Purpose At Work: How Life Is Good Drives Community Growth and Impact Through Optimism
Today’s consumers want to support companies that share their beliefs. Brands are heeding the call, increasingly looking to position themselves as purpose-driven leaders. That said, not all purposeful campaigns resonate with consumers. Life is Good has a 25-year history of building community around its core values and purpose. I had the opportunity to speak with founders Bert and John Jacobs about how they lead with purpose. Here are the insights they shared.
Simon Mainwaring: What was the original instinct behind Life is Good?
Bert Jacobs: It has always stood for optimism, but we got laughed at a lot when we first started saying that. Corporate reports have only recently started talking about the importance and power of optimism. People might think that would be a competitive issue for us. On the contrary, we think it’s great there are a lot more positive lifestyle companies out there. It’s good for business, and it’s good for the world.
SM: Do you think there’s a greater need for optimism today than when you started?
John Jacobs: The public is starting to realize how detrimental the sensationalized negative news cycle can be. That’s healthy. At the same time, those media entities have gotten way more sophisticated at feeding people what they want to hear. It has created a lot of division.
BJ: Twenty-five years ago, it was just the 6 o’clock news. Now you get it on your phone. You get it on the flat screen at the bus stop. You get it everywhere. It’s more impactful in a negative way. Our belief is that optimism has always been a powerful choice. It has always been important and timeless.
JJ: People have to make an intentional choice not to subject themselves to all these screens and messages. We’ve heard this from our customer stories. Choosing optimism is the greatest tool you have. That’s the message we’re trying to get out to people.
SM: From your customer stories you mentioned, what are the positive knock-on effects from an optimistic mindset?
JJ: We view it as a pragmatic strategy to living a happy and fulfilling life.
BJ: We always say that if you’ve never been challenged in life and you ate a sandwich for lunch, it might just be a sandwich. But if you spent the last year and a half in a hospital eating through a tube, that’s not just a sandwich. You feel like your disposition changes — your view of everything changes.
JJ: You’re less likely to complain about the traffic or the weather if you’ve been through these heightened challenges. That’s what we’ve learned from our customers.
SM: You consciously leverage social sharing. Where did the inspiration for that come from and how effective has it been?
BJ: It shifted for us. We started sharing people’s stories when they gave us permission. Now, it’s easier for us to connect and build the community. We enable our consumers with tools, social media, and even a place on our website to share what they’re going through. That way, it’s easier to amplify. When we give them a platform, everyone can do the work with us.
JJ: We make high-quality products, but we don’t talk about that much. Things light up when we share personal stories. It makes people feel less alone when they’re dealing with their own struggles. The engagement level is absurd compared to a lot of brands we really admire.
BJ: We have something called the Good Vibe Tribe on our website. The pictures and stories people send are greater emotional connectors to our brand values than any advertising.
We talk to our customers and our employees about what matters to them. People want to be treated like human beings and connect with other human beings, not hear all the details about how a garment is made.
JJ: Life is not easy, life is not perfect, life is good. We started our book with these words, because it’s the most succinct way to convey that deeper message to our customers. We started using it on social media. We put it on a T-shirt and wondered, ‘Is that a little heavy or deep for a shirt?’ But people responded really positively. It’s what you choose to focus on that’s going to help you live a happy and fulfilling life.
SM: What piece of advice would you give brands out there that want to communicate their good work more clearly?
BJ: Look at what resonates with your customers. For us, it’s their families, their neighborhoods, their jobs, and their own struggles. Once you figure that out, keep your messaging inclusive. Don’t make it about beating your chest. Keep it open. Keep it simple. No one’s got time for a dissertation.
We made a lot of mistakes initially, especially when forming our Kids Foundation. We’re so passionate about helping kids who face childhood trauma that we tried to get everyone to understand the details of these various traumas.
JJ: To Bert’s point, the details of our nonprofit’s work were too much for people to take in. So, we learned to keep it simple. Now we just say we’re helping kids in need.
BJ: We advertise that for every $10 we make in profit, we give $1 to the Kids Foundation.
Most people look at that and say, “I happen to like the T-shirt, and they’re doing something good.” For those that want to look into it more, they can. But we got traction once we stopped getting so caught up in the details and realized that the world is busy. People need the experience to be really easy.
Our cause is not more important than others. They’re all important. Our ability to gain awareness, fundraising, and attention is commensurate with how easy we make it for people to learn, give, and help.
JJ: To celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we invited people to share #SomethingGood with us — photos, stories, and positive thoughts to help us all focus on the good in life. For each post we received, we donated a dollar to our Kids Foundation, and thanks to an incredible response from our community, we’re about to hit our goal of 1 million #SomethingGood shares and donate $1 million.
All that is to say: Empower people to help you achieve your goals and your mission; welcome them to co-write your story — that’s what builds real community.
SM: What is the impact that the foundation is having?
JJ: We’re focused on helping kids overcome childhood trauma (e.g., poverty, violence, and illness). We do this by supporting childcare providers who form life-changing relationships with children every day. We hold workshops where these childcare providers can get the resources and encouragement they need to continue building these kids up.
BJ: There are people working in the trenches who dedicate their lives to this kind of work, but some of them don’t have the best training or support system. A lot of them burn out.
John Jacobs: These workshops help childcare providers retain their own playfulness, openness, and optimism. We’ve gotten smarter with our scalability. For the first 10 years of our nonprofit, we worked directly with the children via play therapy groups. Then we evolved into ‘train the trainers’ and ‘teach the teachers.’ Now, we’re working with major partners like Head Start and Boys & Girls Club. They’ve already gathered these childcare providers together so it’s more efficient. Our Kids Foundation now improves the quality of care for over 1 million kids per year, and we feel like we’re just getting started.
Simon Mainwaring: Any final advice on how brands can lead with purpose?
Bert Jacobs: One thing that’s important for business owners to realize is that the purpose you choose and the cause you get behind need to be linked to your organization’s values. What we’re doing for children is the same thing our for-profit does. It’s all integrated. We’re focusing on emotional health for all human beings.