When the business pages make no sense, it's time to turn to a philosopher. I recently returned to the HBR articles of Charles Handy, vicar's son-turned-oilman-turned-business-school-professor-turned philosopher, who has raised many questions and made many accurate prognostications about the future of business. Consider what he said, post-Enron, about the erosion of trust.
The corporation is very good at problem solving. Next to getting things done, this is what it does best. The trouble is the problems are getting tougher.
According to Giving USA Foundation chair Edith H. Falk, “In addition to support from individuals and foundations, some nonprofits received exceptional support from the corporate sector, which included billions of dollars’ worth of in-kind donations, particularly from information technology firms and pharmaceutical manufacturers.” This is great news, of course. But, do you have to be a big corporation to do good? From cause marketing, to grants, to buying tables at fund-raising events, businesses of all types are flying their corporate social responsibility flags by investing in their communities. And why?
P&G's new Pampers Dry Max diapers are under siege from a grassroots social media campaign accusing the product of causing chemical burns. Two class action lawsuits have been filed in Ohio. The company has denied all claims, both legal and anecdotal. The marketing trades are covering it as an emerging case for "the power of the democratized web" and I'm sure it'll appear in every digital marketing agency pitch that gets peddled this summer. I wonder if it isn't an example of the madness of crowds...both those running corporations and incensed consumers.
So you've got an elevator pitch — a short, pithy description of why your business is special, exciting, and unique. Yawn. Today, elevator pitches are the economic equivalent of speeches at a beauty pageant: predictable, often vapid, always bland. Here's a suggestion. Try a Dumbwaiter Pitch instead. It's an exercise I often do with startups, giant corporations, social entrepreneurs, and investors. Its goal? To strip an organization right down to its bones, and see how compelling it really is.
Visitors touring the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas are greeted noisily. Staffers blow horns and ring cowbells to bid them welcome. This sort of thing puts my teeth on edge. Call me a grinch. Call me a humorless, life-hating, stick in the mud, but commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong. I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation.
A mountaintop video posted on YouTube offers a panoramic vista of Haitian capital Port-Au-Prince moments after the category 7 earthquake struck Tuesday. Instead of the city, however, one sees only a blanket of white smoke as if a thick fog had descended upon the valley in which rests the poorest capital of the poorest city in the Western Hemisphere. A person holding the camera mutters: "It's the end of the world." In Haiti, such a comment would apply even without an earthquake. Said Tracy Reines, director of response operations for the American Red Cross (ARC) in a video the organization posted to YouTube yesterday: "People in Haiti are used to hurricanes, landslides and civil unrest. But this place doesn't get earthquakes." The ARC and organizations like Oxfam, CARE, and World Vision, along with several corporations, are helping.
Any corporation can be forgiven being a little anxious these days. Everyone's confidence is being tested. I interviewed Debbie Millman over the weekend, and she helped me see an unexpected connection between this confidence and the brand. When the corporation loses it's nerve, it ceases to take chances. It begins to white-knuckle its way through the world. It begins to lean towards stasis. The consumer may too.
Technology has united our professional and personal identities into one. You are no longer just the financial analyst, doctor, lawyer or “social media guru” during work hours. People all around you, sitting in cubicles, in offices and even the secretary can find out more personal information about you, with a single search in Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is no hiding anymore and our identities will fuse even more in the future, as we use social technologies more and more during work. Of course companies have concerns with how employees behave on the internet because it’s a reflection of their brand, as well as the employees. Smart companies understand that their employees are their greatest asset and they can harness their networks, which are visible online, to help support their initiatives.
David Weinberger tells the story of Jake McKee, the man who taught Lego how to have a conversation with its consumer. It turns out McKee supplied a crucial piece of Lego's cultural intelligence.
There are two kinds of brand: national and niche. National brands are their own planets. They have the incumbent's advantage, channel control, big reputations, deep pockets, and, if they're lucky, consumer loyalty.