Month: February 2013

CSR has failed. Now what?

That’s the question being asked by Wayne Visser in this thoughtful and searching paper that raises significant concerns about how companies pursue responsible ideas. But, alongside those areas that he has identified as needing to be addressed, Visser proposes his vision of CSR 2.0. I was keen to explore what some of the ideas mooted here might mean for brand behaviours going forward. First – a brief recap of Visser’s argument. If you define CSR as “an integrated, systemic approach by business that builds, rather than erodes or destroys, economic, social, human and natural capital”, then we have no choice, says Visser, than to mark CSR as a fail because communities and ecosystems are getting worse. While at the micro level there have been improvements, at the macro level, social, environmental and ethical health is in decline. And that’s because most sustainability and corporate responsibility programs are really about being less bad in pockets than actively good across the board. CSR, he says, transits through five Ages: 1. Greed – limited corporate sustainability and responsibility …

9 things you should know about branded language

1. Language is one of the most important definers of any brand. The language you choose, the language you don’t choose and the language you choose to replace are a reflection, and in some senses a definition, of your priorities. 2. Language underpins perspective: it not only reveals how an organisation feels about a matter, it also signals how that organisation might be expected to approach and resolve that matter in the future. 3. Language defines relationships. Your tone reflects how at ease you feel in your own brand skin. Formal brands use formal language, and that formality rubs off into their dealings. Relaxed brands use more informal, chatty language and help their customers feel at ease. If your tone and manner don’t reflect your values and your personality, your communications will always feel awkward. 4. Language is instinctual. You may need rules to start with – but in time you should know whether a communication is “on brand” or not from how it feels. The best brands have language that goes without saying. It …

What have you never questioned?

Every business has loops. Some are driven by fear, some by tradition, some by distraction, some by lack of awareness or industry convention. Everyone says they’re looking for “competitive difference” – but then, in the race to get it right, they copy each other’s ideas, they mimic each other’s thinking, they catch up with each other’s formulas, they pile onto Facebook alongside everyone else. Sometime later they wonder why their sector seems so much more competitive. Why wouldn’t it be? As conformity grinds down diversity, there are more and more companies in every sector but less and less real choices for customers. The irony of loops is that the more people behave in the same way, the more assured they feel and the less distinctive they become. People too get used to thinking certain ways, doing certain things. And slowly, inevitably, workplaces get into loops as cultures become set in their ways. They talk themselves into believing that the best way to make their loop competitive is to leave it as is but to make …

The new traceability

Affordable “beef” that’s actually made of horse. Professional athletes who haven’t won what they’ve won legally. Acclaimed investors who turn out to be running Ponzi schemes … The great threat to claiming achievements going forward isn’t credibility. It’s incredulity. It’s disbelief that what one sees, that what has apparently happened, is true. It’s nagging scepticism on the part of investors and customers that the extraordinary must somehow have been artificially, or illegally, manufactured. Such an atmosphere has enormous repercussions for brands, because of course brands generate much if not all of their value through trust. Evaporation of that trust creates two dangers. Brands either stop trying to be remarkable. Or they try too hard. They commoditise. Or they cheat. Either way, eventually they lose. Such doubt also changes the rules for what companies need to communicate. Specifically, it suggests a shift in how companies and brands explain. There is little point now in announcing that you have pulled off the impossible (unless, as in the case of Felix Baumgartner, the  impossible can be clearly witnessed). …

Every pitch is a story

The purpose of a pitch is not to sell what you do. It’s to explain in the clearest terms why someone should look forward to doing business with you. Don’t pitch to your prospect’s greatest wish. They already know that. Pitch to their greatest fear. Tell them the story of how you will help them overcome the risks they face to emerge triumphant. If you haven’t already done so, watch Nancy Duarte’s inspiring TED speech about how to structure a great presentation. As she says, every great presentation needs a combination of facts, insights and story. A pitch presentation, and indeed a pitch document, are no exceptions. To paraphrase Nancy, a pitch is your opportunity to change your own world by changing someone else’s. If you don’t want to follow Nancy’s great structure, try the Pixar story approach: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. Or take a leaf out of Get Them to See It Your Way, …

What do you have: a brand or an identifier?

Contention #1. A true brand coalesces people around a business model – to buy, to work, to judge, to invest. True, it is, as Adrienne used to say, “the total experience of doing business with you”. But the experience is not the end – it is the means. The experience, just like all the other elements of the business model, works to generate trust, connection and distinction. It must do so deliberately, carefully and responsibly. It does so to deliver a premium. Brands exist to earn margin beyond the going market rate. That’s their role, not their by-product. That margin can of course take various forms. It can be literal, in the sense of what consumers are prepared to pay. It can be cultural, in the sense that people with more talent are drawn to one marque over another. It can be financial, in the sense of enhanced EPS (earnings per share) for investors. A brand that doesn’t generate, or intend to generate, that above-normal market rate is a brand in decline or no brand …

How do you write a great purpose?

A sizzling purpose sets out how a company intends to change the world for the better. Its role is to unite customers and culture alike in the pursuit of that intention. It’s a statement of belief, of hope, of pursuit. It’s born of a wish to see the world put to rights. Having fielded a number of enquiries this week about how to develop a purpose, I thought I’d share how I approach such a critically important task. First and foremost, a purpose should never be developed in isolation. This affects your entire organisation. It should involve the senior leadership team to start with, and then be socialised for discussion. The discussion itself shouldn’t revolve around the words (because that quickly becomes semantic nit-picking). It should focus on the passion, on the biggest belief you share and on the implications of holding that belief for everything you do. Start with the greatest good Don’t tell your people and customers about what you want to see change in the business. State what you fundamentally believe must …

30 things likeable brands do

30 things likeable brands do

Being likeable is not about being liked by everyone. Likeable brands actually need to be very clear about who likes them and why and how they need to behave in order to continue to appeal to their community. 10 ways to build a truly likeable brand states the principles of likeability and is one of my most popular posts. As a companion piece, here’s my 30 point action list on how brands should systematically accumulate likeability. Order can vary.