Monthly Archives: January 2009

iPhone as fundraiser

iphone1Is there anything the iPhone can’t do?

Shazam figures out what song you’re listening to.  A pocket flashlight (not to mention a light saber) is only two taps away.  And Yelp can get the phone number, directions and even a review of the place you’re trying to find and meet your friends at in a quarter of the time directory assistance, Safari, Google or any mapping software can do it.

So, why wouldn’t our love affair with the iPhone help us make the world a better place?  Why wouldn’t our obsessive usage create perfect opportunities for capturing micro-donation portals to make contributions to the micro-finance or giving sites of Kiva or Global Giving?  What about a carbon calculator that lets you immediately link to an offset purchase equivalent to the inquiry? It would seem that millions of tiny donations could add up to lots of impact.    It seems possible, and even more so fun.  But does it really add up to a smart fundraising play?

Part of what makes the iPhone so magnetic (and what Apple is famous for) is the sheer simplicity, intuitiveness and delight you experience when you begin interfacing with each of the singular functions that each application features.  Mostly they are personal devices for entertainment or utility.  They draw you to your phone because you either need the info or you need a time killer.  The apps are sexy brilliant in their use of the technology and the format.  Every time we download a new app, we are sucked in, at least for a short time period.

The challenge for social ventures to monetize applications will be to determine if there is a big enough audience at the intersection of 1) organization loyalists and 2) iPhone enthusiasts.   This will require some thoughtful creativity and long-term dedication on behalf of the organization.  Which is to say that creating an iPhone app alone is only one piece of the equation –  how each app gets marketed and updated will be critical to its effectiveness.
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leveraging MLK day

target_oprah_static_184x901Very rarely do big brands get it right when inserting themselves into historic moments in time.  The SuperBowl ads have become an event within an event but we’re ok with that because the entire event is about pure unadulterated exploitation for entertainment.    The  Olympics have sold their soul and we’ve come to accept it.   Brands who pay the global big bucks are simply spending our money to be able to get our money.   We all know its part of the game.

But it takes the right kind of brand to  dare touch a nation that is in a delicate stage of heightened optimism – driven mostly from an eight year period of feeling duped – and actually do it with class and inspiration.  By building on its authentic efforts already commited to the communities it serves, Target has managed to do just that on  MLK day.    By tying into the historic inauguration of our first black President, his proclamation towards a day of community service, and by leveraging Oprah’s star-studded homage to this two day time, Target has brilliantly connected to their audience and promoted the message of community service that lives within what this day is all about.  To say that their vision is altruistic would be foolish.  But if all brands could use their name to drive home messages of helping others – just imagine.  “I have a dream”

emerging markets: the value of brand

alexlemonadestand3Engineers will tell you that marketing is not necessary.   They will say that it doesn’t matter what you call it – functional products that fill a need will sell themselves.  In fact Microsoft takes that concept to a whole new level by professing smart technology – via virtue of its functionality – will sell itself (and in Microsoft’s case, despite the marketing!)

In the western world of chaotic consumerism, we know for fact that this notion of ‘build it and they will come’ does not work without a hefty marketing budget.  There is simply no way we would have had a clue what a Google or a Tivo or a Yahoo was without their marketing dollars.

But what about in an emerging market where farmers just need new drip irrigation systems or pumps?  Or perhaps access to life support medication?  Though these products may be new (just like Google was to us), it is arguable that what could be used for marketing dollars should perhaps be used to provide access, education or financial consultation for these mission critical life enhancing products.   One could argue that building a brand here seems unnecessary or worse, impudent.

But brand building does not always require the whole toolbox.  Smart companies look at their resources in order to leverage whatever they have to become a trustworthy calling card.  When done right, a brand can actually influence access, distribution, funding and much more .   A brand becomes a catchall for a promise and an expectation.  And building a brand is as much about creating a voice and establishing leadership as it is about creating the mark and materials that represent the brand in two-dimensional form.

Brand as Beacon

Debbie Millman writes in her counter to Lucas Conley’s Obsessive Branding Disorder that brands embody allegiances, affiliations and identities.  When applied to communities, clinics, hospitals, townships and small businesses in developing countries trying to attract regulatory support, distribution channels, funding access or customers, a trusted “brand” becomes the positive equivalent of the squeaky wheel.  Newcomers (government, funders, NGO’s) expeditiously seek out well-defined, efficiently run community businesses and organizations.  A well-known brand name (let’s just consider for a moment that a pretty icon isn’t necessary here) stands for something that is consistent.  Brands give businesses and organizations a leg-up. The shorthand for the “essence” or reputation that a brand creates becomes equivalent to the reputation of the village chief – only in business terms.

brand as amplifier

1298 is a subsidized ambulance service started in India and funded by The Acumen Fund.  It received a boost of attention during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year when its bright yellow vehicles emblazoned with the number 1298 – the number to dial if you need their service – were highly visible in all media broadcast throughout the world during the multi-day siege.  Per the founders of the company, they had very little money to promote their endeavor so they used what they had – the panels of the vehicles themselves.  By using a bright differentiating color (the founders wanted to make sure it stood out from other well-known vehicles that actually transport bodies), they not only were able to promote on the streets of the cities in which they worked but they were able to capitalize on the unexpected attention they received during the attacks.

brand as connector

Oftentimes individual businesses or health care facilities or businesses that would collectively benefit by working together can and should rally under a single umbrella “brand” name.  These organizations can attract more attention by collaborating under a single philosophy and create an influential body that will have more power than it would as individual entities.  Once again, the power of a brand name can elevate purpose and awareness with a bit of attention to the focus and crafting of a single-minded message.  Alliances become more powerful when their new partners or prospects know what to expect.  And by virtue of numbers, a single message told by many resonates and gets distributed more widely than many messages told by a few.  Brands help play the numbers game that ultimately drives awareness.

Last year the United Nations Foundation announced the Malaria Partnership project which will bring the United Methodist Church, Lutheran World Relief and the Global Fund together with the goal of raising U.S. $200 million to fight malaria.   This campaign will have far reaching effects.   Besides the twenty million constituents that the two churches in combination will reach globally to educate in the hopes of raising funds, this project will bring together clinics, hospitals and other programs in the African countries this project will benefit.

Methodists and Lutherans operating clinics and organizations who had previously operated independently will now have a single entity under which they may work together – attracting more attention, aligning with other Global Fund grant recipients and effectively creating greater collaboration along the chain of implementers at the ground level where the war against malaria is taking place.   The brand value establishes an incredibly important umbrella where the message of the sum of the efforts outweighs the individuals.   The “brand” essence created under this single-minded purpose exponentially expedites the impact of this effort.

brand as bridge of trust

As noted above The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a high profile NGO, set up to meet the Millenium Development Goals.  They have committed U.S. $14.9 billion dollars to date to fund grant recipients in 140 countries.    Their primary function is to finance the fight against these diseases yet they act a trusted partner to a multitude of stakeholders in the medical, science, government, and non-governmental communities. They are only 6 years old but they have achieved global recognition because of the standards and accountability connected with their business practices.  Because of their powerful brand name they – and those associated with them – receive an automatic seat at the table for life-saving business discussions.

big and small

These are just a few examples of how brand can and does influence the effectiveness of business.   Social entrepreneurships, non-profits and NGO’s operating in developing countries would do well to craft a brand voice from the get-go and look for ways to optimize the single-minded purpose of their presence and business model.  In this vein, its easy to see why the practice of branding makes sense.

We, in the Western world, live in a heightened state of what has been argued as over-branding.  Yet we select our resources based on the knowledge mostly projected or acquired from branded products and experiences (insurance, soup, fertilizer, you name it).  Its easy to see how the importance of brand can translate to the effecitveness of new ventures in emerging markets.

electrical innovation

Changing consumer behavior can be a slow painful process.  Not only does it require educational efforts but often widespread systemic conformity is required. However innovation has radically altered some of our most fundamental behaviors.   Globally, we now access cash from a machine and we carry and use mobile phones for a significant percentage of our calling.  Its this type of basic change that will be required to have significant impact on socially and environmentally responsible consumption habits.

Shai Agassi has just such aspirations.  The electic car has been the talk of the town at the Detroit auto show this year but Shai’s concept is the most intriguing and well thought out.  In this week’s Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria talks to Shai about his idea for a Better Place in “Switched-On Highways”.    Shai does exactly what is necessary for radical innovation – he flips the approach.  Instead of framing the problem as “how to build a better car”, he frames it as “how to run a country without oil”.  He takes an ambitious approach that looks at both the infrastructure, the model of ownership and of course, the power source.

Return to electricity

Even with oil returning to under $50 a barrel, Shai’s new model is betting on the electric car to remove our dependency and make the switch to clean electricity.  With the required infrastructure in place, the cost ends up somewhere between six and eight cents per mile which is motivation in and of itself, even if oil got down to $25 a barrel.

The razor model

Taking a page from the razor, printer and video game model, he has also separated the car from its core function – the electric battery.   A truly radical idea when it comes to car ownership but one that makes a lot of sense.   The basis for this is the need to re-charge batteries after they drain all of their power.  This drops the price of the car and its operation even further and makes acquisition a lot more appealing.

Leveraging existing behavior

But what’s important about this model is that it leverages our existing and well-established behavior of stopping at the “gas” station.  For long haul driving – or even for convenience during a normal day of driving – it doesn’t make sense to have to stop and re-charge an electric battery when it’s run out of its juice.  So, Shai proposes switching stations where you just pick up a fully charged battery.

There are flaws in this model but radical innovation generally doesn’t happen perfectly the first time.  What is exciting about the Better Place concept is that it addresses consumer behavior from the get-go.   Plugging an electric car into your own garage sounds exciting but offering a car at a reduced price with the “benefit” of a switching station somehow puts the consumer at ease simply by offering them the comfort of a long-held tradition. Eventually we’ll get to fully plugged in at-home cars (cuz after all we all hate to stop at the gas station), but first Shai has to get them to buy the cars.

And the really exciting thing….California is already set to begin adoption of a Better Place this year!

image credit: Better Place logo by techpulse360 on Creative Commons

evolving “green”

Landor – a leading brand strategy firm – published their 2009 trends forecast last week and I was very excited to see this language as they commented on the softening of the “green” trend: “Brands will need to integrate their commitment to sustainability into a larger message of efficiency, effectiveness, and value.”   I was excited because it means that perhaps we’re  starting to actually use the rationale  behind why these products and services should be green and get beyond the moniker of “green” itself (which just feels totally stagnating and short-lived, if not totally off-putting to the greater society as an outcome of the hippy movement).

Landor notes that the intensity of this trend is softening.  I think they’re right and wrong.   Symptomatic marketing relative to eco and green might be less appetizing given the concerns of the world right now (in other words adios B*S*#), but consumer motivations are actually becoming even more grounded and inclined to respond to products and services that are community minded, built simply and incorporate honest claims.  This isn’t exclusively green or sustainable but can be traced to the same roots.  In fact, smart marketers should look to the motivators behind the interest in “green” (and social responsibility and philanthro-capitalism and CSR and cause marketing) and work to connect with consumers leveraging any trace of these values found within their own brands – not simply give the prescribed nod to “green” and “sustainable” but be a little more clever in connecting with what underlies these trends.