Brands, step up to leadership in 2012

Leadership.  During this period of sustained economic uncertainty, when people are feeling a significant tension between security and risk, the absence of it is apparent.  Our interviews for CultureQ have indicated this to some degree and the Internet study we fielded over the holidays confirmed it.  With faith in government very low people are looking for brands to inspire progress in society. When asked to name companies that are bad corporate citizens and act irresponsibly with respect to society, people and the environment, Gen Yers and Boomers rank the government 5th in the US, behind BP, Walmart, Exxon-Mobil and Bank of America and ahead of McDonald’s.  In Britain, government is tied for 4th with BT (British Telecom), behind McDonald’s, BP and Shell.  Frustrated with “[government] not spending money wisely” “civil service jobs [not being] safe any more”, “[business’] wasteful spending habits” and “corporations and companies [being] profit, shareholder and bonus driven” people tell us they are disillusioned with large organisations, and they do not necessarily distinguish public sector ones from private sector ones. The concept of brand leadership is intangible Similar to what we learned in 2007, the concept of brand leadership is intangible for many – it’s relatively elusive.  And, as with many things in the past 25 years, size and visibility seem to be surrogates for influence and vision.  The brands named as good corporate citizens are nearly identical to those cited as leaders.  Although many marketers continue to have Apple-fatigue, people clearly do not.  Apple tops both lists.  Certainly, its marketing and visibility help, but it’s more than that. For many, Apple inspires daily life in...

Dynamic Culture: who has time to make music just for the sake of making noise?

“What truly has value is what’s differentiated. And sadly these days, just having a college degree doesn’t exactly differentiate you.” The quote above, extracted from our CultureQ study, offers an interesting take on achievement. Achievement defined by the “get good grades so you can go to a great college so you can get the job of your dreams” narrative that has often dominated contemporary ideas success. While there certainly are many positive results from living in a society that values merit-based, track-oriented accomplishments, it’s safe to say sunny days are not always the norm. Much of our research with Millennials has demonstrated that, even despite the current economic climate, Gen Y has an optimistic outlook on its long-term future, especially older Gen Yers. That, when all the dust clears, they will have accomplished what they set out to conquer. In other words, we think we can do anything. We have the idea that our individual merits, or lack-thereof, are worthy enough to carry us through whatever obstacles come our way. Many Gen Xers, Boomers and even those from the post WWI generation interpret this as an unfounded sense of entitlement, or sometimes even narcissism. I believe, however, that it may actually be something else that defines this; something much deeper, more nefarious, and pretty darn eye-opening. We think we can accomplish our goals in the long term, but with the current economic crisis, we’ve seen a lot of our siblings, friends, classmates, etc. fall quite short of their grand life schemas. In other words, by and large, we are a generation unfulfilled. And, with a psychological preponderance towards an...

Brands in 2012: practicality, alignment and sincerity

At this time of year, after the excesses of holiday festivities our thoughts often turn to New Year’s resolutions. Certainly, the media has been reporting resolutions, large and small, over the past week.  And, we’re not exempt from tracking them; we’re even exploring them a bit in a survey we’re fielding this week. As we know, the same resolutions generally emerge the world over: losing weight, drinking less alcohol, exercising more, managing debt, managing stress, saving money, recycling and getting a better education.  These commitments to goals are developed purposefully and intended to last; yet our individual resolve to keep them often breaks down.  Frequently, our intentions are difficult to practice in day to day life and represent aspirations which are valued by society and not necessarily personally meaningful enough to permanently change in our behavior. The most successful resolutions motivate change through practical action However well intentioned, resolutions that are superimposed by our rational minds seem to fall apart as we deal with the pressures and stresses of our lives. People tell us that their most successful resolutions are those that motivate them to change through practical action that readily flows into their day to day routine.  They also come from deeply held internal value sets rather than from rules and norms imposed upon them.  Not surprisingly, most people are more likely to adapt their behaviour to unexpected events when they sincerely desire something rather than when they’ve been told to want it. Like resolutions great brands set aspirations that motivate people At the same time we’ve been talking to people about resolutions, we’ve been reviewing our on-going...

Dynamic culture: We’re all hipsters

We are all a series of contradictions. We claim we all have these really unique and distinct identities, yet we all wear jeans that are likely within a few shades of each other. We claim we are contributing members of society—productive, and eager to learn—yet we spend countless class periods and library sessions scrolling through Facebook albums. We say don’t like to fit in into the norm, but the vast majority of us are afraid to venture too far outside it. One morning last week, I came across an article from a college that listed the top 10 most “hipster” campuses in the country. It just so happened that my school, Georgetown University, rounded out the list at number ten. Initially, I was a little confused. How could a school that was recently accused of being part of the 1% also be one of the nation’s most bohemian? How can a school where the majority of students come from private or boarding schools, a school whose business students earn the second highest starting salaries in the nation, be considered anti-establishment? The article said that this year it seems like more students are adding “hipster” to their resumes, especially at Georgetown. Resumes? Isn’t that just about as anti-hipster as you could get? But then, it all made sense. Well, not really, because that would mean that the world’s problems were solved and we could all go home and call it a day. What I meant to say, was that it kind of made sense to me. When I first stumbled upon the article, I was wearing a flat brimmed trucker...

Brand Baby: Ben & Jerry’s – rediscovering purpose

Ben and Jerry’s both indulges and mystifies me in roughly equal measure. Their super delicious and refreshing products are guaranteed to put me a good mood especially after grocery shopping with the three boys in tow. Indeed, bribing the boys with a visit to the Mount Kisco Scoop Shop is a sure fire way to stop them putting the 100th Spider Man cookie into the cart as the temptation of vanilla ice-cream cones with rainbow sprinkles overpowers the lure of sugared super-heroes. As the boys grapple with the generous sized ice creams I usually indulge in a frozen latte before all hell breaks loose as their attention diverts to emptying out the napkin dispenser, over-filling the complementary water cups and playing with the in-store merchandise thoughtfully or annoyingly placed (depending if you are an adult or a child) at just the right eye height for under 7’s to play with. Despite the stress of eating in a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop, I can feel semi-relaxed as their treats are almost guilt free (minus the calories of course!). After all Ben & Jerry’s promises mostly natural, homemade products brought to us in socially responsible ways; although some may dispute the credibility of these claims as some of their products contain corn syrup. With that said, Ben & Jerry’s have a social conscience; they democratize their premium product through their Free Scoop Days (yes!), they publicly support Occupy Wall Street and they’ve whole heartedly adopted ingredients that are Fair Trade Certified. Their brand personality also comes in scoopfuls - just think of their delightful product names and innovative flavor combinations....

Black Friday, consumerism, social production & ethical consumption

Black Friday is fully under way.  And, in the run-up to it over the past two weeks it seemed that Black Friday had become a holiday in and of itself.  A follow on to Thanksgiving; a bit like Boxing Day is to Christmas in Britain.  Will Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday soon achieve the same noteworthy status? In a post-production, consumerism society our social stability depends on economic growth.  If we didn’t know that before, we’ve learned it since 2008.  Governments and the media continually emphasize that retail numbers are an indicator that we’re either still stuck in the recession or coming out of it.  So personal consumption - aka shopping - is a measure not only of economic stability but of active political participation.  In a consumerism world, purchasing is an act that benefits society as much as, if not more than, it does the individual.  And, as a brand and marketing professional I know consumption can be - and in point of fact is - a dynamic and engaging factor of social and cultural change.  It’s no wonder Black Friday has taken on the status of a Federal Holiday. Interestingly, Black Friday seems to reflect the same sentiment Franklin Roosevelt, the (liberal) Democrat we know best for the New Deal, had when he moved Thanksgiving from November 30th to November 23rd, in 1939.  And, this after he ignored the initial request from the Downtown Association of Los Angeles in 1933, when the Great Depression was at it’s worst point. In a letter to the President on October 2, 1933, the Association noted that according to the usual...
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