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What's the one thing your business needs to be successful? Hint: it’s not a cat.

By Lenora Rand, SmallGood Co-founder

We just got a new kitten at my house this week. Which brings our household cat count up to three. I’m starting to fear being called a “crazy cat lady” sometime in the not-too-distant future.

But here’s the thing: I am not really a cat person.

Or at least I didn’t start out that way. However when my daughters were 8 and 10 they changed that.

They decided we needed a cat and had been dropping hints for a little know, like about 6 years or so. But every time they brought it up all I could think of was the additional mess having a cat would bring into my life. More cleaning. More expense. More TO DOs.

I already had plenty to do. I worked a full-time job at a big ad agency, my husband worked very full-time too. We both had a lot of other creative pursuits, and volunteered with a number of causes and organizations. Plus, our kids were busy with sports and music and actual schoolwork.

A cat seemed like a complication our family did not need.

So I kept saying No. Until one day the girls came to me with the $100 they had saved, the amount that was required for an adoption at our local shelter. And with a Powerpoint deck they’d created, with all the reasons why a cat was a good idea.

Yes, a Powerpoint deck.

I don’t remember all the specific points they made in their quite impressive presentation. Except this one:

“It will help us be more caring people.”

And with that, they got me.

Because that was my mothering why, my parenting purpose: to raise kind and caring people.

So the idea that getting a cat would help them become more caring people in the world resonated with me. It meant something to me.

We got the cat.

Not because of the $100 they’d saved...though that was great. But because they convinced me of a higher purpose.

I suspect it wouldn’t be too hard for you to come up with a similar situation where you’ve found yourself doing something you wouldn’t “normally” do because there was a higher order benefit involved - because it was meaningful to you.

This is why at SmallGood, the strategy and creative consultancy my partner Mylene Pollock and I co-founded, we talk to our clients about meaning - a lot. We believe discovering and articulating your brand’s meaning is crucial for any brand’s success today, no matter what the size of the organization. In fact, especially without a huge advertising budget, meaning can be a huge differentiator, the thing that gets you noticed.

But if you need convincing, here are four reasons why we believe meaning is so powerful in motivating people to work for you, buy from you, donate to you, or shout your praises from the rooftops (or at least on social media).

Reason #1: Because you are trying to connect with people.

When you develop your communication plans, you may use the term “target audience” but the truth is, you are talking to living, breathing, emotional humans. And human beings are motivated by their needs and feelings, wishes and aspirations. According to a recent Gallup World Poll, humans today crave more meaning in their lives. And when a brand has it, people will follow. With a practically religious zeal.

“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” - Simon Sinek

Reason #2: Because you aren’t that special.

Too harsh? Perhaps it would feel better if I said it this way: you’re operating in a saturated market. The product or service you provide probably isn’t totally a “one of kind.” There is most likely at least one other business or nonprofit, if not many others, that offer almost the same thing you do. So why should people care about your brand? How are you going to inspire them to care?

The way brands often try to stand out can be easily copied. You offer a promotion, they offer the same one. You put something on sale, they offer it at an even better price. You put out a red widget. They put out a fuchsia one. You match donations at 50%. They match at 100%.

Yes, your product or service or cause needs RTBs - those support points that speak to your benefits. But those RTBs are truly just support for your bigger and deeper Reason For Being in the world. And if you differentiate by your unique purpose, one that grows out of your company’s history and beliefs and desires, and by what you’re really trying to do for people in the world, that does become something special. That’s the heart and soul of your brand and it feels personal, and ownable and also, as my partner Mylene likes to say, it’s “Sticky-Outy.”

“The most interesting (and most respected) businesses and personalities are also the ones with the strongest and most authentic purposes behind them.” - Jan Bruce

Reason #3: Because trust doesn't come easy.

Trust in brands and companies is at an all-time low with only 48 percent of U.S. consumers finding businesses trustworthy, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Basically, people’s bullshit meter is finely tuned these days. This is especially true for millennials who are becoming professionals at avoiding ads. They also aren’t afraid to call out a brand for being shady.

So to keep folks from seeing you as just a soul-less, all-about-the-money-money company (which you aren't, right?) it's crucial for you to define the real meaning behind your brand. And of course, once you do that, you need to be that.

An authentic meaning can give your company or organization a “north star” to aim for, so you can escape becoming a will-do-anything-for-a-buck kind of brand people have come to suspect most companies, and even nonprofits, are.

Once your meaning has been clearly articulated it can - and should - inform all your company’s decisions - from what you offer to how you treat your customers.

Oh and by the way, this doesn’t mean you’ll no longer be making money. In fact, research from Havas shows that meaningful, purpose-filled brands have outperformed the stock market by 206% over the last 10 years.

“There is an increasing awareness that the purpose of a company has to be beyond shareholder value, and that this is not something that will cost your business but something that will enhance your business.” -HBR

Reason #4: So your employees won’t hate you.

Your employees are just as much a part of your brand as you are. They know the ins and outs of your company. They are the ones that truly represent your brand on a day to day basis. And they can be your greatest cheerleaders or your worst critics.

The difference between your company or organization being just a paycheck to them and being one they believe in, will work their tails off for, and remain loyal to for more than two seconds, is your meaning.

Studies show meaning matters more than money to employees, that, in fact, people would accept a 32% pay cut to have more meaningful work. Wow. 32%. But it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Think about how you feel about getting up in the morning. What gets you out of bed? What makes you keep going when the going gets tough?

“What’s happening on the inside of a company is being felt on the outside by the customer.” - Shep Hyken

Convinced yet? We certainly are. So convinced we built an entire agency around helping businesses of every size, for profit and not, who are trying to make the world better in some small (or huge) way, discover and articulate their meaning. Because we believe that’s how good will grow in the world.

Want to find out more about how your brand can be more meaning driven? We know big companies often spend big bucks on big agencies to make this happen. But we also know smaller businesses and nonprofits don’t have that kind of money (or time). So we put together a free downloadable PDF to help you get started...quickly. In it you’ll find the SmallGood 5 Question/15 Minute Meaning Finder. You can get the PDF here. And please, let us know what you think. We’d really love to hear from you.

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