2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

2012: Looking forward … optimistically.

Many myths have circulated about this coming year – most stemming from the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica (Mayans were a tribe in this civilisation) predicting cataclysmic events on December 21st. As at the start of any year, we are seeing many more predictions – some frivolous and some hopeful – but a lot are gloomy and serious – from economic woe to further environmental damage.

The gloom will effect society in general and hurt billions individually. The start of 21st Century is literally seeing change happen – via the 24/7 connected world on a screen in their pocket, on their lap, on their desk, on the move…on…always on. The changes could be as fundamental as the Industrial Revolution but are happening incredibly fast and being unprecedentedly viewed in real time. The economic woes have trumped the environmental danger in the immediate turn – as the effects are still to hit, while people’s wealth-led expectancy is being threatened daily.

The economic cycle will turn and will get better. For some economies that will happen in 2012 and for others in a year or two. There will be winners & losers in economies that emerge stronger as well as those that slump. In business terms, this is already apparent with the shifts from West to East, from big to small, from company to consumer, from mass to value.

Companies that act to recognise these shifts by experimenting with new business models, with an outside-in view of the company’s offers via innovation, honesty and awareness of the effect on their communities will survive and maybe even thrive. Those who cling on to outdated models – chasing shareholder profit programs, cutting for the sake of promises for quarterly meetings, fixating on competition before customers – will be left behind.

Brand can be a positive asset for all companies – it can be a central pillar of support to staff and customers, representing the emotional truth of a company’s offer – whether a service or product, whether local, National or International. The traits of a 21st Century brand demand a dialogue with customers, ensuring the offer is useful and open. Those companies that use their brand successfully to meet the challenges facing their customers will likely overcome the challenges they themselves face. These companies already understand the value of Conscious Commerce and will extend this further in 2012. These brands are positive and optimistic for the future. And for some massive multinationals and emerging markets, this will not only affect the economic challenges they will also begin to address the environmental and societal challenges positively.

Therefore on December 22nd, 2012 – a potentially massive “morning after the night before” – I’d love to look back and see the following successes… my personal brand led predictions I guess

  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living takes off – their goals are commendable
  • London 2012 Games are a huge success and the Legacy kicks in – living up to the brand promise…
  • BRIC growth continues and we see true global brands emerge from the emerging markets (Tata is a good start)
  • The UK’s biggest misfiring brand – the NHS – reasserts a central core value of care rather than one for performance

And of course that there is a morning on December 22nd….

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Business to Business (B2B) and Service Brands have long needed brand thinking that is different to the Mad Men inspired thinking that broadcast messages to consumers and relentlessly defended the positioning against competition. Customers and Users have moved on. Services and products cannot be based on a transactional basis alone because customers demand more understanding of their own “unique” needs.

Customers are complex and demanding of experiences that are rewarding – not just for themselves and their own company and customers, but for the communities they exist in. The bigger companies exist in communities that can be better named as society and the Multinational’s community impacts on the environment, mankind and future generations – think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living program or Bono’s Product (Red) or the Microsoft’s legacy work of the Gates Foundation. Sustainability is now a core tenet of 21st Century growth and companies on both sides of the B2B equation know this. Soon Procurement will look not simply for lowest cost tenders but how future offsetting on sustainability policies are incorporated. Carbon trading is becoming regulated by the governments and will soon be a mandatory prerequisite in many big tenders.

Great B2B marketers know the value of Partnerships and that by innovating new products and services via partnership can mean that Enterprises can shape and test new business models – but also that they will see new revenue streams to lift their old models.

Understanding the wider benefits for the customers’ communities and using new partners & business models to grow will add value to the company’s offer by adding an enhanced benefit to the customers (& their own customers & staff). Another tenet for the 21st Century is speed. Expectation for improvements, for new, for understanding or for better…all to be delivered at faster speed. For some more traditional companies this is harder to achieve than for some newer tech enabled successes. Companies that may suffer from “Silo Slowness” will need help in change & marketers can help bring this need for speed to fruition by bringing more business creativity initiatives into the organisation’s processes.

Marketing in a B2B environment has never really been a pure communications role – the organisation has traditionally been geared up for service – so an understanding of the customer journey (or their customer’s customer journeys) is already part of successful B2B companies. Marketing must be relentless in understanding customer’s needs – not what they were but what they are & importantly will be – not just insight but foresight.

As marketers, their roles are complex and can be a mix of investigator, integrator, innovator and instigator. B2B marketers have to help bring a company’s focus to customers future needs – and today that can mean being useful & optimistic.

In order to connect to their customers they must be useful – consumer marketing is many ways are still learning this. Engaging customers is not simply a good story well told. Mad Men thinking is fast being left behind. Indeed B2B never needed Brand to mean advertising campaigns or corporate logo – they needed brand to rally the staff and the service around a customer’s needs. Cisco and Oracle are fundamentally benefit driven. Brand as communication was termed tactics not strategic – strategic brand thinking centred on R&D for their customers. Today’s economic woes mean the inertia many companies are struggling with needs marketers to look positively into the near future and identify some quick opportunities and highlight possible actions that can lead to grab them.

Where B2B marketers can struggle is when the organisation is geared in delivering products or services that are complex – in the building of the product, in the testing, in describing or in their delivery/installation. Such companies can consider they’re a specialist and will be run by engineers or technical experts who have grown up with the company or the category. These leaders will understand the complexities of the offer/service and develop it incrementally year after year. Innovation may well be inherent inside the culture (as they are always seeking improvements) but this innovation will be familiar rather than surprising. Incremental sales and efficiency are valued and expected. In such companies, Sales and Marketing often work as a service to the engineers and developers. Country & category operations run the same way. Customer service will be ensuring products/services work as promised and lessons learned are shared back to organisations sporadically. These leaders believe marketing as a support function should deliver 20th Century branding.

Marketing can still be useful – but needs to be heard. This can mean being challenging and even disruptive – but from a need for change perspective, engaging cross discipline teams on new initiatives, on creating a few, small actions that are future facing, the results of marketing’s voice may rise.

Without an effective voice from marketers, B2B companies can over focus on their product features and then attack with pricing tactics vs. competition, and not the benefit experiences their products and services deliver to their customers. Benefit driven pricing can be higher if they are clearly valued. Cost optimisation comes to the fore, everything is shaved & discounting can become a primary sales strategy, and they have to price their products like a commodity.

B2B marketers can succeed & own the new brand thinking by

  • Great insights and foresight on the customer’s needs
  • Innovating partnerships for new business models (& new revenue)
  • Drive value via the benefits for customers vs. simply delivering best competitive pricing
  • Seeding the internal story around the brand so building the value to customers communities

In the face of difficult times, practical actions can inspire.

In the face of difficult times, practical actions can inspire.

My friend Noel Penrose shared with me some thoughts, articles and advice that he put together to help ground his sons who are at University and face an uncertain future according to the media-driven gloom merchants.
The notes are optimistic, practical, pragmatic, useful and bristling with suggested actions. Noel makes references to many inspiring people from Martin Luther King to Bill Gates. The most inspiring person of all is Nick Vujicic – “Get Back Up”.

Noel’s advice to his boys is just the kind of advice most companies and most brands need to thrive and survive in the 21st Century. By taking actions that are achievable, short term, testable and positive, brands can build towards providing meaningful experiences for consumers. At the same time, brands have to operate under developing needs for societal sustainability via conscious commerce business models such as that led by Unilever’s Paul Polman.

Noel seeks to inspire his family and community.

Paul seeks to inspire his near 200,000 staff and 2 Billion customers.

Conscious Commerce & Brand Choice: preference will be for the future rather than a habit of the past.

Conscious Commerce & Brand Choice: preference will be for the future rather than a habit of the past.

A very good debate run by Unilever and Guardian Sustainable Business today asking a panel of experts  how to close the gap between concern and action – the panel was made up of Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, the CEO of Havas, David Jones, Tensie Whelan the President of the Rainforest Alliance and Malini Mehra CEO of the Centre for Social Markets.

Unilever is taking a bold leadership role with their Sustainable Living programme – in which they are changing their business model towards conscious commerce. The debate was inspiring and a the tone positive and optimistic.

The debate looked at the cooperation needed between business, individuals and government in order to grasp the nettle to change the way the world behaves to match the growing attitude of concern for the planet and our future. Interestingly, the positive tone was in the absence of government in the debate.

Some nuggets stuck in my mind after watching

  • David Jones calling Unilever’s Paul Polman, a pioneer of green blooded capitalism
  • The different attitude of growing up in the West top “have more” vs in emerging markets “to be more”
  • For companies to offer consumers choice based on their values rather than simply shareholder value
  • Politicians could (but won’t) legislate for the future as their electoral terms are short term – much like companies who only focus on their shareholders are focussed on quarterly performance not future effect
  • Brands remain important tools for future consumption, but the offers they make and provide (or those that their holding company do) must give back to the wider community
  • That the younger generation – because of digital connections of social media, are the most knowledgeable, most powerful and most responsible of all time
  • But the future will be changed via inter-generational cooperation as well as the axis of conscious commerce being the preferred choice
  • Small actions, long term outcomes – Don’t stay in the sidelines, it comes down to people making small actions to make a difference

Really worth catching up on the discussion on the Guardian sustainability site or follow #sustliving on twitter

Unilever Global CEO Paul Polman: The agenda of 21st Century Business model

Unilever Global CEO Paul Polman: The agenda of 21st Century Business model

Really powerful talk by Paul Polman to the Annual One Young World Summit about sustainability and the challenges this raises. He is clear of the role of business and the role of brand in 21st Century.

He says, as boss of this massive global firm (170,000 staff, 2 Billion consumers in 150+ countries) , he is not accountable to shareholders. He is not driven by simply raising profits and cutting costs.

He is accountable to his consumers, his staff and to their communities. Accountable to the sustainability of the world. For companies such as his, he wants them to stop using technology to reduce the negative impact on communities and move Unilever to actively making a positive contribution to society,

Unilver wants to grow of course, but Paul says he wants to decouple growth form the environmental impact on the world. Unilver wants to actively improve the health and wellbeing of 1 Billion consumers.

He says the world needs leadership but says he serves his company not leads it. He is a leader and one that inspires. Well worth a look, but more importantly, well worth learning from…is your brand giving back?