Thursday, December 11, 2003

Brand Social Responsibility - BSR

Talking to my good friend Tim Wilson last night about product tracebility and the fiasco of current labelling practice, he made the very valid point that Corporate Social Responsibility if largely an irrelevance for stakeholders.

His point is simple. Corporate action is too fuzzy and too mired in regulation to be truly accountable, auditable. Attempts by human beings to drive a CSR response from corporations can only ever be weakly effective.

Product Social Responsibility (PSR) on the other hand, is actionable for both sides and offers a clear source of differentiation for companies which can embed ethical value into their product. Witness organics, fair trade etc.

I only add to his insight to say that BSR, or brand social responsibility is the real opportunity. Organisations have legal duties. It is brands, whether product or corporate which carry ethical promises and implications and thereby acquire responsibility.

The 21st century challenge is not merely for Coca Cola Company to address its CSR duties, which are ultimately compliance and reporting-driven but for 'Coke' to shape its emotional and ethical context and cultivate value exchanges which are consistent with its sphere and scope of adress it's Corporate Marketing to all its brand customers - each and every stakeholder.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A New Wind

'Song of a man who has come through'

"Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If I only let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-shaped blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blow,
The rock will split, and we shall come to wonder, we shall find the Hesperides"

DH Lawrence on mutualism - or something similar.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

From 'beyond branding'

Copied across from the Beyond Branding site where we're promoting our humanitarian book, a gratuitous rant in the name of humanity...

I have ranted on the fragility of human connection elsewhere of course, but I can't resist another nag at the superficiality and human emptiness of branding...

If organisations are to try and fulfil our manifest desire for human authenticity, they will need to focus on at least one of the following:

1. A Human Offer: think Alcoholics Anonymous or Samaritans, or South-West airlines in the US. Brands that are focused here promise a human experience at the heart of the brand. Not something anthropomorphic. Not a metaphor. Not a bloody ad campaign like kit-kat!

Love is indeed the killer app', but this is not about being a prostitutional 'lustmark' in Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts Lovemark™ terms. This is real people delivering real personal value to other people.

The trouble with embarking upon true intimacy is that emotional connection is very, very difficult to mass produce.

For every person for whom the brand works, there will be dozens for whom it doesn't. You can only 'love' a limited number of people, because love demands attention, and action and reciprocation. Brands which aspire to make human connections face a constant challenge not to let process and a misguided desire for consistency get in the way of selective human connections of genuine quality.

2. A Human or Humane Implication: think Innocent drinks, or Pret a Manger in the UK . This is where the the bulk of advertising fakery is presently focused. Brands that work well here tell a clear and compelling story about their (purported) heritage, or imply an engaging and inspiring vision of the people behind the brand.

Personality-led brands like Ted Baker or Paul Smith or Versace address this need. Very often these are Zeitgeist brands, emerging through a powerful human insight at one point in time. However a human implication is only sustainable if it's true! Often these brands fail to survive, because they confuse the pizazz offering with the underlying human need.

Will Innocent or Pret still be here in 20 years? The jury is out. I hope they're banking the cash right now.

3. A Human relationship Intention: think personal services, like TenUK or private school brands like Eton, or business schools like Harvard, or community brands like the Labour party in the UK, or monastic or religious orders.

Brands that live here began, way back when, with a ground-breaking relationship model, often offering simplicity, affection, communitarianism or humour as a core value. They intend to build a sustained and responsive human relationship over time.

They are challenged by a need for continual innovation in response to shifting needs. Exceptional service is only exceptional once and the attitudes and honesty which are demanded of relationship brands are under constant and justified scrutiny. These are low-tolerance and perversely individualistic brands.

4. A Humane brand Motivation: think Body Shop or Ben & Jerry's, or Patagonia.

Brands that grow up here bring with a clear and humane point of view. They wear their values on their sleeve and stand by the consequences, even if it means less profit. (And yes. Sometimes, despite all the sustainability rhetoric, having a conscience does mean making less money for shareholders, certainly over a short timeframe.)

Delivering here is toughest of all; it demands authenticity of treatment of of all stakeholders. The trouble with passion is - it's difficult to sustain. Humane motivation is difficult to discover, almost impossible to communicate, virtually unprovable and liable to lead to constant argument.

Brands that wish to live here need complete openness; total honesty and a heavy dose of humility. Their CRM strategies must be 'for better for worse', and are probably only sustainable for businesses like the Co-operative bank...whose stakeholders are sufficicently 'attuned' (not aligned - heaven forfend) to mandate ethical action.

Whichever of these human axes an organisation intends to focus on, it must be credible on other dimensions too. Hyper-sensitive stakeholders, with different, ableit momentary demands are willing to dismiss them at any point. It can expect to be exposed and attacked on all dimensions. Most importantly, it must deliver on its specific human promises and on the expectations that accompany those promises. Only by matching needs and constantly delivering on those needs; by learning and being seen to learn, can an organisation build respectful relationships.

This learning process creates the fifth brand requirement in the relationship age:

5. A human Interaction: Think here of brands like e-Bay or Epinions or Zagats guides or Moveable Type, the blogging engine, where the product is actually created by the interactions of the community. To a greater of lesser degree, for these businesses, the process IS the product.

The means by which these 'mutualist' brands engage must be free of fakery and exploitation. Ideally, they will simply facilitate latent desire for dialogue and liberate word of mouth enthusiasm.

So this Humanisation stuff is really, really hard...

For all organisations, even those that feel they are functional or values-free - (and by implication that their stakeholders are also values free!), the pressure to 'fess up on all these dimensions is significant.

As deferential trust inevitably and thankfully erodes, it must be replaced by respect. Both self-respect, and respect for others.

Forget content; focus on connection. Forget knowledge; focus on learning.

Rant over. I feel so much better now.

Monday, October 20, 2003

A site is born...The Mutualist Manifesto

We come to a crossroads forced upon me by the (self-imposed) need to write another book.

I want this 'steal this brand' site to focus on the radical and the personal, becoming less and less accessible and if it ever was.

This 'stb' site will be dedicated to my role as a citizen and a demanding stakeholder in the world. It may occasionally conflict with my entries as a businessperson here:

However, the much larger, constructive and structured side of my personality will migrate here...

"The Mutualist Manifesto"

Here I will be co-writing my next book with John Moore, establishing a set of guidelines for constructive stakeholder engagement in an age of mutualism...and collaboratively writing our book in real time, as a learning exercise with our it an experiment in mutualism!

PS. Just a few book references there at present as I wade through my library. But keep checking in as I build out the chapter heads, mutualist case studies...and chapter drafts

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Everything in Moderation

Had a browsing day today. Been here, there and virtually everywhere.

Best discovery was a 'Moderation' site by Tom Coates, author of

Tom is converned to structure communities which can mediate and moderate the passions of their people.

Everything in Moderation: Creative ways to manage online communities

In a world of unrequited mutualism, I think 'moderation' is pretty much what brands should be focused on...guiding the exchange of values...

Monday, October 13, 2003

A Mutualist Manifesto?

Modern society, with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property - a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange - is like the sorceror, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world, whom he has called up by his spells.

In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but of all the previously created productive forces - are periodically destroyed.

In these crises there breaks out a social epidemic that in all earlier epochs would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic of over-production.

Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism.

The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of civilisation, and the conditions of property; On the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions by which they are fettered.

And how do we get over these crises? On the one hand by the forced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by the conquest of new markets and by the more thorough exploitation of old ones.

That is to paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises - and diminishing the means by which crises are prevented.

However, in future...

In proportion, as the exploitation of one individual by another is put and end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to.

We shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

These intriguing words were written in February 1848, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in an influential little thought-piece: 'The Communist Manifesto'.

Many of the symptoms, or certainly the frustrations, persist, or have even accelerated. Marx and Engels certainly could never have foresawn how the information age would accelerate this destruction of capacity - nor how rapidly the transference of wealth to the new elite would proceed.

However, the prevailing diagnosis and prognosis have, thankfully, changed out of all character. According to Francis Fukuyama, the battle of ideology has been won. Liberal economics and democracy have triumphed. All that remains is to win the battle for social capital - the cohesion of the human species.

I am not so sure.

Facing a future imperilled by endemic exploitation and a shortage of fundamental life-giving resources, it seems very possible that widespread insurrection will indeed come again to the fore within our lifetime...

Individual responsibility, social capital, economic sustainability and environmental stewardship seem so inextricably linked to me, that the only possibility for the avoidance self-destruction must come from a deep, ubiquitous, and personal recognition of our global citizenship and our shared humanity, devoid of religious or cultural contamination.

Perhaps, one hundred and fity years on from Marx and Engels, during which time we have directly altered 47% of the planet's surface in the name of first world progress, a new more enlightened prescription is required...

...perhaps a Mutualist Manifesto?

Ours sincerely


NB I've deleted the word original 'Bourgeois' from the communist narrative 4 times, because I hate to endorse cosmetics brands...