully high coincidence. Yeah, exactly. No, truthfully, I mean, and I think that’s why he took the job by the way. Like it just happened even before he showed up at black rock. What Laurie thinks doing this is pretty profound and I think what we’re getting at is a very different one. When a founder driven company, I think it’s easier to do this. So it’s easy for Larry to put out letters, CEOs and saying, think longterm. But when you’re a public company and you inherited the job and you’d be incentivized by a quarterly, I think this, this question is, it’s different.
Frank Cooper: The pressure for, for companies to become pressure more purpose driven. And to extent that it’s coming from ordinary people. It’s coming from really what we see as what we’re calling the populace movement, right? It’s people saying, I feel left out of prosperity in this country. And, and that doesn’t seem to be unique to any particular region right now. So you go to Germany, you see it, you go to Italy, the five star movement, you see, and you go to Norway, you see it, you go to Sweden, they have it. You go to Brazil and ball scenario, you say go to United States. You say you got to Philippines and the turtle, you see it, they’re all saying the same thing, which is I see prosperity around me. I’m being left out. And by the way, when I look forward, I’m even more fearful.
Jeremy Goldman: Well, one thing I was just curious about is the quantification of this, right? Because I think that this is something that, you know, folks like all three of us believe on some level is a very important, and yet though, you know, the way that anything happens is, you know, through data and by showing people who might disagree with your point that they’re incorrect. And I mean, just what kind of data is out there to show that this is the wave of the, not to say is the first time ever that we cared about this, but that this is something that’s gonna grow in the future. And importance in that lesson. I think, go ahead. I think this the most important unlock for us right now where we’re actually working on it. I mean there’s some signs,
Frank Cooper: It was a lot of data of people showing that performance driven companies outperform those who are not formed. A purpose driven companies outperform those who are not over a five year period. If you look at the s and p 500, etc. You know, whether that’s rigorous or not, it’s a question of questionable. But what is pretty clear is that we know we have low employee engagement across the board, across every industry. Like 80% of people have a police feel kind of unengaged. We know that if you can get employees to feel more engaged at work, their performance will be higher. Productivity will be higher. Boomi I suppose to you guys to stay in the question and then, because I’d love to hear both of your hands. But our consumer is willing to punish companies that actually don’t live up to their purpose.
Frank Cooper: You know, and we can, I can think of a few right off the top of my head. They don’t seem to have, have received much punishment for violating their stated purpose. So Patagonia goes out, this is hypothetical and you go out and we all know Patagonia is our purpose, you know, to improve the environment. Overall they’d go out and they support raising half a of the rainforest, you know in order to produce, you know housing for their, their, the populations that they serve and, and clothes, et cetera. And people find out that, wait a minute, this is such a fundamental violation for your, is it okay? No.
Jeremy Goldman: Well, it was a, it’s, it’s, there’s two things to it. I think one thing is it’s not okay if a company does something that reeks of hypocrisy. Then I think that just in general, when you do something that’s off brand, it’s a bigger deal than if you just do something that isn’t good. You know, like being off brand tends to really hurt you. But I think the other key thing is it provides an opportunity for somebody else to jump in. And for instance, Amazon is not known as being the most socially conscious company in the world. But there isn’t a company out there that, that is a great substitute for Amazon, therefore they can get punished. So it creates an opening for somebody else when you stumble. But it doesn’t mean that people are willing to, if they don’t have somewhere else to go.
Jeremy Goldman: So what that says is, you know, you have to find somewhere else to go. And if there isn’t anywhere, then you know, we all kind of look the other way and pretend that Uber wasn’t for Lyft, the delete Uber Movement. I literally, since I sold my agency and I’ve been doing journalism for a while, but since I sold my agency had a little bit extra time. So I started doing some, a stand up comedy type of stuff. And I said I, you know, I was going to take a Lyft here, but I figured, you know, I’d take a Uber cause I hate women, you know, and there’s like an element to that where it’s like we all kind of agreed or a lot of people agreed, you know what, we’re not happy with the Uber’s practices, so we’ll look the other way because it was in some places just like the best place to, the best thing to get around. I know,
Frank Cooper: I know. That’s what I’m concerned about because people like they point to Travis and all and all the activity in the culture of the company and say it’s horrific things like so damn convenient and, and, and, and you felt like, even though we have to delete Uber moving Lyft never really stepped into the void enough where you felt like, you know, I can get the same cars and service as Uber and so and so Uber lives on [inaudible]
Jeremy Goldman: Just as we were. Yeah. So when you, when you become that ubiquitous, you know, then that’s the, I mean, and I’ll still try to take videos around cause it’s actually is really good mapping technology, but, but I think that ultimately, I mean not to be political, but to just to say if somebody else was describing this to me, it’s like a lot of people made they wouldn’t agree necessarily with most things about Trump, but they voted for him because they knew that he was going to do this, this and this, and that mattered enough to them that they were willing to look the other way about the individual that they were voting for. Right.
Alain Sylvain: I mean this is a, and by the way, getting political, you’re in a safe space. Like we would, I would, I’d love talking about this sort of thing. Yeah. A big question I have is how much how complicit are we as consumers? You know, you know, you mentioned Amazon and Uber and I took an Uber here. How complicit am I in these companies violating their, their purpose or, or whatever. And I think about this a lot. You know, Instagram is a great by far. I’m like connect with people on it. It’s a great way to see what’s going on. But I also am deeply concerned and troubled about Facebook and their, and what they’re doing. You know, we’re in privacy and yet they’re trying to connect the world, but at what costs and, but every time I open up that app, I am furthering their costs. And I think there’s a big question around how much, how responsible are we as, as you know, we were talking about voting with your dollar before and all of that, but it’s also voting with your behaviors. And I, I don’t know, I have a lot to think of. I have a lot to say it like that, isn’t
Jeremy Goldman: It? Just a matter of a, sorry. And then I’m curious what you think, but isn’t it just a matter of the mechanics of these technologies are such that, you know, that if you don’t use it, it doesn’t actually matter. I mean, sure. If everybody, if you had enough of a, like if Kim Kardashians started a whole entire movement to delete Instagram and got her a hundred most famous friends, then I think that you can make a right that maybe that could kill on Instagram, you know, but you alone don’t have the ability to do so. There’s so therefore you say, if I can’t, if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s kind of like the wisdom of the crowd or the idiocy of the crowd. Also in some situations you know, if you look back at, you know, like any dictator in history that had the support of millions of people none of those millions of people as being shamed because they were with a whole lot of other people said, as long as you stick together, you can’t be that shame by taking the wrong action.
Jeremy Goldman: Right. And I think that in some ways that that’s what happens in corporate society of every other CEO act that way. How can you really, you know, be faulted? Well, I think that’s deeply trouble. It was a very troubling, I mean that’s, you know, Nazi-ism and so on. It’s like, yeah, you kind of like nothing bad is going to happen. We’ll just kind of hang and then the worst things can happen if there’s like a local omentum behind them. I don’t think it’s enough to say like everyone else is doing it. I don’t know. I think there should be an uprising.
Frank Cooper: Yeah. Yeah. We’re not going to change the fundamentals of human nature, you know? You know, most of the people are gonna follow the crowd, you know, in gonna fall. And so the question is, the opportunity is how do we make the crowd follow things that have a positive impact on the world? You know, how do you need to develop it in a way where it’s, it’s easier to adopt and you see the benefit of it in the short term. It’s not like a look like, hey, in 10 years from now you’re going to feel really good. No one’s going for that right now. And so I think if you look at it through a cultural lens, how do you make them feel? It today, how do you make it more of a movement? Right. That’s our opportunity and we’re never gonna well I don’t think in our lifetime we’re going to change human nature in that way. And so yeah.
Jeremy Goldman: Well it’s interesting almost like by nature, if the definition of it, human nature is, it’s a natural thing that basically maybe you can’t change human nature. Maybe you can just say, except this is human nature. How do we gain if I add our to positive. Exactly. Right, exactly.
Alain Sylvain: When you said culturally there’s sort of a motivation to what, how did you put it, you said kind of prioritize revenue over purpose in the United States. And I think looking at this from a cultural point of view is it’s really, it’s really [inaudible] because it’s, is it not true to be driven to for convenience? Like is is this idea of like I’m not going to care about Amazon or whoever. Is that human nature is convenient human nature or is everybody been conditioned to really want convenience?
Jeremy Goldman: Cause, I mean, I get to watch my kids, I get to see what the consumers of tomorrow, how they’ll think through that lens. I say like, that’s why I had them market research. And you know, because of that you’re able to see what are things that are inherent to us versus what are maybe things that I just had as a kid being born, you know, born in the 70s. I mean, maybe there’s certain things that you’re just a product of your culture for the time you were born. So how old are the kids or the curiosity? Oh yeah. Let’s see what time? Five and a half. Two and a half and a negative two months, so yeah. Thank you. Yeah. So less, less, less time. I got out in New York three years probably. Exactly. Yeah. No, thank you. Oh, the price is high if you do during that time.
Jeremy Goldman: Oh God. Yeah. Price says, especially with my wife left at home. I just know I’m making it up. I’m, I’m making it up in spades on this one. I have three kids too. And I definitely future consumption habits through their eyes. It’s very interesting. My son fortnight crazy, not like crazy. He plays a lot. And it’s, it’s funny how brands I’ve inserted themselves into your gaming environment and it’s interesting to see you favorite those brands because they’re right. So I hear, I hear we should be, yeah, I think another example of that by the way is privacy. You know, because you hear a lot of, I mean I hear a lot of people who are very pro privacy. Privacy is great. He got to protect it and all that stuff. I don’t see the younger people who I know and I mean this people young, older than my kids, they, they kind of grew up with the idea of less privacy inherent in their life than we did. And I think because of that, they don’t care about it as much because it’s not this inherent thing that they assume that they own.
Frank Cooper: Well, look, I mean I think that’s the most alarming thing right now is, is the comfort level that somebody younger people have with the use of their data. Because if you, if you believe that at some point you have to crush it, whether or not a freak will being shaped by companies, you know, beyond what people will think. They’re like, I don’t think I’m buying this because I want it. But actually they figured out exactly your trigger points and they figured out exactly when you would actually be most susceptible to buy it. There’s a, there’s a line at which I think it becomes very alarming and so we have to train ourselves and, and educate people broadly about the dangers of, of giving up their data and how that might be used. Right.
Jeremy Goldman: That’s true. It just depends where okay. With something doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually have adverse effects, you know? That’s cool. Complicity. So this goes back to your earlier point about if everybody does it just to do it. Yeah.
Jeremy Goldman: And sorry for the abrupt ending there. But honestly I didn’t even think the audio was going to be good enough to use a, it admittedly was maybe like a c plus. But I feel like the conversation is such an important one for us to be having and I think it’s a little bit different from some of the things we’ve been running more recently. So be sure to let us know what you think and while you’re at it, rate us and review us on apple podcast, stitcher, and wherever finer podcasts are sold. Until next time, I’m Jeremy Goldman and you’ve been listening to future proof.
Speaker 3: Okay.
Jeremy Goldman: Thanks again to Shannon McLay for making the time to join us and thanks to you all for listening. We really appreciate it. Things also, by the way, for doing all the other great things you’re doing, like subscribing, rating and reviewing us when ever possible and telling everybody in your network, because that really does help new people find this show and fall in love. And Yeah, until next time, I’m Jeremy Holdman and you’ve been listening to future proof
Speaker 6: [Inaudible].