Friday, December 11, 2015

Dear "Mr. Macy" - A Challenge

Someone asked me the other day: How does a corporation stay authentic in an ever more green-washed market place?

Fair question. My immediate response is to say: don't market anything. Because that's not what we do. Marketing intrinsically means selling something your customers don't need. That's why people are inherently suspicious of marketing regardless of how true the content may be. But the big open secret is that customers will indeed buy based on marketing, so it is easy to get tempted. Some corporations try to use the sustainability movement as a marketing opportunity, ruining the playing field for the rest of us.

So, how a corporation approaches their marketing (philosophically, fundamentally, and responsibly) is very important. In this way, corporate social responsibility achieves authenticity and not mere window dressing.

Recently the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” has been on TV. It is a movie about Macy's with all advertising pointing to the other scheduled show times, sponsored by Macy's.

Fair enough, it's a good movie; but one scene struck me in particular: there was an 'apparent angry' customer stopping Shellhammer to rant about Kris Kringle (“Santa”) directing Macy's customers to other stores. Shellhammer was shocked to find out the customer wasn't angry at all but praised Macy for the Christmas spirit to do the good deed. The dramatic dialogue ended with this customer pledging to be a loyal returning customer and Mr. Macy's advent approval to extend the practice beyond just Christmas.

And there you have it, an authentic moment on the silver screen.

Being the ever optimist, I assume a corporation sells widgets or services that customers actually need. But that's the hard part, isn't it? Corporations are so focused on selling more that they forget there is more than one way to sustain a brand and a business. So when competition gets fierce, corporations think they will have to race to the bottom. A tragedy of the commons.

But the simpler truth and escape is just as Mr. Macy (in the movie) pointed out: something authentic must be authentic. You can't fake it because it will never make it.

So I stand by my recommendation then and now: the right path is to look at this as an exercise of actual engagement. Yes, you the corporation must engage your stakeholders.

Get to know them, understand them within the framework of sustainability. What are their social and environmental problems? What are their goals? What can they do to contribute? What are the barriers to change and what are the benefits to change? How do you initiate change? How do you test and measure for improvements?

From there, the engagement then becomes a community based action. Based on the maximum effective solution possible and stakeholder engagement, a corporation can find a new path to create new models of doing business. This is the only way to make the business responsible and sustainable to its community. This is also the only way to authentically continue your corporate brand.

As I've said before, this process based approach is slow and painful. It is incremental. It requires trust and collaboration which we Americans seem to lack these days. I therefore remain doubtful that any corporation is willing to embrace the challenge.

Or perhaps this is my challenge to all the corporations: MAKE A CHANGE. STOP MARKETING AND START CARING.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

- jin [Challenge issued to "Mr. Macy" in particular. Cheers.]

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