Category Archives: marketing

return to sound bytes?

The American public is upset.  All they’re getting from our President is the truth and after a year, it’s getting kind of hard to digest. Call in the marketing teams.  The U.S. government needs a marketing makeover!

Just when I was ready to give the American population credit for recognizing substance over sound bytes, I have become increasingly aware of the media attention devoted to the Presidential drop in popularity credited specifically to Obama’s pragmatic and cool-headed response to the quagmire of issues that surfaced within the months preceding the change in administration.

It is no surprise that his popularity is down; any President’s approval ratings would be down given the groundwork that had been laid in the prior years and the decisions that were required to be made immediately to stop the bloodletting.  A government funded rescue was already underway, the auto industry was in crisis, the unemployment rate was gathering speed, the terrorist threat had increased in volume, the military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iran were already in evolved states of unsatisfactory policy, and the healthcare debacle had been simmering for near a decade.

Many of these issues took on new twists when Obama took office.  All of them have required urgent attention.   These are issues that require dissection, discussion, council, collaboration and political navigation.  Yet the media is now scolding Obama for the same attributes that I thought we overwhelmingly chose him for – thoughtful resolute problem solving and honest communications.

Instead of providing the vague sound bytes similar to those our previous administration took refuge under and utilized to a frustrating degree – and to which we ultimately came to characterize as a reflection of the inability to understand and resolve our problems – President Obama has provided thoughtful arguments and insights that give context and a narrative assessment of the factors coloring the discussion.  He doesn’t hide behind rhetoric but creates an open dialogue built on refreshing candor and submission to the facts.   He doesn’t leave us with vague promises but honestly transmits that the answers are not clear.  And that seems to be the ironic downfall of his popularity.

Hillary Clinton was herself a re-vitalizing candidate during the presidential campaign process because she was also knowledgeable and engaged in real conversations.  But she was never able to package herself quite the way the Obama campaign did.  In an ironic twist of fate, it turns out that the brilliant “Yes we can” slogan, complete with its now iconic imagery of Obama’s silhouette emblazoned with the words “HOPE” across a red and blue background, was the rallying cry necessary to get the “change” president elected..

What the media seems to be telling us is that as it turns out, we are not a nation of intelligent minds hungry for justice and the truth, we are a population who prefers pre-packaged messages that we can digest and track to.  Much like our high school football games, we are not looking for true leadership  but rather  cheerleaders with a microphone to lead us in familiar chants that will create community and a spirit of collegial agreement, regardless of the coach’s ability.  We don’t want difficult facts and realities.  We want someone to act as our spiritual leader, do the digesting for us and then provide a singular message that we can believe in, regardless of its alignment with reality.

As it turns out, the American population and the media that represent us, are looking for a marketing engine to package the President’s cool discernment of the facts and craft a short emotional story that we can “believe” in.  There are a significant number of pundits who openly (and rightly) derided the increasingly delusional rhetoric used by the last administration in the face of sometimes totally opposing factual realities.  And yet we are now asking for short messages that demonstrate a “clear vision”  so that we will feel better about the uncertainty of our future.  We finally came to grips with the fact that we had been mislead from 2000-2008, but in our own desire for a fairy tale with a near-term happy ending, we are once again looking for someone to just make us feel better.

Can we handle honesty or do we just want another “Yes we can”?

re-branding business

ethicsOn June 3, 2009, the day before their official graduation, 400 Harvard MBA’s took an unofficial oath to “serve the greater good”, “act with the utmost integrity” and guard against “decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions, but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.”

Is a values-driven agenda re-entering the workplace?

In 2001, Enron kicked off a two-year run on financial fraud (WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco, Global Crossing, etc.) which gave a good jolt to business and consumer confidence.  Accenture’s brand took a beating but other than that we seemed to return fairly quickly to ‘business as usual’.

That is until 8 years later, a financial crisis of epic proportions in conjunction with global climate change tied to a lack of responsible business oversight has even business students re-committing themselves to just what it means to be doing good business.

It may seem idealistic or even naïve for students to be taking this unsanctioned oath yet holding the business education community accountable may have greater implications for business management.  A set of shared values is one that helps define a profession.  As business students enter one of the worst hiring environments in decades, ethical decision-making is driving them to demand new approaches to shareholder value and 21st century company leadership.

not stuck, maturing

Day 3 – I’ve been convinced.  We, the sustainability industry, are growing up.  It’s not pretty and we don’t know what our collectively and future-defined selves will be, but we’re definitely in it for the rest of our adult lives.  We’re not going away.  But there’s a few things that we need to think about as we approach adulthood:

1) Stop being so defensive.  No industry was born perfect.   Every new sector had to go through the growing pains of discovering what they stood for and what they didn’t stand for.  Sustainability is no different.  So accept imperfection and keep charging forward.  We will never be pure –  let’s own that and figure out how to make it work for us.

2) Embrace our humanity, but let’s be a little more ruthless.  We’re beginning to uncover mainstream acceptance for the financial rationale of doing good.  We love the warmth of what we’re doing but if others need to hear facts – let’s stick to them to progress the industry.  We like rainbows and unicorns but fairy tales have ceased to dominate Wall Street.

3) One size does not fit all.  If sustainability is the umbrella industry (think  “high tech” 20 years ago), then maybe we need to actively promote the many paths to sustainability that people, products and businesses can choose.  As fair trade, sustainably made, clean energy and other sustainable endeavors mature, evangelizing each unique practice will be made easier and the desire to analyze and compare the value of each over the other will fall away.

4) Re-invent our messaging.  Flip the framework.  As marketers we are failing miserably in moving the adoption curve.  Granted the message is as only strong as the product but we must work more closely to strategically effect education and behavior change.

This year’s conference may be coming up a bit shorter on the oxytocin front but it is clear that the energy and enthusiasm is still in full supply.

are sustainability marketers stuck?

stop lightDay 2 of the Sustainable Brands conference down in Monterey and there is relatively little new news.  Well, at least no new revelational news.   I don’t know if this is a bad thing or just the status of an industry going through natural growing pains, but I am disappointed by the lack of provocative discussions (perhaps its the format?).  We are still trying to figure out how to simplify the consumer message of what is inherently an incredibly complex thing and still acting as if transparency and accountability were new concepts (Enron  anyone?).

Perhaps what I’m reacting to is our inability to recognize that we are stuck and that we need to flip our perspectives, re-frame the questions and acknowledge that what we haven’t figured out is a serious barrier to adoption.  Aren’t we supposed to be ingenious, inspired innovators down at this conference?   Admittedly,  we come to this conference for the comfort and inspiration that comes from working with others of like-mindedness.  But perhaps we are guilty of being lazy, expecting each other to do the heavy brain work instead of basquing in our vacuum of do-gooder intent.  But thus far we haven’t admitted to ourselves that we’re stuck and there has been no frank “panel discussions” that confront us on this issue.

It is not all terribly mediocre.  There have been a few interesting conversations and themes in the conference which does mean that some progress is getting made.    There were a few, just a few, who touched on the field of legal and financial mechanisms as a means of regulatory approaches to governing market-based solutions – thank you Jay Coen Gilbert of B Lab and Hazel Henderson, author of Ethical Markets. And the theme of low impact via local consumption (CSA’s) and local investment (Slow Money) came up as more evolved mechanisms for engagement.

I guess the good news is that despite the fact that 52% of all “green” special issue magazines sell less than their standard counterparts, there are no indicators, as presented by Chris Coulter of Globescan,  that  we are reverting back to pre-sustainability mindsets.  In fact, perhaps despite our marketing attempts, there is very strong evidence that sustainable operating practices are in fact driving brand equity which means the market is responding, if only subtly.

But the blush of romance feels like its dwindling and perhaps this emerging trend is hitting its difficult teen years.  Like the .com era did.   Which is not bad news it just means that we’re in the throes of the reality of hard work which never feels very sexy or warm.

brands-do your research now!

inspect Adapt or die. Never has this statement been more true. Consumer brands are dealing with an overnight change in attitudes and values that is unprecedented in modern consumerism. From travel to jeans to soap to museums – no product or service or experience will survive this tumultuous period without re-examining their value proposition and the role they play in their consumer’s life.

Between the economic crisis lead by Wall Street and AIG, the environmental crisis and now adding insult to injury – the AIG bonus payout – consumers are retreating and rethinking every single dollar that leaves their pocket and who it will go to. In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer reports that U.S. consumer confidence is even lower than it was after the dot.com bust and the Enron scandal. Things aren’t much better internationally, 62% of respondents across 20 countries included in this same survey report less trust in business than a year ago.

The result is that the brand relationship with consumers is about to get very interesting. Current brand equity will still play a critical role in consumer decisions but each and every brand needs to get out there and understand what their new consumer needs are a.s.a.p. There are a plethora of marketing reports coming out on issues of sustainability, moderation behaviors and other factors that will play a role in future consumerism. These reports are valuable but are simply the backdrop for independent research that should be done to understand these trend drivers first hand as they relate to a company’s brand. This shift doesn’t mean that brands need to lose or even change their core brand assets. They simply need to look for new ways to relate and to re-look at how their products communicate with their current audiences and their new behaviors.

For example, the New York Times reported last week that museums across the country are now opening their doors to entirely new audience segments via discounted special events that build on their core offerings. In San Francisco, the Academy of Sciences has debuted Nightlife – a weekly evening event incorporating DJ’s and special science activities that brings together a much different crowd than the kids, parents, tourists and science geeks the Academy usually attracts. Not only are they finding new hours to open their doors but they are attracting new audiences that have traditionally dismissed this type of cultural institution en masse.

It’s this type of re-invention and exploratory relationship building that needs to take place across the spectrum. Simply speaking to green or pricing trends via advertising or promotion will ultimately miss the opportunity to play an important and trusted role throughout the upcoming years of significant value and lifestyle restructuring.

really?

tds_logo

Rarely do I write about politics – that’s not what this space is for.  But I feel compelled to write and – ask for feedback  – on last Thursday night’s Daily Show.  Jon Stewart is pretty much my idol.  He’s one of those “who would you invite to dinner if you could” guys.  Even when he gets totally over-the-top angry (as he certainly did in the months leading up to the election), he’s a provocative truth-telling genius.

But I sat in total disbelief as Jim Cramer sat there and let himself (his brand) be totally annihilated last Thursday.  How, why would Jim do this?  He’s a media celebrity – they don’t set themselves up for feature length (as comedy sketches go) spectacles of mockery.

The only explanation that I’ve been able to come up with is that this was a PR strategy employed by CNBC to pave a path for restoring their own reputation.  “Encouraging” Jim to go on last week’s media tour and concluding it with the “showdown” on The Daily Show had to be the result of some serious backroom talks.

Which kinda bums me out….wouldn’t Jon have told us if this was how/why Thursday night’s show came to be?

You can see the full unedited 21 minute version of the interview on the Daily Show web site and also read some of the discussion around the event on the Huffington Post.

drinking for good

snuggiepubcrawl-chicago2

It’s small. It’s grassroots, but this is how you build good-will AND a brand name.  Think Red Bull.

The Snuggie Pub Crawl Team is promoting the AC-Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania on FaceBook but one wonders if there might be an opportunity to increase their fund-raising impact if FB and Global Giving (an online giving portal) were synced up.

Regardless, this is an awesome idea….and even though its not THAT cold here in Northern California, dressing up in anything has all the markings of an event made for SF.   Snuggie Bay-to-Breakers team, anyone?  Oh, and you can email the Snuggie team at the email above to request an event in your own city.

Hat tip to David at Marketing + Good for this one.

partnering for our urban good

nyc-transportation-alternativesPSFK reported last week on NYC’s Transportation Alternatives program Nine for ’09.   NYCTA been around since 1973 and they’ve done some tremendous advocacy work in the areas of bicycling , walking and taking public transportation to reclaim New York’s streets from the automobile. They have already announced their September NYC Century Bike Tour and clearly they’ve got some talented design folks on their side.

The question I have is why haven’t they enlisted corporate support? Nike Considered Products, Trek bicycles, Timbukt2 bags would be perfect “urban” supporters –  to name a very few. All of these could develop some pretty cool high-profile retail promotional programs around what are already some really well-thought out events.

With a population’s increasing attention on what’s happening locally, for the city by the city, companies would do well to give-back in a way that  parallels what our overstretched and under-funded gov’t is attempting to do.    Tapping existing, smartly run and well-marketed programs is just the way to do that.

25 things…an innovation tool

25-thingsHow many articles have you read about “leveraging social media”  yet how much real implementation have you seen?  Researchers, companies pay attention.  Memes provide very specific opportunities to participate in social media phenomena.   And The 25 Random Things about [insert your product or service here] sweeping FaceBook – among others – is a no brainer to both implement and learn from.

People love to talk about themselves.  They also love to talk about the things they love (and hate for that matter).   Using FB or Ning or any other social network to initiate research on your product using this format has tremendous potential because it: 1) requires a long list…this means patterns will emerge; 2) it also means that people will be forced to think beyond the top well-published “issues”, they’ll be forced to think about the emotions and situations which cause them to love or hate – this leads to real usable insightful information;   and 3) besides yet another reason to publish a personal opinion, who doesn’t love participating in the trendiest thing out there?

Now, 25 Random Things about Me…….

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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