I just wrote this blog post (www.conecomm.com/causevertising) for my company on the use of cause in advertising. Its amazing how few companies use this yet how effective it can be for breaking through the noise. It links to a bigger question around cause marketing as part of branding integrated into the long term story and part of the 360 marketing mix vs. stand alone siloed programs which is still the norm today. Some brand managers are waking up, but the shift will only take place when brand managers gain a deeper level of understanding of social impact so we can get away from the superficial cause fluff we see so frequently in the marketplace today :-)  Check it out!

I just wrote this blog post (www.conecomm.com/causevertising) for my company on the use of cause in advertising. Its amazing how few companies use this yet how effective it can be for breaking through the noise. It links to a bigger question around cause marketing as part of branding integrated into the long term story and part of the 360 marketing mix vs. stand alone siloed programs which is still the norm today. Some brand managers are waking up, but the shift will only take place when brand managers gain a deeper level of understanding of social impact so we can get away from the superficial cause fluff we see so frequently in the marketplace today :-)  Check it out!

Politics and Causes

A friend of mine said to me the other day that she thought it was odd that her colleague, an individual with declared conservative and Christian beliefs was a strong advocate of volunteerism and charitable giving. This didn’t seem odd to me at all, but it did get me thinking about the issue of philanthropy and political affiliations, i.e. can we identify patterns to explain or predict the causes that someone is likely to support based on their political affiliation. As a cause marketing professional, understanding these patterns explains why a lot of brands are attracted to the specific causes, whether it is reflects the bias of the internal culture of a company or a reflecting of the brand manager’s clear insights about who their customer is and what causes will resonate.

When I was thinking about how to explain the linkages between causes and political affiliation, I was reminded of an important book that was the rage during the 2004 presidential election: Don’t Think of an Elephant! The book explained

Stranded Assets

I heard the term “stranded assets” recently for the first time in Al Gore and David Blood’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “a Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism” Stranded assets are described as follows:


Assets whose value would dramatically change, either positively or negatively, when large externalities are taken into account—for example, by attributing a reasonable price to carbon or water. So long as their true value is ignored, stranded assets have the potential to trigger significant reductions in the long-term value of not just particular companies but entire sectors.


If you think about all of the businesses or industries whose assets are based on false valuations, it is not always immediately obvious and pretty overwhelming. Let’s take an example I am more familiar with…footwear and apparel. If you consider that the current price of production reflects the cost of manufacturing in developing countries and many of these (largely Asian) nations happen to be very dependent on rice as their primary source of calories.  If (or when) the price of rice peaks, as it did in 2008, the ability for companies to continue to operate without increasing their cost of production to accommodate the increased cost of rice is a reality.

Substitute rice for any other “input” into the production of everything from leather to shipping to hotels (e.g. cows need land, shipping needs oil, hotels need clean water) and you realized that in a world where resources are increasingly constrained, from oil to water to land, then we had better start accounting for these externalities to reflect the true cost of doing business.

 

Note: Since writing this post, the Guardian published a relevant article on the topic of managing natural resources and competitiveness: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/29/eu-environmental-resources-new-recession?CMP=twt_gu 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, I’ll admit it, I have been really struggling with the concept of capitalism lately or at least I have been thinking that there must be a better way to implement capitalism, one that doesn’t feel like a giant pyramid scheme of speculation, that is more tangible and transparent when it comes to linking actual value to perceived valuable. 
It has definitely struck me that “local” capitalism or capital markets where the actors have more direct ties are inevitably going to be more ethical than those that are arms-length or disguised by layers of automatic transactions and buy/sell triggers (there is a study that proves this, but I will have to track it down and post later!). 
In the meantime, let’s have a look at a few very interesting models that popped up in my life over the course of the past two days while visiting the UK. First, I read this article about crowdfunding in the NY Times Weekly edition (strangely, I can’t find it anywhere on the NYTimes website, but nonetheless, here it is: http://tinyurl.com/cxmpo3q). This article tells a story about a group of individuals who bought shares that enabled the establishment of the Saranac Community Store after the local department store closed down and local residents didn’t want to have to drive 80 miles to buy underwear and other basic necessities. This model, described as “authentic capitalism” raised over $500,000 in start-up capital for this store. 
interestingly, shortly after reading this article, I glanced down at my beer bottle to see that the beer company took a similar approach but instead of geographic affinity, they gathered fans of their beer, BrewDog, to raise growth capital. Brewdog has grown to a company with almost $9 million in annual turnover and they are offering enthusiasts an opportunity to buy shares in the company. They call these shares, quite colorfully, “equity for punks II.”  It is actually their second wave of shares released, the first round attracted 1000 investors.
Another model, from the sports world is the famous EbbsFleet United: myfootballclub.co.uk. After five years, they have had dwindling success, but I think this might be more a result of the way the deal with structured and the expectations of stakeholders (and shareholders) than an indicator of a faulty funding model. http://www.brewdog.com/equityforpunks
Regardless, all of these models reflect a model of capitalism with closer ties between investors and businesses and while the model might limit growth, it might also reflect what is truly a natural growth boundary.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I have been really struggling with the concept of capitalism lately or at least I have been thinking that there must be a better way to implement capitalism, one that doesn’t feel like a giant pyramid scheme of speculation, that is more tangible and transparent when it comes to linking actual value to perceived valuable.

It has definitely struck me that “local” capitalism or capital markets where the actors have more direct ties are inevitably going to be more ethical than those that are arms-length or disguised by layers of automatic transactions and buy/sell triggers (there is a study that proves this, but I will have to track it down and post later!).

In the meantime, let’s have a look at a few very interesting models that popped up in my life over the course of the past two days while visiting the UK. First, I read this article about crowdfunding in the NY Times Weekly edition (strangely, I can’t find it anywhere on the NYTimes website, but nonetheless, here it is: http://tinyurl.com/cxmpo3q). This article tells a story about a group of individuals who bought shares that enabled the establishment of the Saranac Community Store after the local department store closed down and local residents didn’t want to have to drive 80 miles to buy underwear and other basic necessities. This model, described as “authentic capitalism” raised over $500,000 in start-up capital for this store.

interestingly, shortly after reading this article, I glanced down at my beer bottle to see that the beer company took a similar approach but instead of geographic affinity, they gathered fans of their beer, BrewDog, to raise growth capital. Brewdog has grown to a company with almost $9 million in annual turnover and they are offering enthusiasts an opportunity to buy shares in the company. They call these shares, quite colorfully, “equity for punks II.”  It is actually their second wave of shares released, the first round attracted 1000 investors.

Another model, from the sports world is the famous EbbsFleet United: myfootballclub.co.uk. After five years, they have had dwindling success, but I think this might be more a result of the way the deal with structured and the expectations of stakeholders (and shareholders) than an indicator of a faulty funding model. http://www.brewdog.com/equityforpunks

Regardless, all of these models reflect a model of capitalism with closer ties between investors and businesses and while the model might limit growth, it might also reflect what is truly a natural growth boundary.

 Occupy the Mall! 
This was the challenge presented by panelists at an event my company hosted last night about how transparency and technology is helping consumers live their values by giving them visibility into the impact their purchasing decisions have on the issues they care about. Obviously there are drivers beyond technology that are impacting this movement, but it is playing a huge role and consumers are responding.
We selected panelists who could offer insights into what I believe are the three primary drivers behind this movement: consumer desire (latent and overt), technology, and design.
Consumer Desire:
We know from research my company has done that consumers are increasingly putting (or wanting to put their values into their purchasing decisions). Here are a few relevant stats:

We know that companies have a long way to go: Three-quarters (75%) of Americans give companies a “C” or below on how they’re engaging consumers around key issues. (Cone Shared Responsibility Study, 2010)


94% of consumers said that given the opportunity they would buy a product with an environmental benefit and (76% and 65%, respectively) report they have actually done just that in the past 12 months. (Cone/Echo CSR Opportunity study)


 Nearly nine-in-10 (88%) say it’s ok if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts. (Cone/Echo CSR Opportunity study)

But the interesting thing here, according to one of the panelists, is that even if this is a growing trend among consumers, it doesn’t have to be. He pointed to the organics movement (and a few others that I have forgotten) as examples of what a passionate minority can do to get a trend to its tipping point of where it offers the uneducated masses the “status” attributes they desire from brands.
Technology
The insights around technology presented by the panelists were fascinating and multi-faceted.  Theo Forbath, VP of innovation Strategy at Frog Design and overall big brain guy, said that what we are seeing today around transparency is an inevitable outcome of the system underpinning the internet architecture, i.e. open source and distributed control. This means it can’t be shut down, which means information can’t be controlled as easily, which has meant….that information is getting out! So whether it’s crowdsourcing of information or the ability to share information quickly across personal and extended networks, this is bringing out the best of humanity. We are acting in broad systems involving lots of people the way we might within a small network of close relationships, i.e. more moral.
The other part of the technology discussion relates to the people behind the technology. Not just the developers and app geeks, but the tech entrepreneurs some of whom are simply and innocently responding to consumer desire and then some of whom are driven by a slightly activist mindset based on the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant or that more perfect information drives efficient capital markets.
Design
Design is the third leg of this three legged stool. Design is what enables the complex to be understood in simple terms, i.e. enables the very complicated set of data that represents the positive or negative impacts of your products to become accessible to the average consumer.
So, the question is who or what has to be transparent in order for consumers to get the information they need to compare and act? Companies are obviously the logical choice, but the number of companies embracing transparency is still few and far between, especially at the product level. Timberland is one of the few examples of mainstream companies  we can point to in the apparel sector alongside Patagonia that are willing to share the good, bad, and the ugly – which is key when it comes to transparency.  So what are we seeing in the marketplace when it comes to how companies are directly engaging consumers around transparency?

 Traceability/ Supply Chains: simply providing information on the country/location of origin at each point along the supply chain and any relevant certifications certifications. Stories of individuals connected to each stage make it real and put a face by the place but are more qualitative data than quantitative. Examples include Dole Organic: http://www.doleorganic.com/ and Patagonia Footprint Chronicles: http://www.patagonia.com/us/footprint/index.jsp?src=vuca0045 and Made-by.com in the UK: http://www.made-by.org/.


 Ingredient Labels: The food sector has been required to disclose ingredients for a while now, but on other issued there are very few companies bold enough to be fully transparent at the product level. Timberland is an exception here with their Green Index including their attempt to label the impact of each product:  http://tinyurl.com/82elxx3, 


 Action Data: The quantified self is old news, but increasingly companies are looking to get into this game by extending the notion of transparency to action, i.e. by facilitating, incentivizing and rewarding behaviors that have a positive impact, e.g. healthy eating decisions, eating local, exercise,  reducing environmental footprints (Choate Rosemary Hall: http://tinyurl.com/5skk3k7) or  Walmart’s mysustainabilityplan.com) or even the financial service industry building in alerts to your credit cards so you stay on your financial plan. (MasterCard InControl: http://tinyurl.com/7u78ycf)


Checks and Balances:  As many have recognized, including Timberland, companies can disclose information but it is really third party independent sources that have more credibility when it comes to presenting data about the impacts of products and corporate supply chains. Good Guide, the social venture founded by Dara O’Rourke, our guest at last night’s panel of what is to come. There are other efforts, many of which are relying on established standards, codes, certifications and publically available datasets to provide consumers with a transparent look into the products they are buying. (e.g. www.good guide.com). Similarly, while companies may issue their own nutrition labels, a few independent entities like Project Label (www.projectlabel.org) and sourcemap (www.sourcemap.com) are relying on crowdsourcing to access the data to shed light on a product or companies true impacts: 

The issue of transparency obviously has many additional layers, but for now, this is a recap of some of the elements I have been thinking about sparked by our wonderful panelists from the “What’s in Your Stuff” event hosted in collaboration with Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA. ww.conecommunications.eventbrite.com
 
 

Occupy the Mall!

This was the challenge presented by panelists at an event my company hosted last night about how transparency and technology is helping consumers live their values by giving them visibility into the impact their purchasing decisions have on the issues they care about. Obviously there are drivers beyond technology that are impacting this movement, but it is playing a huge role and consumers are responding.

We selected panelists who could offer insights into what I believe are the three primary drivers behind this movement: consumer desire (latent and overt), technology, and design.

Consumer Desire:

We know from research my company has done that consumers are increasingly putting (or wanting to put their values into their purchasing decisions). Here are a few relevant stats:

  • We know that companies have a long way to go: Three-quarters (75%) of Americans give companies a “C” or below on how they’re engaging consumers around key issues. (Cone Shared Responsibility Study, 2010)
  • 94% of consumers said that given the opportunity they would buy a product with an environmental benefit and (76% and 65%, respectively) report they have actually done just that in the past 12 months. (Cone/Echo CSR Opportunity study)
  • Nearly nine-in-10 (88%) say it’s ok if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts. (Cone/Echo CSR Opportunity study)

But the interesting thing here, according to one of the panelists, is that even if this is a growing trend among consumers, it doesn’t have to be. He pointed to the organics movement (and a few others that I have forgotten) as examples of what a passionate minority can do to get a trend to its tipping point of where it offers the uneducated masses the “status” attributes they desire from brands.

Technology

The insights around technology presented by the panelists were fascinating and multi-faceted.  Theo Forbath, VP of innovation Strategy at Frog Design and overall big brain guy, said that what we are seeing today around transparency is an inevitable outcome of the system underpinning the internet architecture, i.e. open source and distributed control. This means it can’t be shut down, which means information can’t be controlled as easily, which has meant….that information is getting out! So whether it’s crowdsourcing of information or the ability to share information quickly across personal and extended networks, this is bringing out the best of humanity. We are acting in broad systems involving lots of people the way we might within a small network of close relationships, i.e. more moral.

The other part of the technology discussion relates to the people behind the technology. Not just the developers and app geeks, but the tech entrepreneurs some of whom are simply and innocently responding to consumer desire and then some of whom are driven by a slightly activist mindset based on the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant or that more perfect information drives efficient capital markets.

Design

Design is the third leg of this three legged stool. Design is what enables the complex to be understood in simple terms, i.e. enables the very complicated set of data that represents the positive or negative impacts of your products to become accessible to the average consumer.

So, the question is who or what has to be transparent in order for consumers to get the information they need to compare and act? Companies are obviously the logical choice, but the number of companies embracing transparency is still few and far between, especially at the product level. Timberland is one of the few examples of mainstream companies  we can point to in the apparel sector alongside Patagonia that are willing to share the good, bad, and the ugly – which is key when it comes to transparency.  So what are we seeing in the marketplace when it comes to how companies are directly engaging consumers around transparency?

  • Traceability/ Supply Chains: simply providing information on the country/location of origin at each point along the supply chain and any relevant certifications certifications. Stories of individuals connected to each stage make it real and put a face by the place but are more qualitative data than quantitative. Examples include Dole Organic: http://www.doleorganic.com/ and Patagonia Footprint Chronicles: http://www.patagonia.com/us/footprint/index.jsp?src=vuca0045 and Made-by.com in the UK: http://www.made-by.org/.
  • Ingredient Labels: The food sector has been required to disclose ingredients for a while now, but on other issued there are very few companies bold enough to be fully transparent at the product level. Timberland is an exception here with their Green Index including their attempt to label the impact of each product:  http://tinyurl.com/82elxx3,
  • Action Data: The quantified self is old news, but increasingly companies are looking to get into this game by extending the notion of transparency to action, i.e. by facilitating, incentivizing and rewarding behaviors that have a positive impact, e.g. healthy eating decisions, eating local, exercise,  reducing environmental footprints (Choate Rosemary Hall: http://tinyurl.com/5skk3k7) or  Walmart’s mysustainabilityplan.com) or even the financial service industry building in alerts to your credit cards so you stay on your financial plan. (MasterCard InControl: http://tinyurl.com/7u78ycf)
  • Checks and Balances:  As many have recognized, including Timberland, companies can disclose information but it is really third party independent sources that have more credibility when it comes to presenting data about the impacts of products and corporate supply chains. Good Guide, the social venture founded by Dara O’Rourke, our guest at last night’s panel of what is to come. There are other efforts, many of which are relying on established standards, codes, certifications and publically available datasets to provide consumers with a transparent look into the products they are buying. (e.g. www.good guide.com). Similarly, while companies may issue their own nutrition labels, a few independent entities like Project Label (www.projectlabel.org) and sourcemap (www.sourcemap.com) are relying on crowdsourcing to access the data to shed light on a product or companies true impacts:

The issue of transparency obviously has many additional layers, but for now, this is a recap of some of the elements I have been thinking about sparked by our wonderful panelists from the “What’s in Your Stuff” event hosted in collaboration with Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA. ww.conecommunications.eventbrite.com

 

 

I was blown away by the insights revealed by this blog post (by Player X) on the proposal of the NFL to add 2 games to the schedule: http://tinyurl.com/32kr2zn. The consequences on the career of the players are profound.
Here are the details of the proposal, essentially with a 60/40 revenue split between players/ owners, owners needed to find a way to increase revenue, so they want to add games - with no extra pay to players. Each game includes several practices which can be as punishing physically (think hits) as a game; Player X equates a game/ practice to the trauma of a car wreck. So two more games/ year = 6 more car wrecks. If the average career for an NFL player is 3.5 years (thats right, 3.5 years…not a lot of time especially for the majority of the players whose median income is $770,000 a year) then these additional games could reduce the career length by a significant amount of time.
The other crazy insight shared by Player X was the benefit to the NFL of the new illegal hit rule (ulterior motive?)…he explained that if the players are held accountable for the hits, then the league isn’t liable for the consequences of illegal hits. Wow. Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of football or the rules, but there is a lot of food for thought in this article about the stakes of this sport/ enterprise and the costs to players vs. owners.
My brother in law, a high school football coach, was describing the experience of one of his players who was lucky enough to make it to the NFL Scouting Combine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_Scouting_Combine) - he described a scene of a room where players, stripped down to their basics, had to go through stations hosted by each of the players for their physical assessments. When asked what it was like, the player said, “it was awful coach, I felt like a piece of meat.” I think we forget that behind this incredibly powerful enterprise are a lot of individuals, not all of whom are at the Tom Brady level, and their experience and vulnerability within the system is similar to a lot of “rank and file” in other industries. For example, here is a crazy statistic: almost 80% of NFL players are on the edge of bankruptcy two years after they leave the league (http://tinyurl.com/ydynd8k).  For every industry there is an underbelly and I am glad that Player X has been given a platform by ESPN to raise a bit of awareness about the experience of NFL players.

I was blown away by the insights revealed by this blog post (by Player X) on the proposal of the NFL to add 2 games to the schedule: http://tinyurl.com/32kr2zn. The consequences on the career of the players are profound.

Here are the details of the proposal, essentially with a 60/40 revenue split between players/ owners, owners needed to find a way to increase revenue, so they want to add games - with no extra pay to players. Each game includes several practices which can be as punishing physically (think hits) as a game; Player X equates a game/ practice to the trauma of a car wreck. So two more games/ year = 6 more car wrecks. If the average career for an NFL player is 3.5 years (thats right, 3.5 years…not a lot of time especially for the majority of the players whose median income is $770,000 a year) then these additional games could reduce the career length by a significant amount of time.

The other crazy insight shared by Player X was the benefit to the NFL of the new illegal hit rule (ulterior motive?)…he explained that if the players are held accountable for the hits, then the league isn’t liable for the consequences of illegal hits. Wow. Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of football or the rules, but there is a lot of food for thought in this article about the stakes of this sport/ enterprise and the costs to players vs. owners.

My brother in law, a high school football coach, was describing the experience of one of his players who was lucky enough to make it to the NFL Scouting Combine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_Scouting_Combine) - he described a scene of a room where players, stripped down to their basics, had to go through stations hosted by each of the players for their physical assessments. When asked what it was like, the player said, “it was awful coach, I felt like a piece of meat.” I think we forget that behind this incredibly powerful enterprise are a lot of individuals, not all of whom are at the Tom Brady level, and their experience and vulnerability within the system is similar to a lot of “rank and file” in other industries. For example, here is a crazy statistic: almost 80% of NFL players are on the edge of bankruptcy two years after they leave the league (http://tinyurl.com/ydynd8k).  For every industry there is an underbelly and I am glad that Player X has been given a platform by ESPN to raise a bit of awareness about the experience of NFL players.

your brand whether you like it or not

So, this is my brand: http://threewords.me/zibacranmer. I absolutely love the idea that we can get instant feedback on how we show up in the world and see how we, and our brand, changes over time! A 360 evaluation for life! Wouldn’t it be great if we get to a place of transparency where we really do publish our 360’s for all to see. It reminds me of this great presentation on the power of vulnerability from Bene Brown http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html. I am still trying to get my head around the many lessons revealed by Brown, but I do believe that true transparency = vulnerability = (therefore) authenticity and meaningful connection