Tag Archives: Business

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.

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: