In 2015, investors will bet more on brands with a transparent, long-term focus

For decades, many people have considered corporate efforts to fund social and environmental programs public relations campaigns designed more to boost brand reputation at best and, at worst, a way to right wrongs. Positive reactions to exposed negative actions – part of a zero sum game (negative behavior + positive response = zero sum) rather than a net positive for society. Since the Great Recession, Deepwater Horizon, Occupy Wall Street, record long-term unemployment and government cutbacks on funding of social programs, the zero sum corporate responsibility game has come under even greater scrutiny. And as a result, doing good is becoming a practical reality for corporate survival across industries. A growing cost of doing business, that is at odds with our historically idealistic images of doing good. Yet, in a technologically interconnected world where coopetiton, hybrid cars, mixed racial backgrounds and gay marriage are becoming mainstream concepts, should the notions of idealism and realism remain at odds with one another? Should integrating sustainability and social responsibility initiatives into brand development be considered self-promotion? Or should it be seen as operating transparently and enabling consumers to buy products from companies that share their values and invest in things they care about? Intrinsic values produce consumer value More and more CEOs are acknowledging that fair and ethical business practices are as essential a criteria for lasting business success as is earning a profit. In a world where businesses are forced to adapt to the challenges globalized sourcing, production and sales present, economics and ethics cannot be viewed as separate constructs. In other words, values have become essential for value production. And,...

Is There Any Real Value in Values?

Many thanks to Ramesh Jude Thomas of Equitor Consulting in India for contributing this blog post. Earlier this month I had breakfast with my old friend Anne Bahr Thompson in New York. She is an exceptional thinker who used to run the strategy practice at Interbrand. Anne has invested the better part of the last three years developing the notion of what she has trademarked as “Brand Citizenship”. Her contention is as powerful as it is simple. The data from  three years of this research suggests that in a world where paternalistic structures are increasingly impotent, some brands seem to have the ability to command the respect traditionally attributed to institutions like government, the judiciary and the fourth estate. In other words, her work suggests that we are far more likely today to believe what an Apple or a TATA were to say, than we would The Wall Street Journal or even Mr. Obama. As a corollary, Brand Citizenship seems to suggest that brands and businesses that enjoy high “citizenship” ratings  for example, the BODYSHOP at one time) will score highly on measures like disposition and leadership. The last ten brand valuation clients I have been involved with, represent a little over $ 25 billion in market capitalization, across diverse categories like media, travel, food products, chemicals, financial services and speciality retail. It is indeed telling that on average, just under a quarter of the value of these businesses lies in their corporate reputation alone (traditionally grey stuff like ethics, transparency, governance and community participation). In simple terms, a fourth of the economic profit generated by these firms is...

Obama: hopeful about America

Hope. What follows it? Especially when you’ve yet to achieve the things you set out to do. Faith. Gratitude. Humility. Action. Although in the run-up to the DNC Barack Obama’s campaigning had lost the spirit of the brand he built in 2008, the messaging at the Convention built on it. Mr. Obama’s task was a different one than Mitt Romney’s at the RNC. Unlike Romney, he didn’t need to introduce us to Brand Obama. Rather, he needed to prove that Brand Obama was sincere – trustworthy and focused. And, he certainly did that. Mr. Obama’s belief in his vision for America is unwavering. He has the incentive to take action because he wants to honor the American people – ordinary people – who have worked hard to overcome the adversity they have faced during this time of struggle. I can’t help but wonder, though, if resilience to stay the better path conveys enough energy and excitement to attract Independent and swing voters. Or, if it is a message that only appeals to Obama loyalists. The quick take-away: How Barack Obama describes himself: A President who is hopeful about America because he understands the challenges ordinary people face and overcome on the pathway to achieving their aspirations and dreams What he will do: Restore middle class values and build a 21st Century American Dream based on shared responsibility, opportunity, and prosperity What role Obama plays: He brings belief in the face of uncertainty; wisdom gained through having made tough choices and learning from four years of successes…and mistakes What we believe: We’re part of something bigger and change will only...

Brand Mitt: will he shape the 2012 political debate?

In October 2008, Barack Obama won Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year, beating Apple, Zappo’s, Nike, and Coors.  He then went on to win the White House in great part because of his carefully crafted brand.  Obama’s message – hope and change – was simple and consistently reinforced through a comprehensive brand management system.  People easily related to it and social media helped the campaign create a bottom-up revolution that anyone could partake in.  In the run-up to the 2012 election, however, it seems the Obama team has forgotten that they exemplified best practices for marketers four years ago. So far, in a quest to capture “market share” and possibly because of fear, Obama seems to have forgotten the power gained through embodying an unambiguous brand message.  Like many consumer brands, he’s looking to gain a lift in his share through promotional efforts and campaign messages that seek to undercut his competition more than tell us what he’s about.  We’ll soon see if Barack Obama will reveal his 2012 brand positioning at the Democratic National Convention in the same way Mitt Romney introduced us to Brand Mitt this past week. Watching the Republican National Convention, listening to the speeches, and reading the pundits, it’s clear that Mitt Romney has strategically crafted a brand that is based on his strengths as a businessman and a simple meaningful message – restoring our future.  And, although he acknowledged his support of some of the more controversial issues included in the Republican platform through a wink and a nod in his speech, he’s astutely avoided attaching his brand to them. The quick take-away:...

Millennials and Libertarian ideals

With the Presidential election fast approaching, politics have been top of mind for many of the Millennials we’ve been speaking to in the US through CultureQ.  In research last December, many started to express Libertarian-like ideals, mostly in response to SOPA, which had the potential to impinge upon their right to on-demand entertainment. Two thirds of registered Millennials backed President Barack Obama and his promise to deliver a “change we can believe in” in 2008. Yet, today, many of those same voters feel that while their candidate won, they have still lost. Current numbers show that less than half of younger voters plan to take part in the coming election compared to almost 70% for 2008. So where have all these Millennials gone? Sadly, a large segment likely will not vote, but many of the others have chosen a new standard bearer, the Libertarian Party. It’s not surprising, when you think about it. Libertarian ideals are perfect for Millennials; both groups favor open and transparent systems and feel that the government should not be involved with the minutiae of everyday life. Millennials, who have been empowered by technology since a young age and are entering the workforce during a prolonged downturn, feel that the political system is broken and needs to be fixed. Like Obama in 2008, Libertarians represent an anti-establishment movement.  They fit the bill many Millennials are seeking - they berate government intervention. Recently, there has been a surge in support among youth for Libertarian candidates, the highest profile being Representative Ron Paul of Texas. Many CultureQ participants qualitatively and quantitatively spoke about Paul.  And, despite him not...

Kony 2012! Move Me

KONY 2012 has moved me – 10 minutes into the video, www.kony2012.com I’d pledged some funds and forwarded the site to my database of friends.  I like to consider myself an ‘aware’ citizen and I’m familiar with Kony’s heinous crimes, but this video had me digging deeper and learning more. I can’t imagine that anyone in North America, at least, has been left untouched by now. The online movement moved into the mainstream press two nights ago and with this the scrutiny of the pundits as they take a magnifying glass to the purpose and tactics of Invisible Children and the video projecting its message.  In this ‘age of transparency’ nonprofits sit alongside private companies in their glass houses.  We expect full disclosure. This is a highly sensitive political issue and when lives are at stake it is critical to look at all sides.  I agree with much of what I’ve been reading.  Clearly this is a complicated situation, and perhaps some of the facts have been glossed over.  And yes corruption in the region adds huge complexities to handling the dismantling of Joseph Kony. Invisible Children can’t un-kidnap these children, breathe life back into their parents, de-maim them or give them back their childhoods. But they can bring light to a severe situation that is unknown to most; I am surprised by how few of my friends and colleagues were aware of this situation. I believe this movement is the type that can instill a passion in us.  That it can motivate us to use our voices to move governments to change a situation that does not have...
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