Peter Clarke: 5 Branding Commandments for the Post-Crash Economy

29 08 2010

A very inspiring article by Peter Clark on 5 compelling branding commandents for marketers and agencies moving forward.  His straightforward summary of branding principals for a post-recession era reminds us that consumer’s expectations for brand behavior are forever changed.

Peter’s commandants are:

1.  Simplicity

2. Transparency

3. Responsibility

4.  Sustainability

5.  Affordability

Read the 5 Commandments Article Here.

Grass Image:  Dennis Wong


Counter-Intuitive Intelligence: Recession = Responsibility

29 08 2010

This article from Brandweek demonstrates that the recession has affected not only consumer wallets, but also brand perception. Kudos to the folks at Landor Associates, Penn Schoen Berland and Burson-Marsteller for their new consumer survey demonstrating that transparency and corporate responsibility have become far more important to consumers in a tough economy.

The survey measured consumer perceptions of corporate social responsibility practices and ranked companies that are the most responsible. It found that despite the recession, 75% of consumers believe social responsibility is important, and 55% of consumers said they would choose a product that supports a particular cause against similar products that don’t.

“[Corporate social responsibility] can be the olive branch between struggling industries and consumers in cases where consumers are experiencing the highest expectations and the biggest let downs,” said Scott Osman, global director of Landor’s citizenship branding practice, adding that the industries with brands that have performed poorly, are the ones in which responsibility is valued most.

While 38% of respondents plan to spend the same or more on products or services from socially responsible companies, more than half of consumers are unsure about the meaning of CSR. And those who do know what the term means, define it as “giving back to the local community” (20%), and as “self-regulation and accountability” (19%).

Additionally, the survey found that 70% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products from socially responsible companies. In fact, 28% are willing to pay at least $10 more. That means companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves if they can communicate clearly how they give back to their employees, communities, and the environment, per the survey.

When asked to name the most surprising findings, Osman pointed to the fact that nearly 50% of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds are more likely to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company—a much higher percentage than any other age group. However, Osman added, “a year where there seems have been so much responsibility expressed, especially in light of the earthquake in Haiti, only 11% of Americans say they’ve heard corporate CSR communications.”

Cone Study: 75% of consumers grade companies as C, D, or F on engagement around sustainability.

25 05 2010

May 21, 2010 – A recent study conducted by Cone LLC finds that while the overwhelming majority of American consumers believe that their ideas can help business build more sustainable products, a much smaller number believe companies are doing enough to encourage communication about corporate sustainability.

The report, entitled 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study, finds that 84% of the 1,045 American consumers polled believed that their ideas could benefit businesses sustainability offerings, while only 53% felt encouraged to engage at any level. The four key areas consumers wanted more engagement in are: including how a company conducts its business (85%), its products and packaging (83%), its support of social and environmental issues (81%) and its marketing and advertising (74%).

In grading companies on their engagement levels, over 75% of those surveyed gave companies either a “C”, “D”, or “F” on customer engagement. Cone calls this a lost opportunity for most companies, as many more consumers would be more likely buy products and services and recommend companies with better engagement policies.

Consumers are also prepared to listen to companies willing to engage them, with a full 92% of respondents wanting more communication from brands. While this number sounds like an overwhelming endorsement for more brand communication, some other statistics bring to light the dichotomy of the situation:

  • Skepticism – 87 percent of consumers believe the communication is one-sided — companies share the positive information about their efforts, but withhold the negative.
  • Confusion – 67 percent of consumers are confused by the messages companies use to talk about their social and environmental commitments.

For a copy of the complete 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study fact sheet, please visit

Seventy percent of major companies plan to increase climate change spending.

25 05 2010

Here’s a report on the recent Ernst & Young survey about companies intentions to invest in climate change initiatives.  We love the idea that 89% report the efforts are driven by changing customer demands.

Seventy percent of major companies plan to boost spending on climate change efforts in the next two years, according to a new report from Ernst & Young.

Of the 300 corporate executives surveyed this spring, 89% said their green activities were driven by changing customer demands while 92% also pointed to energy costs as a driver. The fact that 43% of those surveyed said that equity analysts will soon consider climate change actions while valuing companies was also a factor.

Thirty percent said their company had a staffer in charge of climate change initiatives, a trend The Times explored in December.

The respondents hail from 16 countries, representing firms in 18 industry sectors that pull in at least a billion dollars a year in revenue. Nearly half said they intend to shell out between half a percent to more than 5% of that revenue – or about $5 million to $50 million each year – for climate change initiatives.

Two-thirds said they are talking with their suppliers about programs to limit carbon emissions; 36% said they are already in the process of cutting greenhouse gases from their supply chains.

Nearly 95% said national policies played a critical role in their company’s climate change strategy and 81% said the same of global laws. But in countries such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, regulatory and compliance issue was ranked as the largest challenge to accomplishing environmental goals.

The study was conducted by the research group Verdantix.

Tiffany Hsu, The Los Angeles Times

International Award-Winning Short Ana’s Playground To Screen At the Santa Barbara Film Festival

29 01 2010
Ana’s Playground, a short film about children living in armed conflict has been accepted to screen at the 25th annual Santa Barbara Film Festival.  Ana’s Playground will screen twice – once as part of Shorts Program One on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 9:30 p.m. at Victoria Hall and again (Shorts Program One) on Tuesday, February 9 at 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.  Producers Mary Jo Howell, Jean Johnson and Bruce Johnson will join writer-director Eric Howell at both screenings and are available for interviews to discuss the film.
Since its release in September, Ana’s Playground has won top honors at the Norwich, New Hampshire, Cenflo and Foyle film festivals, including a ‘Best of the Festival’ and an Academy Qualifying win for the 2010 nomination cycle.

Set in a non-specific, war-torn country, Ana’s Playground is an examination of children living and dying in a world of armed combat.  Told through the eyes of 11 year-old Ana, the story opens on a group of children playing soccer surrounded by the signs of conflict.  When their soccer ball is kicked into a sniper zone, Ana is sent in to retrieve it.  Once inside, a dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues, as Ana becomes the sniper’s target. Connected through the power of sport, the characters all listen to the same professional soccer game which plays in the background.  Viewers will be kept guessing as to how the story will reach its ultimate conclusion — will their games end up in harmony or tragedy?
Ana’s Playground is an allegory about the moment a child is forced to choose between humanity and ideology,” said filmmaker Eric Howell.  “The film is not a political statement about a particular war or conflict, instead it directly examines the delicate nature of a child’s humanity and how the world at large is connected to and responsible for preserving it.”

The objective of Ana’s Playground is to raise awareness about how war and violence affect children by communicating with the largest audience possible.  There’s also an opportunity to provide information about organizations working to improve the lives of children living in violent conditions.
Ana’s Playground powerfully communicates the effects of armed conflict on children trying to play” said Johann Koss, president and CEO of Right to Play.  “The film’s conclusion will resonate with viewers leaving behind a powerful message audiences will be unable to forget.”
Raven Bellefleur, an eleven year-old actress plays Ana, leading an all-Minnesotan cast, and producers Marsha Trainer and Jillian Nodland worked hard to pull together and organize resources to shoot the film in one cold November week in the Twin Cities.
With a background that demonstrates a balance of studio films and independents, writer-director Eric Howell is on a mission to raise awareness for short films, as well as the plight of war-affected children around the globe.  Early in his career, Howell developed his directing skills by working as a stuntman/coordinator on numerous feature films including North CountryJoe SomebodyFargo and A Simple Plan as well as hundreds of TV commercials and music videos.  Howell has directed several short films as well as various episodic television projects.  He continues to work in the industry writing and developing his own material.
Our hope is that Ana’s Playground will entice audiences to explore more of the exceptional film work being done in the short film category,” said Howell.  “Short films are covering ambitious subject matter and the quality of the final product looks like what audiences expect from feature-length films.  Short films have simply never had the same kind of exposure.  So we’ll continue to get the word out and let more people in on the secret.”
The filmmakers are interested in partnering with corporations, foundations and individuals who can help sponsor Ana’s Playground at film festivals and screening events to help audiences learn more about war-affected children and organizations helping them.
Production of Ana’s Playground was made possible entirely through charitable donations. George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound provided all sound engineering post-production; and the Coen brothers’ latest production A Serious Man donated much of the physical set support.  A long list of other industry insiders also shows up in the film’s credits.
Ana’s Playground won “Best International Short Film” at the 2009 Foyle Film Festival in Northern Ireland (a 2010 Oscars-qualifying film festival), “Best Short Drama” at the 2009 New Hampshire Film Festival, “Best Short Film” and “Best of Fest” at the 2009 Norwich International Film Festival (Norwich, England) and ‘Best Short Film” at the Cenflo Film Fest. Ana’s Playground is based on a script that also won the best screenplay award at the 2006 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival.

Watch post-Copenhagen fall-out on The Age of Stupid Show

19 12 2009

The last team standing (sort of) at the end of the Copenhagen Climate Summit was The Age of Stupid TV Show production team.

The Stupid Show Recaps Copenhagen

You can watch a post -conference Age of Stupid Show with hosts Franny Alexander and Mark Laynas featuring interviews with attendees, dignitaries and others who left with strong opinions about the “agreement”.  A re-freshingly non-American-centric perspective.

Ana’s Playground takes New Hampshire.

19 10 2009

Picture 1

Like the first important primary of a presidential election, New Hampshire represents a key milestone for another candidate.  Ana’s Playground— the short film about children as victims of armed conflict—won Best Short Drama in this past weekend’s festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   More than 80 independent films were screened over the weekend.

With award winning honors in three of its first few screenings, Ana’s Playground continues its world tour.  Check out the Ana’s Playground filmmaker blog for other news and updates.

One of the largest film fests in New England, the four-day event draws celebrities, academy-award winners, film industry veterans and local film lovers. Most importantly, NHFF offers workshops and discussions for young and new filmmakers to interact with industry pros and learn the art and business of film.

Learn more about the New Hampshire Film Festival

Ana’s Playground a winner at Norwich Film Festival

24 09 2009


Ana’s Playground received awards for The Best Short Film and Best of The Fest this week at the Norwich Film Festival in the United Kingdom.

In its advance pre-screening at the debut Norwich Film Festival, Ana’s Playground not only won Best Short Film, but Best of The Fest – beating out all the feature films that were screened as well as more than 90 films entered in the competition.

Learn more about the Norwich Film Festival

The world premiere of Ana’s Playground is Friday, September 25 at the Calgary Film Festival.  Information on the Calgary Film Festival is available at their website.

Calgary International Film Festival

Written and directed by Minneapolis film maker Eric Howell, Ana’s Playground is a Oscar worthy story of children subjected to armed conflict.  The mission of the film is to raise awareness of children in conflict and raise funds for Right to Play, an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

What nobody is talking about in the U.S. and everyone is buzzing about in the rest of the world.

15 09 2009

SEEEEEL THE DEAL ENGLISH 2D“Now is the time for decision-making. We must seal a deal in Copenhagen for a global, equitable and comprehensive deal for the future of humanity and the future of Planet Earth.”

– U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

In December in Copehagen, the United Nations will host a global conference from governments around the world to achieve a comprehensive agreement on climate.

Reaching a deal by the time the meeting ends on December 18 will depend not only on complex political negotiations, but also on public pressure from around the globe.

The United Nations has launched “Seal the Deal” campaign that encourages users to sign an online, global petition which will be presented by civil society to governments of the world.

Visit the Seal the Deal website

Watch U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon talk about the “Seal the Deal” campaign.

CoolPlanet2009 is also on board to support the Seal the Deal campaign.

The week of September 21st has been desiganated as Global Climate Week.  Rallies in more than 100 cities across the global are being organized by young people as a major push to keep global warming high on the international agenda. More than 800 young people pledged a comprehensive campaign at the conclusion of the Tunza International Youth Conference in Daejeon, Korea at the end of August.

Learn more about Climate Week



Now is the time to spread the world about the United Nations’ Seal the Deal campaign.  You can follow them on Twitter or join a Seal the Deal group on Facebook. Let’s get Copenhagen and climate change on minds in the U.S. as it is across the world.

Lessons from the U.K.

15 09 2009


“This research shows that consumer values do not change, even in a middle of a recession. They want companies to act and cut their carbon footprints, and provide transparent and accessible evidence of action.  We believe companies that take real action will seize the dual benefits of immediate cost savings and a stronger reputation, which is good for business.”

– Harry Morrison, Carbon Trust Standard

New research from the Carbon Trust Standard in the United Kingdom shows that consumers still want to buy green despite the current economic climate, with 62% of consumers saying environmental concerns influence their purchasing decisions—‘the same as a year ago’ and just over a quarter saying they influence them ‘even more’ than in 2008.

Other fun factoids from the research that marketers should be aware of:

  • 66% of U.K. consumers say it’s important to buy from environmentally responsible companies.
  • 14%  said they have voted with their feet by deciding not to buy from a company based on their environmental reputation
  • 25% decided not to buy from a company based on a company’s ethical reputation.
  • 70% of consumers do not feel confident that they can clearly identify which companies are environmentally responsible.
  • 59% are skeptical about the environmental claims companies make.
  • 44% of consumers would like more information on what companies are actually doing to be environmentally responsible.

So sustainable branding requires new forms of communications and embracing transparency and honesty in all facets of a brand presentation.  The research further demonstrated this quest for information that engaged consumers are using to understand whether or not a company is environmentally responsible.  The research indicated the most important criteria they rely on are what they read in the media (38%) and third party endorsement or accreditation (34%).

The least popular factor consumers use to judge whether a company is behaving in an environmentally responsible manner is what advertising tells them (6%).

Ana’s Playground Update: World Premiere at Calgary Film Festival.

14 09 2009


World Premiere of Ana’s Playground at Calgary International Film Festival

The short film about children in armed conflict will begin showing at film festivals and screenings  

 Ana’s Playground, a short film about children living in armed conflict will make its world debut at the Calgary International Film Festival at the Globe Theatre on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.  The film will screen as part of the festival’s ‘Anything but Ordinary’ collection of internationally produced short films.  Attending the screening will be writer-director Eric Howell, producers Jillian Nodland, Marsha Trainer, Mary Jo Howell, executive producers Jean and Bruce Johnson and music composer Michael Wandmacher.

Set in a non-specific, war-torn country, Ana’s Playground is an examination of children living and dying in a world of armed combat.  Told through the eyes of 11 year-old Ana, the story opens on a group of children playing soccer surrounded by the signs of conflict.  When their soccer ball is kicked into a sniper zone, Ana is sent in to retrieve it.  Once inside, a dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues, as Ana becomes the sniper’s target.  Connected through the power of sport, the characters all listen to the same professional soccer game which plays in the background.  Viewers will be kept guessing as to how the story will reach its ultimate conclusion — will their games end up in harmony or tragedy?

Ana’s Playground is an allegory about the moment a child is forced to choose between humanity and ideology,” said filmmaker Eric Howell.  “The film is not a political statement about a particular war or conflict, instead it directly examines the delicate nature of a child’s humanity and how the world at large is connected to and responsible for preserving it.”

 The objective of Ana’s Playground is to raise awareness about war-affected children by communicating with the largest audience possible about these kids’ lives – also providing information about organizations that are working to make the lives of war-affected children better.

Raven Bellefleur, an eleven year-old actress plays Ana, leading an all-Minnesotan cast, and producers Marsha Trainer and Jillian Nodland worked hard to pull together and organize resources to shoot the film one cold November week in the Twin Cities. The filmmakers are interested in partnering with corporations, foundations and individuals who can sponsor Ana’s Playground at film festivals and screening events to help audiences learn more about war-affected children and organizations helping them.  George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound provided all sound engineering post-production; and the Coen brothers’ latest production A Serious Man donated much of the physical set support and a long list of other industry insiders also show up in the film’s credits.  

For details on the film Ana’s Playground or more information about war-affected children, child soldiers and the organizations that support them, visit:

Congrats WestPac New Zealand: Branding Beyond The Numbers

2 09 2009

We’re interested to follow the development of a new sustainable branding campaign by one of the leading banks in New Zealand – WestPac.  Rather than try to differentiate by low interest rates and car loan messaging in their brand communication, WestPac has launched a multi-media marketing effort that showcases their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.  

The brand communication plan supports messaging around the 10 goals WestPac has established for sustainability through 2012 and customers can track the bank’s progress on their website.  In addition to tangible sustainability goals such as carbon footprint reduction, the measurement includes community outreach programs such as the volunteer programs to clean up New Zealand’s beaches.


We further applaude the smart nature of the communication by portraying one of the bank’s employees as having to learn the new behaviors that add up to sustainability with the line “being sustainable can be tough. we know.”  It’s a great example of a company taking a thought leadership position on sustainability, helping educate their customers on what they can do in their own everyday life, and becoming a catalyst for community action.  Congrats to WestPac for thinking beyond the numbers.

Learn more about WestPac’s sustainability efforts

your pal…global warming.

27 08 2009

A fun user generated video contestant for the MTV Europe Play to Stop competition.


The Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century?

27 08 2009

A report in The Los Angeles Times highlights how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put the science of global warming on trial.  


The Chamber is pushing Environmental Protection Agency officials to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence of climate change with the goal of fending off potential emissions regulations.

The article cites EPA officials as calling such a hearing “a waste of time”.  A leading climate scientist said the proposal “brings to mind for me the Salem witch trials”.

At a time when the vast majority of business leaders in the United States recognize the serious impact of climate change and are exploring and implementing innovative new sustainability practices into all facets of their operations, we cannot fathom how the U.S. Chamber can be in denial and rationalize wasting the time and money of its members by pursuing such draconian tactics.  This after the heads of the top science agencies in leading countries have recently written to world leaders that  “the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”

Read the Los Angeles Times article.

Study predicts 10,000 store closings.

27 08 2009

Woolworths store closing

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that a new study commissioned by audit and managing consulting firm Grant Thorton predicts as many as 10,000 retail stores will close in the U.S. in 2009.

Highlights of the report show that:

  • clothing-store closings are expected to soar 270 percent, to 3,000 store closings this year from a year ago.
  • department store closings are expected to increase 61 percent to 422 this year.  
  • Bookstore closing are forecast to jump 500% from last year to 400 stores.

The study begs the question whether or not shopper habits are forever changed as the recession recedes.  But certainly, the debate should begin about whether this massive reduction in penetration of retail stores and lack of convenience it represents creates some degree of self-fulfilling destiny about a permanent decline in retail spending.

Coca-Cola introduces PlantBottle.

14 08 2009

6a00d834515f0569e20120a4e64400970b-800wiCoca-Cola has unveiled its new “PlantBottle” to be rolled out later this year with the Dasani brand and in its Vitaminwater portfolio of products in 2010. In a smart move toward sustainable branding, the new bottles and their environmentally responsible composition will feature on-bottle messaging, in-store displays and on-line marketing communications so customers can begin to appreciate they are purchasing a new sustainable technology.

Said Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s CEO, “The “PlantBottle” is a significant development in sustainable packaging innovation. It builds on our legacy of environmental ingenuity and sets the course for us to realize our vision to eventually introduce bottles made with materials that are 100 percent recyclable and renewable.”

We agree – through its sweeping worldwide sustainability plan under the theme “Living Positively” – Coca-Cola is one of the innovators and pioneers of business practices that support overall good corporate citizenship.

A life-cycle analysis conducted by the Imperial College London indicates the “PlantBottle” consisting of 30 percent plant-based materials will reduce carbon emissions by up to 25 percent, in comparison with traditional PET plastic bottles.  The PlantBottle is currently made through an innovative process that turns sugar cane and molasses, a by-product of sugar production, into a key component for PET plastic. 


Kudos To Cub. New LEED-certified grocery store is a shining example of sustainable branding.

12 08 2009

474Cub Foods recently opened a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) Gold Certified grocery store in the Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Having visited the store we send big kudos to Cub.  Not only is the store a inventive and creative way of reducing the energy consumption, carbon footprint and reduced impact in construction and daily operation, but it is an excellent example of conveying the vision and possibilities to its customers.

The statitsics related to the store itself are impressive.

  • 44 skylights illuminate 75% of regularly occupied spaces using a solar powered GPS system to track and re-direct sunlight.
  • Parking lot lighting from LED lighting cutting energy consumption by 50 percent.
  • An overall saving of 35% in lighting expense compared to the average Cub store.
  • Landscape irrigation that uses 50% less water.
  • 75% of building construction waste will be recycled.

But we love how Cub has used the physical environment of the store itself to provide information about every aspect of how the store is operating in a sustainable way.  The subtle signage is designed to educate Cub customers about the important facets of the store’s operations.  

Messages conveyed include how the store uses reduced refrigerant.


Use of natural light to reduce energy consumption.


How Cub uses packaging made from only 100% renewable resources.


How the overall store operates in a more energy efficient fashion.

494LED refrigerator case lighting to conserve energy.


Special parking places reserved for customers driving fuel efficient vehicles.


An overall store experience which is designed to be more respectful to nature and healthy for all.


In additional to many of the customer facing aspects of the store, the new Cub also features creative, energy saving ideas in all aspects of its operation.  For employees, the Cub facility features men and women’s shower rooms for employees to encourage them to ride the bike to work and worked with the city of St. Paul to create an additional city bus route so their employees can take the bus to and from work versus driving.  The facility also features a white roof to reflect heat to reduce energy consumption and special landscaping to absorb rainfall.

All in all, we encourage everyone to visit this very special new store if you have the chance.  And we send our congratulations to the leadership of SuperValu (the parent of Cub Foods) for their courage and leadership in creating and building what we hope will become the role model for retailers everywhere.

Our thanks to the support of  Cub Foods—and in particular Lee Ann Jorgenson, Manager of Community Relations and Communications—for allowing us to fully understand and share all of what the new Cub store is doing to be respectful to its new home in the Phalen neighborhood. 

(Photos by P.J. Milan.  All rights reserved.)

From Buyer Beware To Seller Beware: IBM’s Study On Corporate Social Responsibility.

12 08 2009

“Three quarters of businesses admit they don’t understand their customer’s corporate social responsibility expectations well.”

 – “Attaining sustainable growth through CSR”,

IBM Institute For Business Value


An interesting study of 250 global business leaders has revealed both the business upside to corporate social responsibility and one of the vulnerabilities – companies who embark on CSR initiatives without a true understanding of the expectations of their customers of those efforts.  The report reveals:

  • 68% of companies are now utilizing CSR as a opportunity and platform for growth.
  • 75% acknowledge the number of advocacy groups collecting and reporting information on their company has increased in the last three years.
  • But only 17% of companies say they really engage and collaborate with their customers regarding CSR activities.

Companies that truly understand the corporate social responsbility expectations of their customers report increased revenues and reduced costs and better differentiated products and services.  They believe they are more effective at improving labor practices, driving sustainability initiatives and aligning philanthropy with business priorities.  They also report having more engaged employees in CSR activities.

Ironically, many companies invest millions of dollars in gaining an understanding customers reactions’ to products and services, but the majority are operating a CSR strategy without insight and collaboration with customers.  The truth is your customer feels entitled to know everything “their brand” is doing.  So we echo IBM’s point of view, today the traditional adage “buyer aware” is now reversed to be “seller beware” — especially if you are unaware of your customers’ expectations regarding your social responsibility practices.

Watch an interview with George Pohle of IBM on the CSR Study

The next level of accountability. Governance for corporate behavior and its impact on the planet.

30 07 2009

Sustainability reporting among corporate issuers is largely still voluntary, it is far from universal, and often inconsistent and incomplete.”

– Social Investment Forum letter to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro

imagesLast week the 400 member Social Investment Forum called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish the mandatory reporting of corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) or sustainability reporting.  Citing the fact that corporate social and environmental performance can have material impact on portfolio performance, the proposal calls for sustainability performance to be reported on consistent measures and issued in an annual report along with standard financial disclosures.

The letter also pointed out that that similar regulation is being proposed by the United Nations and several individual countries.  While relatively off the radar screens in mass media, this conversation is serious in nature and represents significant steps forward in regulating accountability for corporations on social measures beyond financial data.

Read the letter.

What if my customers say they don’t care?

21 07 2009

  Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”  

                             – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


“What if my customers say they don’t care?”  

This may be the number one question many companies are wrestling with regarding social responsibility and sustainability strategies.  And is central to the debate of whether it is possible to achive brand differentiation by infusing sustainable practices into messages directed to customers.

It is easy to appreciate how many companies over the past couple of decades have made significant investments to “stay close” to their customers. Brand attribute ratings.  Research departments rebranded as “consumer insights” groups. Tracking studies. Endless focus groups and telephone and on-line surveys.  Trend analysis and more.  Information is good and many sound business strategy decisions have been based on input on the wants and needs of the customer.  But too much information can also lead to an unhealthy paralysis.

So when the research points to data saying that customers don’t care about sustainability—corporate leaders have decisions to make.  This is especially true when we are still buffeted by an uncertain economic climate when many people are struggling financially and not in the position to make the sophie’s choice between being able to afford something they need vs. an alternative that may offer a higher degree of sustainability.  We acknowledge the cold reality that the economy may be holding back customers’ demanding sustainable behaviors, but beware the “sling shot effect” of how quickly this could change when the economic pressures ease.

This is the inflection point that is the very essence of what it means to be socially responsible.  Our way of thinking is that if you can achieve more responsible and sustainable practices (and we acknowledge the practices are not sustainable unless they are profit neutral), you have a moral obligation to do it whether or not your customer says they care.  And we further believe it is a social responsiblity to communicate what you are doing in an effort to educate and inspire your customers to not only appreciate what you are doing, but show them how they should alter their own behaviors for everyone’s benefit.

The next level of consumer insights then is to get deeper into the potential of the responsible and healthy relationship between a company and its customers. True innovation, creativity and positive social change rarely relies on permission.  It insists on the courage to do what is right and transformative and then to communicate the benefits of the innovation to the audience.

I draw the analogy to our society’s history of struggling with the knowledge that smoking tobacco has devasting health consequences.  After the Surgeon General first informed the public of the health hazards of smoking in 1964, it took decades to achieve the broad based awareness, acceptance and change of behaviors (in part because of the addictive nature of the habit).  But “responsible steps” were taken: public service campaigns, packaging warning labels, bans of advertising, bans of sale to minors, bans in public venues, legal action and consequently—millions of smokers quit and millions of non-smokers never started.  Today, some people still make the choice to smoke and to ignore the health consequences, but they are certainly aware of them.  And there is a social stigma that deeply influences healthy behavior for individuals as well as society at large.  None of this would have happened without leaders who were willing to stand up and embrace change as the right thing to do.

Fast forward to today. Even if your customers say they don’t care about sustainability, it is your responsibility to drive to achieve necessary sustainable behaviors into your organization because of your knowledge that it is the right thing to do whether or not your customer will applaud you for it.  The health and social consequences of NOT doing this is no less dramatic than pretending smoking is good for you.  And because it is the right thing to do, it is also imporant to inform your customer of what you are doing and why.  Public education is also a social responsibility.

Imagine if all the tools of today’s instantaneous communication – the internet, digital media, global connectivity, social networks – were available in 1964 when the public first learned about the dangers of smoking tobacco. How much more quickly would have behavior change been accelerated? How many millions of lives might have been improved?  How much suffering might have been avoided?  

We call on all companies to use all the tools and innovation at their disposal to drive sustainable change and communicate the efforts to their customers. Persuade your customers to care, persuade them to take care of themselves and their community.  This is how we will achieve necessary change when the clock is ticking.

There are many examples:  we are inspired by companies like Wal-mart, Tesco and Kingfisher who are driving meaningful sustainable behaviors into their organizations and then boldly yet honestly communicating what they are doing to their customers and how they should get involved.  Don’t wait for permission.

Don’t call them consumers.

22 06 2009

Originally I wrote this post at when I was still with Duffy & Partners more than a year ago.  But it feels more right than ever before as all of us and society at large have been forced by the recession to consider exactly what it means to consume.  And where it fits in each person’s values set.



“Consumers are statistics.  Customers are people.”  – Stanley Marcus, Neiman & Marcus

Wikipedia defines a consumer as “a person who uses any product or service. Typically when business people and economists talk of consumers they are talking about person as consumer, an aggregated commodity item with little individuality other than that expressed in the buy/not-buy decision.”

Ok, it’s a new day. The term “consumer” must be purged from any organizational lexicon.  Shame on marketers who insist on putting such an arbitrary generalized term on the people they are trying to attract. As if “consumers” live in some petri dish to be probed, prodded and tested.

The term consumer presumes people are put on this earth solely to buy stuff.  How disrespectful to only think of “consumers” in a way that would suggest what they will do for me economically, not what we can do for them.

We are people.  With laughs and tears, dreams and hopes, and a desire to express our individuality in the context of having positive relationships with others and the world around us.

Consumers?  How about people?  The best brands recognize the difference.  In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, brands that respect people as people first will be the ones that are rewarded with—yes purchases—but importantly loyal customers.