So much sobering news around the world, so much painful, heartfelt transformation, so much optimism in the face of challenges by millions of people around the world.
The year also saw the successful launch of the book, We First, for which I’m enormously grateful. The aim of the book was to share ideas that would have a tangible, positive impact on other’s lives. That would not be possible without a successful send off through your support. Here’s a few highlights of the response to the ideas about a re-purposed capitalism:
- New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon bestseller
- Amazon Top Ten Business Books of 2011
- strategy+business Best Marketing Book of 2011
- Nominated for 800 CEO READ Best Book Awards 2011
This truly was a team effort. Here’s are a few important thank you’s.
WE FIRST FAMILY: First off, thank you to my team at We First: Morgan, Ryan, Rick, Devin, Cameron, Natalie, Cole, Sid, Bill, Catherine, Bryan, Laura, and Sarah. Thank you for putting up with the emotional roller-coaster ride and for boot-stapping our way through the year together. I’m so glad you were my fellow passengers!
WE FIRST BOOK TEAM: We couldn’t have made any impact with We First without the incredible support of my agent, William Morris Endeavor, publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, and publicist, Fortier PR.
SPEAKERS: Thanks to the speakers who are going to make the start of 2012 so exciting. Our We First Social Branding Seminar is on February 1st and 2nd, 2012, in Los Angels and is going to be amazing. Carol Cone, Global Vice-Chair of Business + Social Purpose, and Robert Tercek, former President of Digital Meida at OWN, will be joining me in creating your own personal Social Branding Blueprint for 2012. If you can make it, don’t miss out as the work we are putting together for you is fantastic. Just click here to join us as there’s only a limited number of places.
SPONSORS: Thanks to our great sponsors for the Seminar that include Causecast, SocialVibe, HP. Your support is invaluable in making the event special.
UN FOUNDATION: Plus we are super excited to announce that the UN Foundation will also be a Platinum sponsor. As an organization we deeply respect, we are so proud to be working with you.
YOU: When I think of the amazing number of people I have met and chatted with through social media over the last year, I really start to appreciate how it enriches my life and purpose. Thank you so much for all your time, interest, feedback and encouragement. Yes, there’s a lot in our world that needs to change in our world, but things are trending in the right direction and together we can make significant shifts happen.
FAMILY: No one has ridden the 2011 roller-coaster ride with me more closely than my family. To my two kids, thanks for putting up with Daddy’s travel and for filling my life with joy. To my wife, you are a rock for all of us, an incredible mum, and a constant source of love.
As we’re handed the reins of 2012 its up to us to make it meaningful and memorable. This is my prediction of what to expect.
Here’s to bringing our best selves to the personal, professional and social challenges we face and, by seeing ourselves in each other, working together to build a world we can be proud of.
Happy New Year to all from everyone at We First!
2011 has been distinguished by dramatic citizen activism in the United States and around the world. Perhaps largest in public consciousness are the Arab Spring revolutions that continue to transform the political landscape in the Middle East, and the homegrown Occupy Wall Street movement spreading around the world protesting economic inequality. Each is significant in its own right and portend an even more dramatic shift in consumer behavior in 2012 that will impact business, marketing, and society at large: the rise of the consumer activist.
The reasons for this are several. The economic inequality that characterized 2011 looks likely to persist, with one in seven Americans currently relying on food stamps, one in six Americans below the government-set poverty line, and real unemployment above 16%. At the same time, it is likely that political gridlock will persist, especially in a Presidential election year as both parties jockey for election rather than substantive change. Meanwhile, emboldened by the citizen activism of the Arab Spring revolutions, and aided by the mainstream adoption of social media, customers will increasingly look to the private sector to become more socially responsible serving as custodians for social change.
Research bears out such expectations. Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, found that 86% of global consumers want companies to put society’s needs on the same level as their business needs. While their 2011 Trust Barometer Report shows that “trust in US business to do the right thing” fell 8 points in 2011, to be only five points above Russia. This large discrepancy between consumer expectations and trust is all the more acute due to a lack of viable alternatives. Government is burdened by historic debt and gridlocked by partisan politics, while the important work of philanthropists, non-profits, and NGO’s is not sufficient to meet the scale of the challenges we face. As a result, in the face of persistent self-serving corporate practices, customer communities will seek to impact corporations where it hurts them most– their bottom line.
This process has already begun. We saw the dramatic backdown of Netflix over the launch of Qwikster, after so many customers deserted the brand that its stock price fell 37%. We saw over 700,000 people transfer their accounts away from major financial institutions toward credit unions to the tune of $4.2 billion on Bank Transfer Day. We saw Bank of America reverse its decision to charge a 5 dollar monthly debit fee in the face of customer activism.
Customers are quickly embracing new platforms and tools through which to express their demands, whether it’s through mobile apps like GoodGuide or online platforms like BrandKarma.com, both of which allow them to track the corporate practices of the brands they buy. To their credit, some of the smartest marketers in the world are responding, recognizing that these are the new emotional drivers that will determine the brand success stories of 2012. These include Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nike, Patagonia, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, and Starbucks. In fact, in an unprecedented move, Howard Schultz of Starbucks is leading 140 corporate CEO’s in a boycott of political campaign donations until the gridlock in DC is ended. Further, impatient with the slow process of economic recovery, Starbucks has taken the bold move of enlisting the support of customers and credit unions to jumpstart the ability of small businesses to thrive in the US.
The rise of customer activism can no more be turned back than we could turn back the economic crisis, the internet, or social media. Those marketers that seek to thrive in 2012 will rise to the challenge of practicing business in a more socially responsible way, unlocking the potential of becoming deeply meaningful to their customer lives by improving the world they live in. The brands that lead this charge will not only be surprised by the customer loyalty it inspires and their desire to demonstrate that loyalty across social media channels, but also by the personal fulfillment that their leadership, employees and customers will enjoy.
Over the last several months we have witnessed the rise of the #OccupyWallStreet movement, both across America and around the world, and witnessed its tour of a familiar news cycle. At first, it was dismissed out of hand as a collection of rabble-rousers with no clear or unified intent. It was then re-characterized as a fringe movement with radical demands. It soon became a popular movement, spreading to what is now over a thousand cities in eighty-seven countries around the world. As a consequence, the movement developed sufficient social resonance, on the web and across social media channels, to warrant the attention of traditional news outlets. What is still lacking from this coverage, however, is an accurate articulation of the line in the sand that the #OccupyWallStreet movement represents.
Customer and citizen activism, epitomized in the #OccupyWallStreet movement, is tangible evidence of several transformative forces gaining momentum at home and abroad. They all turn on the ability of social media to give regular people a voice, and to scale their message through what is now a wide selection of channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and beyond.
On the political side, this newfound capacity to drive historic change is clearly evident in the Arab Spring Revolutions which have swept through Tunisia,Egypt, Libya, and continue to threaten the traditional power structure inSyria. On the commercial front, we have seen an increasing level of comfort and sophistication in the use of social media by consumers. Whether its the harvesting of palm oil by Nestle, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, thecancellation of debit card fees by Bank of America, the nationwide Bank Transfer Movement (in which 700,000 customers transferred their savings to Credit Unions to the tune of $4.6 billion), or the customer push-back against Netfix regarding Quikster which resulted in a 30% drop in their stock price, customers are increasingly demanding greater social responsibility from brands. On the positive side, smart marketers have embraced the opportunity to collaborate with their customers, as evidenced by the Pepsi Refresh Project, P&G’s Pamper’s/UNICEF collaboration, and the recent strategicpartnership between Pizza Hut and Zynga to support the World Food Program. What each of these examples demonstrates is the rising impact of social media and citizen activism within the private sector. And this is only the beginning.
Wall Street and brands of all sizes will soon be forced to reconcile themselves to an obvious but consequential fact– their greatest assets are not their tall office buildings, their long-standing reputations, or their most recent quarterly profits, but rather their customers. And those customers have changed. Armed with tools that allow them to connect and amplify their message, tomorrow’s customers will celebrate and admonish brands through their purchasing power. If a company is acting in a transparent and socially responsible manner, consumers will actively celebrate its products and services using the multiple tools and channels now available to them. In the same way, those brands that act purely out of self-interest, or disingenuously, or choose to dismiss outright the concerns of their customer community, will invite the ire of millions of connected and media-savvy customers.
It is no accident that we are now seeing the smartest brands market themselves on the basis of the values they share with their customer communities. This is why we see the Pepsi Refresh Project, Starbucks Shared Planet, Wal Mart Sustainability Index, Patagonia Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Procter and Gamble’s Click For Water blogovation campaign, and so on. These multinational companies are still beholden to their shareholders and rightly focused on the bottom lines, but they are working towards social change not just because it’s well intended but because it’s well received, allowing them to be effective architects of community.
At the same time, consumers are being armed with tools that better equip them to expose brands not acting in accordance with their stated values. For example, mobile applications such as GoodGuide allow shoppers to get a social benefit rating of a given product using a barcode scanner in their smartphone. Online platforms like Brand Karma combine consumer feedback and research to create a new index of the most socially responsible brands, so that customers can make an informed decision as to which brands they want to support through what they buy. So at the same time we see mainstream adoption of social media, and at the same time we see an increasing assumption of responsibility by customers for the change they want to see in the world, consumers are being handed easy-to-use and sophisticated tools that hold brands accountable for their corporate behavior.
This rise of social technology, and the demand it drives for more human interaction between brands and their customers, can no more be turned back than we can turn back social media, the digital revolution, or the internet itself. What’s more, the desire for such engagement is being driven by the peristant economic downturn that is forcing citizens to demand greater social responsibility from brands. It is being driven by real unemployment of 16%, by1 in 7 Americans relying of Food Stamps, and by 1 in 6 U.S. citizens now living below the government set poverty line. So while the Occupy Wall Street movement boasts a dizzying array of grievances, it is united by a singular cry for a more sustainable practice of capitalism and more equal distribution of wealth.
It is no accident that leading brands are already getting out in front of these changes. They include Coca Cola, Pepsi, Unilever, General Motors, Proctor and Gamble, Starbucks, Patagonia and Nike. These companies have already re-framed their thinking from being the celebrity of their customer communities to being the chief celebrant of their customers. They are already re-framing leadership, employee engagement and organizational structures around their new role as community architects. They are already putting their shoulders behind the core values that their brands stand for so that their services and products can be meaningful to the lives of their online communities.
The creative destruction that social media is currently unleashing will change more than technology or the leader board of the Fortune 100. It is driving a qualitative shift in the nature of relationships between brands and their customers. It is demanding greater transparency, authenticity, and accountability from brands which has enormous and difficult implications at every level of business practices. But it also represents an unprecedented opportunity for those brands that rise to the challenge of being responsible corporate citizens within a mutually-dependant global community. The question remains: which brands will commit to creating a private sector pillar of social change, and which will become casualties of their own outdated thinking?
This post originally appeared in Forbes.com. If you’re interested in building your brand and business using social media in 2012, join us at We First Social Branding seminar, where world class experts will you through the stages required to create an actionable Social Branding Blueprint, specific to your business, based on the best practices, case studies and bottom lines benefits of the world’s smartest marketers. What’s more you’ll get an extra ticket to invite your favorite non-profit so you’ll be making a contribution just by attending. Places are very limited so register now.
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