Category Archives: Wellbeing

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.

Rebranding Financial Services: A Human Insight Based Business Model


Today I decided that rather than working from home I would check out “that new coffee shop” a few miles down the road in the newly gentrified downtown area of this small-ish southern town I live in.

I had noticed several times that the Copper Coin coffee shop shared signage with something called Acru: Money + Life.  The first is indeed a coffee shop and the second a financial advisor firm.  But they are not two separate businesses.  They occupy the same space – by design.

Acru is the financial services partner to a community bank, founded by the son of a bank president who saw the need for a different approach to providing financial and life planning services.  He felt that having an aesthetic and productive  space where community members could gather over pleasantries like a cup of coffee provides a more empathetic environment for what can be a fairly intimidating topic.
But the space isn’t just office on one side and coffee shop on the other.  It has a community conference room that can be rented (for free) for entrepreneurs and folks like me who work from home a lot to have a meeting space.  There is bleacher seating in one of the center spaces opposite a wall that has a retractable screen where people can come to free seminars on topics like resume building.  There is even a cozy and quiet-ish living room space in the back where you can settle in with a good book or have a more private conversation.  But as i look around while writing this blog, there are at least three iPad assisted conversations happening with financial advisors and clients at coffee shop tables and in restaurant style seating booths.

In a conversation with one of the advisors she was able to tell me all about the founders vision.  When I mentioned I worked in brand strategy she was pleased to show me the book on brand identity that her coffee was sitting on, in which the Acru brand is featured.  She also handed me some readily available marketing materials that shared a bit more about the unique and forward thinking holistic approach of their business.

The focus is very human insight  oriented (which parallels with a macroforce currently driving the evolution of consumer culture).  Their tagline “Money + Life” sums it up quite well.  And you won’t find dollar signs anywhere in their brand packets or materials.  Rather, you will see images of flower fields and family snapshots.  You will see words like : clarity, wisdom, community, stories and well-being.  Lines like “your well-being extends beyond finances. It’s about family, business, education and the future” and “we believe wealth is defined by how you live your life, net your net worth”.

This kind of approach is a strong departure from bigger firms who focus exclusively on financial accrual and base levels of service tiers on net worth.
It stands to reason that referrals come a lot easier in a space where you can walk in to a coffee shop setting and have a conversation rather than walking into a corporate high rise to meet with guys in suits and have your parking validated.  As a matter of fact, there is a financial advisor standing at a welcome desk in the middle of the space at all times with a chalk-written welcome message to answer questions from anyone who walks in and offer to buy you a cup of coffee if you want to sit down and have a chat.

It’s a kinder, gentler, balance-oriented approach to helping a new generation  and / or new mindset of  investors get control over their finances while putting that topic in balanced perspective with their life priorities and happiness.
It speaks strongly to the trends of consumer empowerment, holistic health and the new conceptual economy we are entering in to.

It’s an infusion of fresh air into an industry that has been characteristically viewed as stuffy and riddled with a hint of distrust and anxiety.  But at Acru, they sprinkle a little cream and sugar in to help the conversation go down a little easier.  I will be eager to see how well this trend catches on.

Here are some images of the space for a little context:

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.

A Peek Into Context: Millennials Blog About Their New American Reality


In my anthropological studies of American youth, I have unearthed a lot of insights about the emerging mindset and values shift towards a more balanced, holistic perspective.  I have even used a turn of phrase to describe how Millennials are no longer seeking the American Dream but living an “American Reality”.

I came across this young blogger (who actually came across another one of my blogs” and thought “here is a brilliant example”.  So, I thought I would share a peek into “James Room”:

Lies My Country Told Me: The Hollow American Dream.

Guest Blogger Feature: Coke’s Tom LaForge On “The New Logic For How To Succeed In Business”


Tom LaForge

Tom LaForge (Photo credit: sociate)

A client and friend of mine, Tom Laforge; Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola, sent me a note with the content below and asked if I would allow him a forum on my blog to express his thoughts.

My response was an effusive “but of course”.  I am always eager to hear and spread the thinking of thought leaders in brand strategy, marketing and research.  I have frequently gotten inspiration from Tom, who is a force for spreading the imperative of human understanding at Coca-Cola and a change agent who is helping direct the culture of global brands toward helping to make the world a better place.

I thank you for your insights, Tom.

THE NEW LOGIC FOR HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS

The overall environment in which business is operating is changing in a very simple way. Civil society is becoming more and more empowered every day. This is caused by a lot of things, particularly the internet which provides a ton of information and social media which allows them to share how they feel about that information. Social media also empowers them to do something about it. Smart businesses realize this trend will only continue. If it is not already the dominant force in your industry, it will be by 2020.

This is not a problem for companies that civil society likes. Which ones do they like? The ones that demonstrate that they “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own.”

Business has always been about making money and it still is. What is now becoming increasingly clear is that the best strategy for making money is to be an ally with civil society. When everything a company does and says conveys that they “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own” they are simply employing the most effective strategy for doing what they want to do – make money.

Alexis de Tocqueville called it “self-interest properly understood” by which he meant that you pursue your own self-interest in a way that does not impede others from pursuing their self-interests. Nobody wants to deny companies the right to pursue their own self-interest – they just have to do in a way that does not harm others. Simple.

So do people believe that your firm does indeed “care and want for the wellbeing of others as they do their own?” I hope so, because this is how your company will thrive! When consumers find a company that “cares and wants for the wellbeing of others as they do their own” they flock to it, they Tweet and Facebook about it, they become loyal to it. They recommend and love it.

This is the new logic for how to succeed in business.