The We First Blog.

21st Century Leadership: 3 Master Strokes by Elon Musk

June 20, 2014 Comments

When Elon Musk announced last week that he would open source Tesla’s valuable intellectual property he commanded great attention across the auto industry and the private sector. Not only did he do something profoundly counterintuitive in terms of the traditional self-serving interests of a company discharging its fiduciary duty to shareholders, but he also demonstrated a new type of leadership that will not only propel the success of Tesla but also build a brighter future for the planet.

In doing so, Musk demonstrated three signature traits of what it means to be a truly inspiring leader in the 21st century.

1. The future of profit is purpose: Too many CEO’s never ignite the public’s imagination because they fail deliver the lofty promises they made at the outset of their tenure. Yet Musk continues to deliver on the promise he made in his first blog post about Tesla where he stated that his intentions were to reinvent the auto industry and overcome its dependence on fossil fuel in the service of a sustainable planet.

Musk did this because an auto industry that produces a hundred million fossil fuel vehicles annually is simply not sustainable. So by making his intellectual property open source, he is changing his business model to respond to the reality of the world we actually live in which is facing multiple ecological crises. He also recognized that this choice is good for business because if electric cars are to achieve their manufacturing economies of scale and become price competitive against fossil fuel cars, they need to scale rapidly. So on both fronts, the future of profit is purpose for Tesla.

This masterstroke is already paying dividends as the press has reported that Nissan and BMW are keen on talks to cooperate on building a network to expand Tesla’s existing 97 charging stations that currently dot a path across the continental U.S.

2. The evolution of revolution is contribution: Elon Musk is profoundly aware that the values of socially conscious Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z buyers are very different to those of past generations. So by putting the full might of the company behind a vision of a more sustainable planet, he is tapping into some of the most powerful business drivers that will determine which companies lead the future.

This does not come without a cost, however, as we have seen various states either legislate or organize unions to block the adoption of Tesla vehicles and their companion charging stations. 

Yet Musk is willing to weather these storms in the service of his mission and because he realizes that by contributing to the well-being of the majority, Tesla is ultimately serving its own self-interest most effectively.

3. The best hope for business is the business of hope: Musk knows that he is marketing to an intimately connected and media-savvy consumer base who are very aware of how many social crises the planet is facing from resource scarcity, to loss of bio-diversity, to over population. As such, Musk has positioned his personal and professional commitment to Tesla in alignment with his customer base who want to live in a brighter future, who believe that it is possible, and who will work together with the company to realize that goal. In doing so, he has won the goodwill and admiration of existing and potential customers throughout the country for his commitment to the greater good. This sentiment is not only reflected in the industry press, but also in Tesla’s stock price, which rallied to an all-time high on the announcement of the news.

The world in which we live today is profoundly different to the one that gave birth to the auto industry. Like many others, Musk recognizes that we now live on a planet of finite resources challenged by countless environmental and social crises, and that the window of time in which we must change our behavior as a species is rapidly closing. As risky as it may seem to open up the IP of your company to competitors, it is far riskier to perpetuate a dependency on a fuel source that is ultimately unsustainable and doing harm to our planet.

The gap between practices of the past and new behaviors of the future is a difficult gap to bridge and will require more examples of powerful leadership as we see in Musk. If you want to tap into these new business drivers and build your business on the strength of a personal and professional commitment to a brighter future, then interrogate your business model, product line-up, and marketing strategy through the lens of these three master strokes and related questions:

1. The future of profit is purpose

– Have your defined a higher purpose for your brand?

– Do you products reflect values you share with your customers?

– Are you giving customers ways to work with you to fulfill a common goal? 

2. The evolution of revolution is contribution

– Have you built contribution into the way customers consume your products?

– Is your company making a contribution in alignment with its purpose?

– Are you building a competitive advantage by using contribution to differentiate your brand?

3. The best hope for business is the business of hope.

– Have you told your customers how you will make the world a better place?

– Is the tone of your brand marketing optimistic and inspiring?

– Do you share your positive progress with customers?

The sooner companies from all industries rise to this challenge, the sooner their efforts can compound to reverse the tide of damage currently being done to the planet and our futures. Fortunately, the fastest way for a company to ensure its own well-being over the long-term is to reframe its business strategies around the same principles listed above, and in doing so, a CEO or CMO can not only build a brighter future, but also position the company for long-term leadership as well.

Join us Oct 7-8 at the 2014 We First Brand Leadership Summit  for two days of hands-on training on how to define, frame and share a brand story that empowers your company to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.


Insights from Coca-Cola: Listen and Let Your Customer Be the Star of the Story

June 13, 2014 Comments

As the Global Marketing Director for Sustainability Strategy and Communication at The Coca-Cola Company, Javier Rodriguez Merino’s role is to share how Coca-Cola helps communities around the world and all the new ways it’s driving sustainable innovation. He’s also one of our stellar 2014 speakers at our 3rd annual Brand Leadership Summit, Oct 7-8 in Beverly Hills. Last year, Javier sat down with us at We First ’13 and gave some insights into how an organization can integrate sustainability into the core of the company and its brands.

People don’t want to hear companies talk about themselves:
Coca-Cola does more than 3,000 sustainability projects around the world. One of those projects is ‘Every Bottle Has A Story’ which launched in 2010 to engage with people leading sustainability measures in their communities. The project gave anyone from anywhere a chance to share a story about how new sustainability initiatives are making a difference in their local neighborhoods. This is a great example of how consumers want to hear from and be inspired by other customers and this is a concept Coca-Cola has really taken to heart.

Don’t go it alone:
Another way Coca-Cola devotes its time to communities is through the program Me, We and The World. This is a personal community and environmental well-being program with focuses like healthy living, women’s economic empowerment, and water stewardship, among others. While Coca-Cola created this system to help serve various global issues, as Javier explains, it wouldn’t be possible without the help of so many others in society, from other businesses, to non-profits, to passionate citizens from all walks of life.

Sustainability storytelling has its own challenges:
Like many companies, Coca-Cola is constantly experimenting with how to best share and scale their social impact by effectively using social media and new technologies. Doing so for sustainability initiatives has unique challenges including:

1. Defining priorities by what not only will have a business impact but also a societal impact.

2. Setting clear goals and aligning those goals towards a common vision.

3. Consistently integrating sustainability into the business and proving how sustainability builds brand equity.

By constantly piloting new ideas in different markets, capturing best practices, and scaling successes, Coca-Cola is learning and assessing the new ways in which their sustainability and community impact efforts can make the biggest difference.

If you are interested in learning how to tell your purposeful brand story from top experts like Coca-Cola, Facebook, Unilever, and the UN Foundation, join us at the 2014 Brand Leadership Summit. Buy your ticket by June 15 to save $1000. Register at


Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Facebook to speak at the 2014 Brand Leadership Summit

June 4, 2014 Comments

2014 We First Brand Leadership SummitConnected customers now expect greater responsibility from brands and are willing to reward them for it. As such, the opportunity for leading brands is nothing short of building their reputation and sales by literally stepping up to lead cultural conversations and drive positive impact through their good work.

That’s why we’ve chosen ‘Brands shaping culture’ as the theme for our 3rd annual We First Brand Leadership Summit, October 7-8, 2014 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. With an all-star speaker line-up of leaders from Coca-Cola, Unilever, Facebook, and the UN Foundation, you’ll get exclusive insight and training in how to combine strategic storytelling with the latest social and mobile technologies to build your brand’s reputation, employee engagement, customer sales, and social impact.

To celebrate this announcement, we’ve extended our early-bird pricing: Register at by June 15 and you’ll save $1000 off the regular ticket price!

Your Chance to Learn From the Best Brand Leaders and Community Architects

Here’s what makes the Brand Leadership Summit so special:  Limited to 200 executives, it’s a two-day hands-on training during which all attendees create their own customized and actionable 2015 Social Branding Blueprint™ based on the latest marketing research, case studies, and best practices. This ensures you’ll return to your organization with tangible value and a clear roadmap for your upcoming 2015 brand marketing.

Facebook, Unilever, Coke to speak at 2014 Brand Leadership summitWe First attendees are guided through six modules of training that reveal the latest social business landscape; how to define, frame, and share their brand story; the latest best practices in digital, social and mobile technologies; and how to activate employees and customers as brand advocates. Between each module, case studies are brought to life by global marketing leaders from some of the world’s smartest brands.

This year’s must-attend event will feature an exclusive line-up of world-class marketers and business leaders including:

– Javier Rodriguez, Global Marketing Director, Sustainability Strategy and Communication at The Coca-Cola Company

- Marc Mathieu, SVP of Marketing at Unilever

- Andy McKeon, Global Customer Marketing Lead at Facebook

- Simon Mainwaring, Best-selling author and Chief Creative Officer at We First

UN Foundation, TBD

Attracting marketing, corporate communications, CSR, sustainability, and Foundation leaders from Fortune 500 brands and top non-profits, We First attendees hail from a wide range of industries with alumni including Starbucks, Nestlé Purina PetCare, Coca-Cola, Chanel, ConAgra Foods, Staffmark, FirstCapital Bank of Texas, Mattel, Toyota, In-N-Out Burger, Thrive Farmers, charity: water, Walgreens, and TOMS.

Every Registration Comes With a Free Non-Profit Ticket and Free Uber Credits

$50 in Uber credits for Brand leadership attendeesThrough our 1:1 program, 43 non-profits and Foundations were able to attend the 2013 Summit at no cost to get the training they need to scale their impact including the American Lung Association, National Wildlife Federation, Mattel Children’s Hospital, and Cancer Schmancer.

Additionally, every attendee will receive a $50 credit for Uber, the revolutionary on-demand car service. Simply tap a button, get picked up in minutes, and arrive at We First ’14 in style! More details to follow soon.

We’d like to thank all our sponsors, currently including: The Coca-Cola Company, The UN Foundation, Uber, CSRwire, Forbes and TriplePundit.

If you are interested in learning how to tell your purposeful brand story from top experts, we hope to see you in Oct. This event will sell out, so take advantage of our price extension and buy your ticket by June 15 to save $1000. Register at



How Target Built a Brand Story That Benefits Employees, Customers, and Community

May 28, 2014 3 Comments

Many large corporations find themselves in a difficult bind. They are fully aware that their customers want them to be more socially responsible. Specifically, the Cone Communications / Echo Global CSR Study found that only 6% of global consumers believe …

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How Social Media Can Kill Your Brand and Three Ways To Avoid It

May 13, 2014 6 Comments

It’s common knowledge today that brands now operate in a consumer activist marketplace where their ability to dialogue with brands and each other is shaping brand behavior. Brands are responding because it is far better to avoid or mitigate negative …

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How Autism Awareness Brings Out the Best in Big Brands

April 30, 2014 7 Comments

One of the most powerful forces reshaping the cultural, marketing, and technology landscape is collaboration. Whether it’s citizens uniting around world to demand an end to political injustices, consumers rallying around causes they care about to demand greater social responsibility …

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The Sustainability Imperative and What It Means for the Future of Your Brand

April 24, 2014 0 Comments

Sustainability is an ever-evolving conversation that is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the demands it places on brands. For instance, several decades ago it was considered a competitive advantage to be called a green company, yet after more and more brands …

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Apple, Earth Day, and The New Demands of Leadership

April 22, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, Apple launched a new ad outlining its environmental responsibility. In doing so, Tim Cook firmly placed his imprimatur of the future of Apple, going so far as to provide the voiceover for the ad himself just as Steve …

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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