The best books about shifting the role business – and brands – play in society

Why am I passionate about this?

I pivoted into brand consulting after working in banking, because I saw a need to align organizational behaviors and actions with purpose and values. So naturally, as a strategist my work has always informally included an element of coaching brands and people to have the courage and confidence to be their best, true selves. To have a broader societal vision and positive social impact. Since the Me-to-We continuum of Brand Citizenship emerged unsolicited in research, I also have been on a larger mission to help business balance how it earns a profit with how it serves individual people, betters society, and regenerates the planet.

I wrote...

Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit

By Anne Bahr Thompson,

Book cover of Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit

What is my book about?

Staying relevant in a polycrisis world is tough. Fixating on quarterly results can blind you to the bigger picture: that achieving greater value, better service, better ethics, better focus on sustainability and social good are the real, proven measures of long-term success. It’s these qualities that attract people to a brand, build trust, and cement commitment—the one sure path to profitability. 

Packed with dozens of examples and grounded in data from years of original research with thousands of consumers, Do Good is a call to action. It lays out the new rules of business, and how to win with them. Anne Bahr Thompson’s unique five-step Brand Citizenship® model will help every company cultivate the qualities that customers, employees, and investors all now demand.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Purpose and Profit: How Business Can Lift Up the World

Anne Bahr Thompson Why did I love this book?

Although I was familiar with Harvard Business School professor George Serafeim’s research and work on impact weighted accounting before I read this book, I still found it informative and inspiring.

The first half of this book is a primer on ESG and sustainability highlighting societal shifts and why purpose and impact have moved to the forefront. And the second half details how impact and outcomes can be achieved. 

This book is an excellent introduction for people new to purpose – or questioning its real value financially – as well as for those of us who have long been in this space.

Drawing extensively on his research and that of colleagues, Serafeim emphasizes how doing good creates competitive advantage.

By George Serafeim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Purpose and Profit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are purpose and profit in conflict, or can both be achieved simultaneously with the right mindset and tools?

What are the forces that are reshaping the relationship between the two? What can we all do to strengthen the relationship between purpose and profit as entrepreneurs, managers, employees, consumers, and investors? Backed by cutting-edge research, Purpose and Profit provides answers to these fundamental questions that are increasingly defining the business landscape all around the world. Distinguished Harvard Business School Professor George Serafeim takes readers on a research-driven journey to understand:

How and why environmental and social issues are becoming increasingly relevant…

Book cover of Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take

Anne Bahr Thompson Why did I love this book?

At a time when businesses are targeting net zero carbon emissions, Net Positive is a rallying cry for leaders to embrace a wider definition of sustainability.

As Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, who I’ve had the privilege of interviewing, and Andrew Winston explain net positive companies improve the lives of everyone they touch, increasing long-term shareholder returns in the process; take ownership of social and environmental impacts their business models create, viewing these as opportunities to innovate; and partner with competitors, civil society and governments to drive transformative change. 

Although some concepts presented in this book were not new to me, the authors’ examples add meaningful perspective. Net Positive affirmed my belief in purpose-led organizations and the power of business to do more.

By Paul Polman, Andrew Winston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Net Positive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Financial Times Best Business Book of the Year

Named one of 10 Best New Management Books for 2022 by Thinkers50

"An advocate of sustainable capitalism explains how it's done" - The Economist

"Polman's new book with the sustainable business expert Andrew Winston...argues that it's profitable to do business with the goal of making the world better." - The New York Times

Named as recommended reading by Fortune's CEO Daily

"...Polman has been one of the most significant chief executives of his era and that his approach to business and its role in society has been both valuable and path-breaking."…

Book cover of Connect: How Companies Succeed by Engaging Radically with Society

Anne Bahr Thompson Why did I love this book?

I strongly believe business leaders and brands must engage with all stakeholders (including society and the planet) to thrive – and this is the essence of John Browne’s message in Connect.

Browne, a former CEO of BP, contrasts positive engagement with traditional corporate social responsibility, which he contends is often more about complying with laws and regulations and looking good rather than doing good. 

The first half of the book provides real world examples of how corporate success is dependent on greater engagement with society.

And the second examines Browne’s four tenets of connected leadership – map your world, define your contribution, apply world class management, engage radically – and how companies can exemplify them going forward and profitably place society at the heart of business.

By John Browne, Robin Nuttall, Tommy Stadlen

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Connect as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why being radically connected with society is not just the right thing to do, it is an imperative for a company's bottom line Based on John Browne's decades of experience as one of the world's most successful and innovative CEOs, with research by McKinsey & Company, Connect is a practical manifesto that redefines the role of business in society. Through insightful analysis and vivid storytelling--ranging from ancient China, Andrew Carnegie and the Homestead Strike of the late nineteenth century, to oil spills and privacy issues emanating from the technology of the twenty--first--Connect explores the recurring rift between business and society…

Book cover of Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People

Anne Bahr Thompson Why did I love this book?

First published in 2001, Emotional Branding emphasized a new perspective for marketers and business leaders: the importance of human connections between corporations and people.

I believe an understanding of these connections has always been central to excellent brand strategy and now is critical for business to have positive social impact.

As Marc Gobé aptly states, emotional branding “is a culture and a way of living: a fundamental belief that people are the real force in commerce….” 

Filled with examples of the range of brand expression – from logos to packaging to experiences – Gobé, who I had the pleasure of knowing, inspires readers while also illustrating how many decisions about branding are actually about integrated business strategy and cultivating meaningful connections.

By Marc Gobe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Emotional Branding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emotional Branding is the best selling revolutionary business book that has created a movement in branding circles by shifting the focus from products to people. The “10 Commandments of Emotional Branding” have become a new benchmark for marketing and creative professionals, emotional branding has become a coined term by many top industry experts to express the new dynamic that exists now between brands and people. The emergence of social media, consumer empowerment and interaction were all clearly predicted in this book 10 years ago around the new concept of a consumer democracy. In this updated edition, Marc Gobé covers how…

Book cover of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Anne Bahr Thompson Why did I love this book?

Through his TED talk and Start With Why, Simon Sinek created a “purpose” movement around the globe that spanned people and business.

Although most of the buzz around Sinek’s model has been about “finding your why,” The Golden Circle includes more than this. The three layers of why (purpose) that sit at its core are followed by how (actions) and what (results of actions). 

Using well-known leaders and companies as examples, this book illustrates a pathway for growth that applies both to individuals and to corporations.

In essence, understanding why you are in business beyond making profit is the starting point for inspiring people – and for my Me-to-We continuum of Brand Citizenship that guides brands to solve our personal Me problems and We worries about society and the planet.

By Simon Sinek,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Start With Why as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'It's amazing how a book can change the course of your life, and this book did that' Reader Review

'Imagine the Ted Talk expanded to 2 hours long, with more depth, intrigue and examples' Reader Review

'What he does brilliantly is demonstrate his own why - to inspire others - throughout' Reader Review

'Wow. Wow. Wow. I cannot rate this book highly enough to take a different, positive approach to life and work' Reader Review

Discover your purpose with one simple…

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Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

Book cover of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Ned Farrier Master Mariner: Call of the Cape

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

On the expertise I claim only a deep interest in history, leadership, and social history. After some thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services I can, I think, claim to have seen the best and the worst of human behaviour and condition. History, particularly naval history, has always been one of my interests and the Battle of Jutland is a truly fascinating study in the importance of communication between the leader and every level between him/her and the people performing whatever task is required.  In my own career, on a very much smaller scale, this is a lesson every officer learns very quickly.

Patrick's book list on the Battle of Jutland

What is my book about?

Captain Heron finds himself embroiled in a conflict that threatens to bring down the world order he is sworn to defend when a secretive Consortium seeks to undermine the World Treaty Organisation and the democracies it represents as he oversees the building and commissioning of a new starship.

When the Consortium employs an assassin from the Pantheon, it becomes personal.

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

What is this book about?

The year is 2202, and the recently widowed Captain James Heron is appointed to stand by his next command, the starship NECS Vanguard, while she is being built. He and his team soon discover that they are battling the Consortium, a shadowy corporate group that seeks to steal the specs for the ship’s new super weapon. The Consortium hires the Pantheon, a mysterious espionage agency, to do their dirty work as they lay plans to take down the Fleet and gain supreme power on an intergalactic scale. When Pantheon Agent Bast and her team kidnap Felicity Rowanberg, a Fleet agent…

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