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It’s not what you sell- it’s what you stand for - Book Review

1 July 2019

Dr. Moria Levy

"It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For" is a book by Roy Spence 2009, with collaborative input from Haley Rushing. Roy Spence served as the proprietor of a United States-based advertising firm. The book elaborates upon his distinctive approach to promoting organizations and molding their brand identities. This premise deviates from traditional advertising strategies. While advertising conventionally requires a product or service for marketing, the book's title imparts a more profound understanding: mere sales fall short. To achieve success, whether in the for-profit or non-profit sectors, an underlying purpose reigns supreme – the fundamental "why" propelling the organization's mission. When an organization is firmly grounded in meaning, constructing a thriving brand becomes more attainable.


The book covers the following topics:

-   Meaning

-   Leadership

-   Application

Appendix: Organizations



The book's endorsements by prominent figures such as Jim Collins, Bill Clinton, and many others serve as a testament to its value. I encourage you to immerse yourself in its pages and explore its insights.




The world finds itself in a continuous state of advancement, witnessing the evolution of organizational and management concepts and the emergence of various business models for governing organizations. In our contemporary landscape, a notable spectrum of organizations aspires not only to thrive but also to improve lives, reaching beyond the interests of shareholders. Those organizations poised for triumph are those infused with meaning – entities that transcend the realm of mere business management and strive to bring about meaningful change. At the core of cultivating an influential organization lies a fundamental principle: engagement in a sphere that resonates with genuine concern.


So, what precisely constitutes this "meaning"? It embodies an organizational ethos that sets the entity apart and is dedicated to enhancing the environment. Meaning serves as the propelling force behind the organization, articulating its purpose and raison d'être. Viable avenues for pursuing meaningful endeavors encompass:

•  Serving underserved populations with indispensable services.

•  Pioneering innovative paradigms.

•  Advocating for noble causes.

•  Igniting and empowering individuals.

•  Discerning the imperceptible.


Illustrative instances include Southwest Airlines, which aspires to grant people the freedom to fly, even with modest means, and BMW's vision to provide people with the joy of driving. Further examples are elaborated upon in the organizations' appendix.


For an organization oriented towards meaning, the prospects are promising:

•  Attracting and retaining dedicated, engaged employees.

•  Cultivating a culture of invigorated endeavors.

•  Addressing intricate challenges.

•  Directing purposeful actions (aligned with the underlying meaning).

•  Enhancing overall performance.

•  Nurturing innovation.



The foremost duty of a leader within a meaning-driven organization revolves around constructing, nurturing, and upholding the profound significance of the organization. The principles that underpin meaning-based leadership include:


1. Serve as the Custodian of Meaning: Embrace the responsibility of safeguarding the essence of meaning and avoid delegating this pivotal role to others.

2. Prioritize Meaning Over Financial Gain: Place faith in the intrinsic value of meaning ahead of pursuing financial success.

3. Harness Meaning for Alignment and Performance: Utilize meaning to align individuals with the path they aspire to tread, thereby catalyzing enhanced performance. Communicate the organization's purpose internally and externally, extending to customers and other stakeholders.

4. Maintain a Clear Focus on Meaning: Continuously keep in mind the underlying purpose and rationale for your endeavors—frame discussions of success in terms of the positive impact being generated.

5. Drive through Meaning, Not Personal Charisma: Rely on the potency of meaning to guide actions and decisions rather than relying solely on personal charisma.

6. Align Decisions with Meaning: Evaluate each decision based on its contribution to the overarching meaning. The proper course can be assured by consistently prioritizing purpose and courageously implementing decisions aligned with it.

Additionally, encompassing broader leadership principles, as outlined by Spence (extending beyond the context of the meaning), are:

7. Safeguarding Employees: Shield employees from unwarranted negativity or mistreatment from customers.

8. Embrace Positive Opportunities: Be prepared to seize advantageous prospects and channel them for positive outcomes.

9. Cultivate Curiosity and Openness: Foster receptiveness to novel ideas and concepts.

10.  Embrace Life as a Journey: Regard life as an ongoing voyage, where each destination is not an endpoint but merely a stop en route to the next.

11.  Consistent Conduct Anchored in Values: Uphold unwavering adherence to ethical principles and values.


12.  Attend to Details: Display meticulous attention to detail in all aspects of leadership.

13.  Intent-Driven Activity Amid Mistakes: Even in the face of errors, maintain a course of action rooted in good intentions.

14.  Release Grips on Negativity: Avoid dwelling excessively on errors and setbacks; instead, let go and forge ahead.

15.  Inspire Belief in Others: Play a role in nurturing others' self-confidence and self-belief.


By adhering to these principles, leaders can effectively navigate the intricacies of organizational leadership and contribute to the meaningful and impactful journey of the organization.



Any organization genuinely desires to unearth its true purpose can uncover its meaning and align its actions accordingly. Defining this meaning can encompass various scenarios: at times, it may already exist but lacks clear articulation, while in other instances, it might need to be uncovered based on the organization's explicit and implicit values. One may embark on a journey to unearth this meaning by delving into the organization's traditions and initial purpose. An overlooked idea from the past might hold the key, or a concept could have evolved and is now ready to be embraced.


The pivotal questions that warrant addressing are: Why does the organization come into existence? What holds significance for the people it serves? What passions do we, as members of the organization, have? What genuinely ignites our enthusiasm? In what realm can we strive to attain unparalleled excellence? And how does our economic impact fit seamlessly into this narrative? Delineating meaning entails consultation and development, commencing with management and subsequently involving employees, particularly those who stand out and can offer insights into their work approach and motivations. Ultimately, it entails engaging with customers and, equally crucial, attuning oneself to the inner voice.


The articulation of this meaning should be succinct and precisely conveyed in simple terms. It's essential to recognize that the mission buttresses the sense, while the vision portrays the world as it will materialize once the meaning is realized. For instance, Wal-Mart's purpose is: "saving people money so they can live better." The mission encompasses lowering the prices of goods and services to enhance accessibility. The vision paints a vivid picture of a world where an improved quality of life is within everyone's reach.


A valuable guiding principle: Set lofty aspirations. Meaning revolves around the "why" that propels an organization's purpose and direction rather than getting entangled in the specifics of the "how."


Translating the essence into an operational plan and actionable steps

Translating the established meaning into actionable plans and concrete steps is paramount. Simply defining the meaning falls short regardless of how insightful it may be. It becomes imperative not only to articulate the purpose but also to materialize it in practical terms – outlining how the organization will function, conduct itself, and what specific actions it will undertake. This entails formulating a comprehensive work plan that involves all employees, extending beyond just those in management positions. To create an impactful plan, the following steps are recommended:

1. Conduct an audit to identify any disparities between the current state and the desired meaning-driven behavior of the organization.

2. Identify internal obstacles, including challenges posed by competitors or customer expectations, which could impede the execution of the plan.

3. Explore additional offerings or services that align with the meaning and set the organization apart from competitors.

4. Develop a detailed plan and formulate strategies to communicate to employees the direct correlation between the established meaning and the proposed action plan.


Guidelines for a successful program implementation


Personal Managerial Example:

-   Engage employees and foster connections, empowering them to become catalysts of change, whether wholly or partially engaged.

-   Explore opportunities for employees to derive advantages from the same sense of purpose, extending beyond customers and immediate contexts.

-   Incorporate the organizational meaning into the recruitment process to attract candidates who resonate with our values.

-   Continuously prioritize tasks, assessing their alignment with the established purpose and approach.

-   Skillfully communicate and navigate through periods of change.

-   Seek customer feedback and leverage it as a valuable resource for learning and improvement, utilizing positive feedback to further inspire employees.



The organization's branding strategy will involve the following:

1. Communication aimed at employees, customers, and the wider global audience.

2. Drawing in fresh talent and motivating existing staff through a collective sense of purpose.

3. Steering the development of products, services, and experiences that hold value for individuals.

4. Authoritative and influential communication about market trends and the broader context.



Evaluating success through the prism of meaningful progress.


Continuous Advancement:

Upon achieving success in the program, set loftier objectives. Never content with the current status quo; relentlessly pursue continuous improvement.


Appendix- Organizations:

In his book, Spence provides numerous examples of organizations driven by meaning, with the primary ones fully elaborated upon. Below is a concise list of the main organizations mentioned, offering a glimpse into each story's essence without delving into the full details, highlighting the underlying significance guiding their pursuits. These organizations span various sectors, including private enterprises, partnerships, and non-profit entities.


List of Organizations and Their Guiding Significance:

1. Southwest Airlines – Empower individuals with the freedom to soar.

2. Wal-Mart – Enhance lives by saving people money and enabling better living.

3. BMW – Provide the joy of driving and experiencing life's moments.

4. Norwegian Cruise Line – Challenge conventions and create inclusive holiday experiences.

5. AARP – Advocate for positive social change, enriching the quality of aging.

6. American Red Cross – Empower individuals to take extraordinary actions during emergencies.

7. American Legacy Foundation – Shape a world where youth reject tobacco, aiding smokers in quitting.

8. American Council on Education – Transform lives for societal betterment, one student and discovery at a time.

9. Texas A&M University – Cultivate character-driven leaders committed to serving society's greater good.

10. PGA Tour (golf) – Pursue excellence in sportsmanship.


This compilation underscores the universal nature of the concept, which is applicable across diverse domains.

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