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The Competitive Advantage of Making a Difference


Yanik Silver

The Competitive Advantage of Making a Difference

with Yanik Silver

MakingBank: S3Ep32 with Yanik Silver

In the past 10 years, there has been a definitive shift in the way people consume products. They don’t want just any product, they want a product with a story and a purpose—something that makes them feel good about buying it, or at the very least guilt free.

Our conscious consumerism isn’t a simply a sentiment that’s slipping under the radar, but what Yanik Silver calls “a seismic shift” rooted in our evolving buyer culture. In the pilot episode of Portlandia, “Farm,” Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein play a couple so concerned with the well being of the chicken they are about to eat they ask the waiter, “did it have a happy life?” and even go so far as visiting the farm the chicken was raised on before deciding whether or not they are comfortable ordering it. Extreme? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely. That far off from where we’re at—not really.

People want the creation story of a company. They want the us-versus-them narrative. They want to be a part of a bigger picture. It’s why Tom’s has sold over 35 million pairs of shoes. People know if I buy this pair of shoes, someone will get a pair of shoes for free. They can pat themselves on the back and carry on guilt free.

It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. When done well, it’s providing creative solutions to world problems. Is it something your company can do as well?

According to Yanik, “Most companies are already doing something right, they’re just not doing it in a strategic way that totally aligns with what their greater purpose is, so it’s not getting their members involved.” How do you take what you’re already doing well and evolve that process into something profitable for you and powerfully good for the people?

It starts with YOU.

First, you align your head. Dig into yourself. “Get deep into, what am I really great at? What am I not good at? Even asking What is my shadow side of stuff?”

A lot of people get distracted by one side of the business. Whether that be the social mission, or company culture, or the product itself. They think if they have a really good handle on that one specific thing, then they don’t need to worry as much about the other stuff because it will take care of itself. But the way to accelerate is to pay attention to your head, your heart—the impact you want to make in the world, and your higher purpose.

Then look at the CAUSE.

This is your mission. Yanik likes to refer to the mission as the North Star, “We’re not going to get there, but it’s our guiding force.” When you name your mission, everything you do is geared towards that, every cause you support, every company you partner with, it’s all interconnected.

This is really important because people will want to align with you based on your principles. And supporting other companies causes—even if they’re well-intentioned, if they don’t align with your mission, people will smell that something’s not right. Remember the cautionary tale of KFC and their Breast Cancer Awareness buckets. Supporting cancer awareness is all well and good, but when a diet rich in saturated fat has been linked to cancer and you sell fried chicken, people will note the irony and probably revolt.

Be genuine. It’s more than a marketing ploy. Care about your cause. If you really care, you’re more likely to strike the right chord, then other people will care and they will want to spread the word on what you’re doing and become advocates themselves.


You need to have a good product. It can’t just be all about the mission, what you’re selling needs to look good or do good. Tom’s shoes wouldn’t sell if people didn’t actually want to wear them.

Then you develop your community and culture. You build your tribe of people who are really excited about what you’re offering and want to talk about it to others. Hone the creation story of your company—what you do, why you do it, how you got started, and give people a way to get out there and start talking about it.

Once you have those three elements, you, your cause, and your creation sorted, you’re set to make impact even the cast from Portlandia would be willing to get behind (and you’ll make money too).

For more from Yanik Silver, you can buy his book Evolved Enterprise on Amazon. Check him out on and read his blog on