Tag Archives: brands

CSR or Real Innovation

Yesterday Dan Schulman, Group President of Enterprise Growth at American Express opened SOCAP’s third day in San Francisco by talking about the company’s work to address the issues of financial inclusion for the underserved.  

 Globally 2.5 billion are excluded from traditional financial systems. One third don’t have access to bank accounts resulting in precious time and money wasted to seek out facilities simply to access cash from their own hard earned paychecks. With 2-4% taken as a service fee in addition to interest and other fees, the figure that the underserved pay was $89 billion in the U.S. alone last year.

Since the market’s collapse in 2008, financial platforms incorporating both technology and addressing inherent lifestyle challenges have been a burgeoning industry for entrepreneurs.   Backed by the Omidyar Network, Mango now has a presence in 6 countries that empowers underbanked adults by offering a complete set of online and offline services that are convenient, low-cost support lifestyle decisions that affect financial decisions.

Given the market opportunit ,the question is whether American Express’s launch this summer of the documentary “Spent: Looking for Change” produced by Davis Guggenheim and the announcement of American Express’s Financial Innovation Lab, are just CSR window-dressing or indeed reflective of a deep brand pivot within the company. For American Express, a brand that has long stood for exclusivity, this type of shift to inclusivity would be significant. But there are reasons to believe, despite the absence of a non-binding legal framework that requires both social and financial value to shareholders, that this indeed is a deep company-wide pivot.

The primary reason is that the Great Recession showed us that the status quo of our financial eco-system was essentially destroying the customer base.   The second is that the hallmark of a great brand is demonstrating a leadership position in driving marketplace change. And the third is that American Express was founded some 160 years ago as a freight-forwarding business. Hardly a brand for the high-minded but certainly demonstrative of a company that knows how to read the market and succeed.

Great brands will pave the way for sustainable business-based solutions to our growing social challenges and there is every reason to believe that American Express has been gearing up to lead real marketplace change.

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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.

lessons for brands of change

Marketers have been watching the emergence of the Obama brand since nearly its inception. At that time, I don’t think anyone even dreamed of the impact this carefully crafted icon would create.  Quite literally, this brand power got us to this, our 44th President-elect.

While not every brand driving messages of social change will have the benefit of rising to such fame in two years compliments of $65 million in funding and daily prime news coverage, Obama’s campaign does clearly exemplify the fundamentals of building a strong brand.

1. Be different – stand out, stand for what you believe in.

2. Be authentic – never waiver from your purpose.

3. Be optimistic – people want to love something that makes them feel good.

4. Be consistent – and do it with passion.

5. Be individualistic – speak to your consumers 1:1.  Every relationship matters.

For more on Obama’s Lessons for Marketing from Henry Lambert on PSFK.com.

brands as salesmen

The reason I’m even in this business is to use all the fascinating principals of sociology, psychology, political science and economic market influences to help people figure out how to get what they need.  In the evil world of marketing, that seems equivalent to greed on behalf of the corporate behemoths.  Do you really need a new pair of jeans? (well, I do but that’s besides the point)  What I have long believed in however, is that these same corporate behemoths – also considered powerhouse brands – could use their trusted relationships with their customers to hold sway and influence by creating a broader awareness for the world around them.   Due to both the fortunate (lotsa revenue) and unfortunate outcomes (the many global crisis including loss of lotsa revenue) created by the 90’s and millenium boom, a few individuals and brands have  emerged to start leading this charge.  This blog will highlight their game changing efforts and their role as salesmen for the benefits of a better world.