Revisiting a business book 10 years, and a study of 50,000 brands, in the making. Jim Stengel argued purpose is key to success and, says Brendan Walsh, companies around the globe are already taking note
When it comes to marketing, you don’t get many bigger gigs than top global job at Procter & Gamble – the role held by Jim Stengel for seven years. His experience managing one of the world’s largest advertising budgets (£5bn) saw him turn around dozens of troubled iconic brands, from Cover Girl to Pampers.
During this time he began a 10-year research project that would later become his first and only book – Grow: How ideals power growth and profit at the world’s greatest companies.
The Stengel Study looked at more than 50,000 brands and analysed why those that experienced extraordinary growth were so successful. These businesses – the Stengel 50, including brands from Accenture to Zara – all displayed a direct correlation between impressive performance and possession of a “higher purpose”, an ability to connect with fundamental human emotions. This is what Stengel refers to as a “brand ideal”.
With accolades from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Sir Martin Sorrell and Arianna Huffington, Grow has become one of the best-regarded articulations of the value of purpose in business.
Stengel outlines a framework to follow. ‘The Ideal Tree’ is a guide by which brands can identify their ideal – “the higher-order benefit” it brings – and use it to drive growth. To Stengel, it’s not about social responsibility or altruism, it is a strategic “programme for profit… based on improving people’s lives”.
He offers five must-do stages: discovering the ideal; building a culture around it; communicating it; delivering a customer experience reflecting it; and, finally, evaluating progress against it.
The first ‘branch’ – finding this ideal – requires a purpose that touches one of five fundamental human drivers: for example, eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or impacting society.
According to Stengel every business in the world has a potential growth-driving ideal. It is the company’s raison d’être, the way it connects with consumers in a meaningful way.
But this is just the first step. Brands must put the ideal into practice, starting with an ideal-centred culture. Stengel calls this “the spark that gets a team firing on all cylinders” and it relies on a leader who can be clear about what it stands for, and putting in place the capabilities to achieve it. This might relate to team structure or hiring practice, but ultimately it will lead to happier employees and better service for customers.
Next it needs ideals-driven communication. Stengel acknowledges the impact of social media and radical transparency. For modern brands, communicating authentic ideals is vital. Stengel likens business communication to personal relationships – a dialogue based on trust, shared values, honesty and respect.
Stengel’s fourth must-do centres on “delivering a near-ideal customer experience” or bringing the brand ideal to a customer’s everyday life. He cites the relationship-building role of Apple stores. They don’t just sell products but offer education and inspiration.
Finally, evaluation: creating key performance indicators based on the ideal will ensure it lives and breathes throughout the business. The better progress can be measured, Stengel argues, the more vividly the ideal is brought to life.
A new narrative for business
Through in-depth analysis of businesses from Pizza Hut to Jack Daniel’s, Stengel teaches companies how to discover their brand ideal. It is a lofty idea, given real credibility by his extensive research. He offers light-touch analysis of the changing role of marketing, in which money is moving from paid-for advertising towards relationship-building. But Grow isn’t a marketing guide, but a manifesto for business success.
Stengel wants to create a new narrative of profit and purpose. He speaks of “a profound shift to shared growth and prosperity”. Even in the four years since Grow was published, it’s clear this shift is already taking place.
Brendan Walsh is executive vice president and head of global corporate payments, international at American Express
What is your favourite business bible? Email Brendan Walsh here
Jim Stengel – Grow, Fact file
Sales Grow’s success has seen Stengel become an in-demand public speaker, lending his skills to Cannes Lions festival, TED talks and marketing conferences.
Reviews Says Arianna Huffington: “[He] has produced a brilliant, must-read book supremely suited for our times.” Sheryl Sandberg recommends it to “all business leaders”.
Did you know? He began his career in Time Inc’s book division. His CV includes stints with Jif (as brand manager) and Duncan Hines Baking Mixes.