Tag Archives: leadership

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.

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.

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”

leadership

OK, its the “day after”.  And the meaning of yesterday’s elections have been and will continue to be reflected upon over and over.  However as we think about social change in the world.  Its important to consider how that change will happen and the role of leadership.

Its been quite some time since we’ve seen examples of real leadership.  Mostly we’ve seen ‘the guys at the top’ looking for post-fraud scapegoats or excusing themselves out of straight-up bad or arrogant decision-making.    These were never individuals fighting for change, they were looking for power and/or money.  However, in the post-election glow that most of us are feeling, we are finding profound hope in a single individual who demonstrates the true qualities of a leader.   Integrity.  Character. Humility.  Calm assurance.  The ability to listen and respond with sound, articulate reasoning.  Stamina.  Focus.  A champion for his followers.  A passion for truth.  This is where change starts and this is why change becomes inevitable when true leadership exists.

With leadership, not only do we expect follow-through but we expect excellence.  Leaders build excellence, they don’t command it.   Barack Obama comes to us with cross-cultural beginnings and a foundation in community building.  He knows that change is not possible without the commitment of every individual he leads, which means he knows how to communicate and engage.   These are qualities we can all learn from in our own efforts to impact change.    Real leadership requires discipline and an unprecedented commitment to see things through.

We can all be inspired by the story of Barack Obama and the impact he will have on our lives – from what is personally possible to the real impact he will have on the change we all believe is necessary.

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.