Archive for September, 2009

I’m a marketing leper

Ironically, Marketing has a brand image problem.

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I notice a growing tendency for people to associate Marketing with negative traits.  In group discussion on the clean energy market, I talked about how to discover people’s emotional motivators and appeal to them.  Response: “we don’t want to manipulate people.”

Introducing oneself as a marketer, especially among the social entrepreneurship and green crowd, is starting to feel like notifying new neighbors of a sex offense conviction.   Watch out marketers, we may soon be required to shout “Unclean” as we walk into Whole Foods.  Politically astute CMO’s are even renaming themselves to avoid being seen as Chief Misappropriation Offender.  The trend seems to be toward Chief Commercial Officer.  Sounds like someone who generates revenue and profit.

The marketing community needs to build a better brand.  Unfortunate associations:  profligate spending, lack of accountability, shrill tactics (The Most Amazing Sale Ever, Until Tomorrow’s Even More Awesome One), deception (insider product endorsements in social media, anyone?).

As I often say, a brand’s image will, over time, converge with what is true.  So maybe we have a problem with the reality of what we’re doing, and need to change that truth in order to earn more brand value for Marketing.

Here is what I will do to help:
1) root all marketing plans in business objectives;
2) track the correlation between brand health and profit health in core metrics;
3) replace “we don’t have enough money,” with “here is our plan, within budget…here is an alternative which improves the probability of success by X%…it requires $Y additional funding;”
4) sincerely seek input from peer functions;
5) demonstrate skill and excellence in execution;
6) accept the same accountability as Sales for results.

How about you?

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Is “Sustainability” sustainable?

Words like Green and Sustainability have undergone rapid transformation.  They have moved quickly from being signals of leadership to wallpaper – labels for any form of goodness, nearly bereft of meaning.  The leaders in corporate good have become the victims of fast followers who label anything beneficial with the same terms, confusing stakeholders, and neutering others’ legitimate claims.  Here is Seth Godin talking on Ad Age about the insincerity of green marketing (ff to 3:20 if you want to abbreviate), and the promise of the few authentic efforts:

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The terms themselves are challenging to interpret.  Green:  this is a color.  Since it is the color of trees, this word has been co-opted to signal anything that is a boon to flora.  So, if a company turns off the lights at night — which saves electricity, which reduces the emissions of coal-fired power plants, which reduces greenhouse gasses, which reduces global warming, which reduces catastrophic weather shifts, which reduces desertification, which preserves green plants – they put a “Green” claim on their packaging.  The company might be the most water wasting, truck driving, forest paving in its industry, but turning off the lights allows them to claim Green.  And Green has been stretched further, to encompass anything that benefits the natural world, whatever its color.

More difficult to digest is Sustainability.  The word sustainable indicates that something can last a long time.  So when companies claim to be leaders in Sustainability, does this mean they lead in making things last forever?  In fairness, I think this is generally what people are claiming:  “our sustainability practices ensure that the resources we and our customers use do not become depleted.”  But it is an unwieldy word, being used in an unfamiliar way.  And again, people are pitching the Sustainability tent over anything beneficial.  I think a Samuel Johnson is apt:  “he who praises everyone praises no one.”  If everything is sustainable and green, then nothing is.

I’d love to see two things:  1) consensus definitions of terms, with criteria for use of those terms (see earlier post on Burt’s Bees and Natural); and 2) better terms, where the meaning is plain.  Here is my simplistic proposal.  “Responsibility” can label a broad set of beneficial things impacting society, the human condition, the environment.  “Stewardship” can be used to label efforts to take good care of things that don’t belong to us (generally, the natural environment).    Stewardship would be a subset of Responsibility.  I.e.,  “Hi, I’m Nicole.  I work in the Responsibility office of Toyota.  I’m in charge of Stewardship, so I work closely with our electric car effort.”

So, how to set and uphold standards?  Not easy.  Perhaps the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen could take this up as a side item.  A quorum of government and industry representatives could review and endorse proposals for definition of terms, and standards for these terms.  Ideally, they would also endorse a small number of  logo programs designed to uphold these standards (see http://ecolabelling.org/ for 300 logos currently available…ugh).  One of the most promising of these is the B (for beneficial) Corporation certification:  highly rigorous standards and audits applying best practices from many sources.

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Organizations abiding by the rules of such programs may use the logos, and would pay a nominal amount to fund an administration and promotional efforts.  To give weight to the UN’s endorsement, they should award the winning programs a few million dollars to help them generate market traction.  Why would the vaunted UNFCCC care about something as crass as a marketing/logo program?  Eventually, market forces may sort out these standards, since the consumer is willing to reward social and eco goodness.  But a program of this sort will accelerate the process by making it easier for consumers to sort the wheat from the chaff.  Consumers will send resources to the most eco-friendly businesses, which benefits the environment, etc…reducing reliance on elusive global consensus in emissions policy.

Disc golf

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I shared with a new acquaintance that I had taken up disc golf.  His response: “Isn’t that a stoner sport?”  Well!  I admit that a couple of 11-year-olds and I had some discomfort with a gentleman of about 50, as he held forth on the merits of various Chapel Hill disc golf courses, while holding forth a beer, at 8:45 AM.  But c’mon, he wasn’t stoned.

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I suppose it’s appropriate to denigrate sports associated with controlled substances.  You know this rogues’ gallery:  skateboarding, snowboarding, weekend (ball) golf, fishing, Olympic swimming…nothin’ but stoners.  I’m much more comfortable with the nobler sports:  American football, global football, cycling, baseball…you know, the ones where the drugs are a lot more genteel.

Apart from the mind expansion benefits, here is what I like about this game.  1) You can play 18 in under an hour if you hustle (30 min for speed golf), 2) woods are cool in summer,

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3) it is cheap (even if you throw over the big pond before you’re ready, it’s only $8 for a new Boss driver),  4) cool names for throws: Hyzer, Anhyzer, Tomahawk, Roller, Thumber, Scooby, 5) kids and spouses can play together happily, 6) you can develop mad skills if you try, 7) there is a disc designed for every permutation of wind, skill, distance, and flight path…with cool Dungeons & Dragons names like Wraith, Banshee, Beast, and Valkyrie.

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Truthfully, my version of the game does involve a lot of weed.  Like Poison Ivy.  The closest course is loaded with it — good motivation to stay on the three foot “fairway” path through the woods.  But much like ball golf, one great shot will bring you back.  I threw a thumber around a tree with a Classic Roc 172 the other day and janked it.  I was stoked.

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Update:  The course right next to my neighborhood has taken care of the Poison Ivy — with goats, of course.  In Chapel Hill, one can apparently procure the services of a hungry tribe of goats, with a fondness for unwanted plants (yeah, I looked up the word for a gaggle of goats).  Since Poison Ivy literally requires medical intervention for me, I am much impressed with this trip (another word for a group of goats).