In an age of hyper connectivity, consumers are being sold products at every turn with little to no differentiation between products. America’s political and cultural landscape are in a volatile state of disruption, and brands simply can’t afford to ignore these issues. Two brands in particular, Chobani and SoulCycle, have built their brands around fostering a community built on leadership, meaning and values. In a discussion led by Bob Safian, editor and managing director of Fast Company, Hamdi Ulukaya and Melanie Whelan, the CEOs of Chobani and SoulCycle, respectively, offered insights as to how any business, marketer or entrepreneur can stay ahead of the conversation, demonstrate relevance and engender passion both internally and externally.
Both of these companies were founded in response to passions that both Ulukaya and Whelan have had their entire lives. Ulukaya inherited his love for yogurt from his childhood with his mother, and he brought that passion with him when he came to America from Turkey. He never thought he’d make a business out of it, but he wanted to bring a piece of his home to America and instill that love for yogurt in his new country. Similarly, Whelan grew up playing sports, and loved the feeling of being a part of a team. Her father was an entrepreneur who relied on exercise as a release of the stress of work, and from him she learned the importance of having a place to go to get away from our hyper connected lives, even if just for 45 minutes.
In each of these companies, the mission goes beyond the mission statement. When asked this question, Ulukaya motioned to Kwame Taylor-Hayford, the managing director of Chobani, who happened to be sitting in the front row. Taylor-Hayford stated that a brand’s values should align with the audience’s values. Authenticity is a huge part of any brand, and consumers can spot a fake from a mile away, so it’s important that brands can convey their philosophy organically in the messaging.
SoulCycle’s mission is to bring the idea of “Soul” to the people, and they are able to fulfill this mission through their talented and inspiring instructors. Because the instructors are the core of the brand, Whelan saw that the fitness industry was broke in that fitness instructors were bouncing around from studio to studio without any stability or job benefits. At SoulCycle, instructors have a home base with benefits like 401K, health care, training and career trajectory which results in a 95% retention rate every year. Not only do instructors continue to stay with the brand, but it fosters a community amongst riders who are able to develop strong relationships with the instructors. Ulukaya says that a strong mission statement and philosophy not only helps him sleep better at night, but makes business operations easier.
When it comes to determining success, Ulukaya doesn’t measure solely by the company’s physical growth in a given year, but instead by how they have grown as people and how they got there. He stresses the importance of not following in the same steps that everyone before them have done, but instead taking risks and being different. When brands have a model that works, as SoulCycle and Chabni do, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but venturing into new territories and taking risks tests the limits of the brand. Ulukaya believes that being comfortable where you are is worse than taking risks – brands need to keep innovating and bring exciting, new products and ideas to the consumer.