Category Archives: marketing strategy

Coming Together Over Free Coffee: A Starbucks Political Statement and Marketing Magic


 

politics_in_the_workplace_coffee_mugs_donkey_elephant_Republican_Democrat

The U.S. political environment is pretty bound up these days with the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, etc.  All the CNN and MSNBC addicts among my readers (I imagine quite a few) are likely well aware.  If you look to your Facebook and Twitter feeds you will likely see lots of griping and general dissatisfaction with the inability of our government to be able to work together as a team to solve our financial problems in an effective manner.

How do you get politicians to play nice?  If you watch political dramas on TV (aside from the aforementioned “non fiction” news channels)  like House Of Cards on Netflix then it might seem counter-intuitive and darn near impossible.  But Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz would like to think that we can all get along and encourage collaboration – ease the bind in our governments bowels by lubricating the works with a steaming hot cup of coffee!  In that spirit, there is lots of “free marketing buzz” around the  Starbucks free brewed coffee promotion  being activated this week at Starbuck’s nationwide.

The concept:  today through Friday if you buy a cup of coffee for a friend or coworker you get one free.   The political message Starbucks is serving up:  let citizens lead by example by demonstrating a spirit of generosity, togetherness and collaboration.   Obviously more of a marketing ploy to tap in to the political sensibility of those first-worlders with enough taxable income to be concerned about the debt crisis (and spend several dollars a day on coffee) than an effective political activism tactic – but it leverages a warm fuzzy social fact that connects well with the brand – the idea of coffee as a social lubricant in America.

I applaud Starbucks for being so intuitive with their brand strategy in that regard.   Just like tea in Great Britain (and Asia for that matter), cigarettes in China (among only-child teens and twenty-somethings  who seek to make friends by sharing smokes) and other forms of social bonding over consumables – Coffee in the US represents the spirit of community.  It’s why Starbucks was able to so successfully launch a “third space” coffee house chain whereby people can find another place to be and hangout over hat’s not their office or a bar but still offers a stimulating incentive to get together.  The coffee house trend became popular during the Beat era in the US and saw a resurgence during the 90′s.   This was reflected in popular culture with TV shows like Friends  where the cast of New Yorker characters would regularly meet at the “Central Perk” coffee house to catch up and bond over life’s big and little situations.  :)

It’s a far cry to think that congress can solve the world’s problems by integrating some slow-drinking caffeine and cozy couches into their collaboration process. Methinks a bottle of Jack Daniels would go a little further, but I digress.

In any case – this narcissistic anthropologist can appreciate some good strategy – albeit a bit transparent – when she sees it.  I raise my cup of Joe to the marketers who can find ways to make political statements while also making money.

 

Brands Taking Responsibilty For Inspiring Social Change: Dove’s “Real Beauty” Sketches as a Dialogue-Starter


In today’s consumer culture driven world – especially here in the United States, brands are starting to become a required participant, if not leader, of conversations about social change.   It’ s part of a macro trend related to empowered consumerism and the shifting balance of power between civil society, government and corporations.  Specifically, government is becoming less and less the dominant force behind social change as civil society begins using their economic influence to encourage corporations (who rely on them to sustain their business) to use the power of their global marketing reach to make a difference.

The challenge for corporations (and brands in particular) is finding that social issue or cause that is relevant and credible and participating in a meaningful way.  This has actually become its own industry – but that’s a conversation for another day.

I have observed, in my study of consumer culture, the burden of the backlash for many of these corporations and brands.  On the one hand, you see a lot of big players  who try to do the right thing but then get dinged for “creating the problem” in the first place. It’s a “between a rock and a hard place” situation for many of these brands.  Coca- Cola is one example of a company / brand in the hot seat, which I  blogged about when they launched their campaign to help combat the growing obesity problem.

Today’s example, however, comes from some work I am dong with a global panel of Cultural Creatives.  When asked about brands they have affinity for, one participant in the dialogue talked about her “love / hate” relationship with the Dove Real Beauty campaign, and their latest Real Beauty Sketches (see below)

The issue is that, while many people find fault with the fact that none of the women are “traditionally” unattractive and they are mostly Caucasian, the work still sparks a conversation – and it’s the social conversation that is most important.  In this case, the dialogue is about how our perceptions of our own physical beauty are often a reflection of unnecessary insecurities put upon us by “others” as a result of media or other “smoke and mirrors” influences – and that these detrimental self perceptions can have a negative impact on how we interact with the world.

So, kudos to Dove and any other brand that takes a risk by starting a controversial conversation, because culture only changes when we test our boundaries encourage people to react.   A little bit of context shift goes a long way.

Culture Trumps Strategy


I was recently interviewed by a gentleman named Francois Gossieaux, co-author of The Hyper-Social Organization and co-founder of C Suite 2.0 

The topic was the role the study of culture plays (or should play) in the business of brand strategy.

Here is a “taste” of the article, but for more, including full text and a link to the full podcast interview, click HERE

My first episode of the Culture Trumps Strategy show with Jamie Gordon, the VP of Anthropology at Northstar, was a great one. Jamie always thought of herself as a participant observer in her own life, which led her to become an anthropologist. She learned the ropes as a consumer anthropologist by working for market research and brand strategy firms.

Jamie uses a framework called the study of context to understand and predict consumer behavior in the marketplace. The study of context consists of understanding what she calls the three C’s, which are the three layers of context that are relevant:

  • Client/Category Context – Understanding what happens to them as an organization and within the product category.
  • Cultural Context – The large macro cultural trends that are going on in the world and that might affect the space being researched. This is also where they also look deep cultural aspects vs. trendy things that might affect the buying behavior.
  • Consumer Context – What influences them in their world, and how do they interact with others in their inner circle.The idea is to find the sweet spot of where those three C’s overlap. This method also dispels the more traditional, but increasingly unrealistic, model where you have companies on the one side that create things and put them out in the marketplace with a target consumer in mind, and the consumer on the other side waiting for the company to produce something. While this model may have existed at some point, it does not lend itself to innovation and evolution.

Companies now need to understand that their customers are human first before they are people who buy and consume things. And as humans we are influenced and constrained by what is going on around us – our cultures. It is that culture which will determine what we buy and how we consume things. And the producers are humans first as well, and while they are in the business of creating trends, they are also consumers. So these days products are the result of a cyclical dialog among humans – both from the consumer side and from the producer side. It is this rich dialog that allows for innovation to happen.

Why You Should Be Offended By Bad Marketing


Why You Should Be Offended By Bad Marketing.

Macroforces and Changing Consumer Culture: Advancing Human Insights


At Northstar, we continue to keep an eye on macroforces that are driving change in global culture and consequently consumer culture.   A recent post discussed Mass Urbanization and its implications for consumer culture :https://thebrandsherpa.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/macroforces-and-changes-in-global-consumer-culture-part-1-mass-urbanization/

In the spirit of helping our clients and peers continue to answer the questions of “What’s going on out there, does it matter to us and if so what are we going to do about it” I would like to elaborate on another  of the several macroforces we are keeping an eye on and what it means for the future of consumer culture.

It is important to note here that the macroforces impacting our lives do not all necessarily exist in a vacuum.  Rather, they can indeed influence and be influenced by one another.  The macoroforce of Advancing Human Insights is one such phenomenon that is remarkably influenced and formed by advances in communication technology as well as globalization.  It also, as force that is gaining momentum, is perhaps the most strongly human-culture driven force out there.  We designate it as a macoforce because it is a phenomenon that has gained very strong momentum in a short period of time and is having a significant impact on life as we know it.

We see this macroforce present in trends such as

  • Ongoing advances in food and nutrition
  • Increasing focus on fitness and healthy lifestyles
  • Monitoring of global happiness as a measure of success, e.g.: Gross National Happiness, The Happy Planet Index, The Relative Happiness Index

Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Sarkozy, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has directed the Office of National Statistics to develop metrics to measure the UK’s “general well-being.” Happiness indices have received a fair amount of press in recent years since Nobel Laureate economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen began advocating a move away from a exclusively economic view of gross domestic product towards a model that takes into account less concrete measures, such as sustainability and, yes, well-being.

So how does this evolution impact consumer culture?

For starters, it will have an impact on our global workforce.  Especially in more developed economies, we will see fewer workers willing to sacrifice lifestyle balance for the sake of a big paycheck.  Definitions of success will becoming increasingly rooted in ability to be happy, healthy, socially and financially successful.  This is in opposition, of course, to the relentless pursuit of financial success.   That means values will become more important than status and thus consumers will increasingly scrutinize their spending priorities based on the value products and brands bring to their life and the lives of others.

Consumers will also continue to be more mindful of health and wellness and how their consumption contributes or detracts from that pursuit.

They will begin to increasingly embrace the power they have to both pursue their own happiness and personal fulfillment as well as impact that of others: locally and globally.

Consumers in the developed world will start seeking more wisdom from “old world” cultural roots on how to live a fulfilling life.  There will be a strong spiritual influence here as well as the influence of longstanding cultural traditions.  We will seek our roots to seek meaning and ultimately rediscover our “humanity”.

Consumers will begin to require more substance than style and more art than efficiency.  They will seek ways to use their consumption to forward the pursuit of happiness of others close to them and those they connect to around the world.

What does it mean for brands?
Brands and companies will increasingly be judged not just by their products and marketing but also by their corporate culture:  Is it a place people like to work? Do they treat their employees well?  What are their sustainability policies?  Transparency is a new reality and consumers are increasingly looking to discover the human side of business.

Companies and services that help consumers find and manage balance in their lives by facilitating health and wellness, fitness, self reflection, personal time and even the simplicity of “fun” will grow and thrive in this changing consumer landscape.

Brands with an authentic voice that help to make the world a constructively happy place will also thrive.  Marketing messaging is powerful and global brands that can help humans find  common ground rooted in a more balanced and positive way of life will win a good amount of loyalty, with the side effect of helping to make the world a better in the process.

When all is said and done, the companies and brands that will survive will be those who, from the inside out, do as much as they can to serve their consumers by anticipating and delivering against their increasingly human needs to be better.  This is not an idealist philosophy. It is foresight based on a preponderance of  empirical evidence leading to sociological and anthropological fact.  This global advancement of human insights is directing change in consumer culture at a rapid pace and those brands and companies that can embrace that reality in their heads as well as their hearts and activate against it in business strategies  will no doubt see sustainable ROI as they help consumers lead the way toward a more “human” future.

Macroforces And Changes In Global Consumer Culture: Mass Urbanization


Normal, crowded street in Bombay.

Normal, crowded street in Bombay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a part of my day-to-day and that of the Chief Culture Officer at Northstar Research, we stay pretty keenly focused on the macroforces that are shaping the world and what that means for humans and consumer culture.
We always encourage our clients and our internal teams to ask three big questions:

“What’s going on out there?”

“Does it matter to us?”

“If so, what are we going to do about it?”

These are pretty basic questions but also pretty big questions.  And in order to really grasp the magnitude of the task it’s important to start with a solid foundation of understanding based on the big picture.

At Northstar, we have focused on 7 big-picture macroforces.   To start off, I would like to talk about one that has been a topic of interest among several of my clients lately:  Mass Urbanization

  • Today, half the world’s population (i.e. 3 billion) lives in urban areas.
  • Three million people move to cities in the developing world every week – mostly from subsistence farms (OECD 2010).
  • Global urban populations will grow by nearly 2 billion in the next 20 years, and by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population will be in cities in the developing world (Nielsen 2011).

So, what does that mean for consumer-focused brands?  Well, for starters it means taking a look at how your organization defines “urban”.  Chances are that conception is skewed by a fairly ethnocentric, western context.  What we view as the realities and lifestyle impact of urban living in the developed world is likely very different from the reality of urbanization as it is evolving, especially in emerging markets.

America and the developed world’s concept of “urban” is rooted in an ethnocentric perspective based on a very specific sociocultural trajectory

From our western point of view, we see Urban life as having a very distinct cultural context:
  • Melting Pot Cities:  a multi-ethnic collection of citizens from diverse backgrounds and geographies who are all both challenged and enriched by one another’s presence
  • Distinct racial divides between the haves and have-nots (in America specifically): in particular, urban “ghetto” culture is characterized by African American and Hispanic minorities
  • A more class-warfare driven concept of street culture and youth culture in particular:  e.g., Rap / Hip-Hop music, street art and graffiti, and celebration of athletic prowess  like Basketball as a “golden ticket” to upward mobility

Bit if you look at the more likely cultural realities of  the mass-migrants to urban areas from a more rural and disconnected upbringing in emerging markets, there is a distinct difference.  In particular, you see a stronger cultural tension between that geography’s deep culture and the culture that is more timely, topical and surface level

New urbanites in emerging markets are likely:

  • Carrying with them internalized “deep culture” from an upbringing steeped in centuries old traditions:  such as deeply held spiritual traditions and family centric values in Eastern cultures
  • Following an accelerated learning curve (compared to the historical trajectory experienced in the developed world)and urban acculturation path: due to the rapid spread of globalization / capitalism and augmented by the proliferation and adoption of communication technology.  People can see both the pros and cons of how capitalism and rapid growth has affected human culture for better or worse…and they are adjusting their consumer behavior according to that information and their assessment of their personal priorities
  •   Experiencing a far more homogeneous ethnic context than in the developed world:  like in India or Asia where most people in urban centers “look alike”  and come from regions with similar socio-political realities and far  more similar (although diverse)  spiritual and cultural traditions

So, that’s a peek at what is “going on out there” from a mass urbanization perspective.  And every company that markets a global brand…especially those with a perceived urban target, should answer in the affirmative to “does it matter to us?”

That being said, there are more macroforces to consider.  Stay tuned.  But if you are a stakeholder on a global brand to consider what the other macroforces mean and what you’re going to do about it…

Chic-Fil-A Throws A Brand Strategy Curve Ball : But Will Consmers Come Out Swinging?


What an interesting dilemma the folks at Chic-Fil-A have put consumers in. They have publicly expressed a very polarizing point of view on social hot-topic: Gay Marriage.

In case you haven’t heard: they are not in the equal rights camp.

Rather, the CEO of the company has come out publicly on several occasions letting America know that they believe in the biblical definition of marriage…although they treat all of their employees and customers with the utmost respect.

The consumer anthropologist and the brand strategist in me are both equally fascinated by this scenario. As an observer and analyst of consumer culture, I am glued to the Facebook and twitter feeds and so curious to see how consumers react to this uncommon ground that has been stabbed to death by a company known for cutesy advertising using mischievous cows and also for being active members and supporters of the local communities where they operate. They are also known for not being open on Sundays because they are observing Christian traditions. All of these things being their previous public persona, they have been a strong presence in the fast food game and have remained an Icon in the Southern U.S., where they hail from.

The brand strategist in me is also intensely curious as to how their decision will play out in the court of “share of wallet”. Typically speaking, It is really important these days for a brand / company to have a point of view and a set of ideals that differentiates them and connects them to consumer’s hearts, minds and wallets. This means not just having a distinct personality and perspective on our human condition / their role in improving our lives, but also walking the walk. MOST Brands will find some sort of positive point of view to hang their hats on. In this case, Chic-Fil-A chose something decidedly negative and divisive. Such an atypical move for a mainstream brand.

What Chic-Fil-A has done is lay down a challenge to our American Ideals of free speech and free enterprise. It has also put consumers in a precarious position: forcing them to choose how important their convictions are to them when it comes to how they make purchase decisions. If you have checked your Facebook page lately you will notice a lot of action: lots of liberals talking about the conundrum of free speech and the fact that while they don’t agree with Chic-Fil-A’s point of view, they still don’t think it’s fair to deny them the right to do business (like they are trying to do in Chicago). Then there are those who are admitting they are closet patrons and feel bad about it, but can’t resist the MSG-filled tastiness of their favorite Chicken Sammiches. And of course there are those left-wingers who have sworn off the chain entirely to vote with their wallets in expressing their disagreement. Finally, there are those on the religious “right” side who are cheering on the fast food chain and encouraging others to “like” them. And I know more than a few people who have “unfriended” a few folks because of their unexpected fervor for fighting against gay marriage with chicken nuggets.

My opinion? I think everyone deserves a right to enter into a legally binding commitment to another human being. Will I eat at Chic-Fil-A again? No…but I avoid most fast food anyway because MSG makes me crazy. Do I think cities like Chicago should ban Chic-Fil-A from doing business: no. Let consumers decide if they want to support their business or not. The philosopher in me sides with the likes of Voltaire: whilst I disagree with the chicken-sandwich-giant’s point of view, I will fight for their right to express it. However, I will also be very vocal in discouraging anyone I care about from spending a penny at their restaurants.

And that’s the exciting part about this situation…a very unique one in our modern, liberal age. As brand strategists and consumer anthropologists we have been talking about the trend in consumer empowerment and how Brands must be fearless in staying true to who they are and expressing their ideals. But what happens when they express an unpopular opinion? Will they sink to the bottom of the performance pile or will apathy allow them to float by unscathed?

I suppose the numbers will tell…and i will be watching with an Eagle eye….