The We First Blog.

How brands ensure purpose doesn’t end up as greenwashing

May 2, 2011 Comments

As the business marketplace moves closer towards being a comprehensive social experience, the onus falls upon brands to be more defined in terms of what they stand for, their core values and how they communicate them to their community of customers.  While that may sound simple it’s very complicated to execute. Here’s why:

In a competitive landscape in which more and more brands are purposefully engaged either through corporate social responsibility initiatives (CSR) or cause marketing, the danger arises that the concept of purpose will become as ubiquitous as green marketing with all the attending dangers of the equivalent of green-washing. So at one end of the authenticity spectrum, companies may apply the label of purpose to any effort that serves as window dressing for their persistent irresponsible behavior. While, at the other end, brand will demonstrate authentic engagement directed towards substantive positive change.

In order to cut through the noise and clutter, brands must be much more specific in how they define their purposeful engagement. What that looks like is the following five steps:

1. Brands  must define who they are, what they stand for and make outreach on that basis.

2. Brands must have a point of view on that purposeful engagement, whether it’s directed towards the environment, poverty, water as a resource or causes such as breast cancer or education. Merely declaring your commitment to a category or cause will not be enough the distinguish your brand sufficiently to see a return on these well-intended efforts.

3. Brands must be very specific in their choice of social media platforms through which to communicate their CSR or cause messaging.

4. Brands must create content peculiar to those platforms and how their audiences like to relate and converse about that cause.

5. Brands must commit to deep engagement with the community using those platforms whose values are aligned with the brand’s.

Only when a brand does this can it hope to not only make an authentic contribution to social change, but in so doing build a community of brand advocates with similar concerns. That way they can differentiate themselves from the pretenders that will attempt to use purpose as yet another marketing strategy to merely serve their bottom line with no authenticate commitment to change themselves or our world.

Do you believe most brands will authentically engage with social change?  If not, what do you think is the best way to hold them accountable?


The rise of collaborative social change

April 28, 2011 Comments

One exciting trend to emerge from the fallout out of the tragic global economic meltdown is a heightened awareness of our connectivity in both the offline and online worlds. In addition, a heightened awareness of the challenges we face thanks to access to information on the Internet and our increased ability to share it through social media, has meant that more people than ever are looking for new different solutions in new ways. This is taking the form of many new collaborations that give us all a better chance than ever to scale positive change.

This rise of such collaboration can be seen in four broad categories:
1) Corporations becoming increasingly involved in socially transformative thinking or actions. A great example is Patagonia’s Common Threads recycling program and its Footprint Chronicles, which measures the company’s sustainability profile for every one of its products. There’s also Unilever’s goal to implement 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2020, and Sony’s Open Planet Ideas in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund that is a crowdsourcing effort inviting the public to create new ideas to solve problems using any of nine “seed” technologies that Sony produces.

2) Corporations partnering together for change. Examples include Timberland’s membership in the Outdoor Association, in which 200 companies have agreed to a new industry Eco-index regarding the environmentally sound production of outdoor sport gear and equipment. Also, Unilever is a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, set up in co-operation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2004, and the Round Table on Responsible Soy, both industry-wide associations of companies that seek to adhere to higher socially responsible standards.

3) Corporations directly participating with NGOs. The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect program is another example of a nonprofit-corporate cooperation. Proposed by Maria Eitel, President of the Nike Foundation, the concept focuses on finding ways to educate the estimated 600 million adolescent girls who live in poverty, at risk for HIV, and often abused in the Third World.

4) Companies working to assist governments. One truly inspiring example is ‘Change the Equation’, involving a network of 100 CEOs who are committing their companies to help rebuild science and math literacy in America’s school systems. Companies such as Intel, Kodak, Sally Ride Science, Time Warner Cable, and Xerox, have agreed to start aligning all the separate programs they each conduct in schools to help boost science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. Another intriguing example of government reaching out for new ideas from the private sector was the April 2010 State Department-sponsored TED talks.

These cross-sector collaborations demonstrate the recognition by all parties that the challenges we face are now too large, complex and deeply entrenched for any individual, company or government to fix alone. Each effort is an inspiring example of how we can find and apply smarter scalable solutions if we chose to adopt a We First attitude and build a better world together. It’s a challenging time but also extraordinarily exciting with great cause for optimism.

Can you name any other examples of cross-ector partnerships for change? Do you think by working together individual companies improve their own reputations?


Facebook gets its game face on

April 26, 2011 Comments

In January I suggested 2011 would be the year Facebook puts all brands on notice. So far this appears to be true as Facebook is primed to become a more formidable competitor in the social media marketplace with two new announcements today. As Jason Calacanis explains in Business Insider, their current market valuation may be grossly under-estimated in light of a potential $12 billion in 2011 revenue as opposed to the the current wisdom of $4 billion (based on FacebookSense, Instream advertising, and video ad units revenue). That enviable position was bolstered this week by the announcement of Facebook Deals and Sponsored Stories.

Facebook Deals is poised to become a fierce competitor for Groupon and LivingSocial. Facebook already has a broader market penetration and the weight of user numbers, plus Facebook assures us that that Facebook Deals would be a more social experience. What this means is that deals will be designed to be shared and experienced within the user’s social circle. These deals can be accessed through daily notifications or through the Deals tab on the home page. If your friends choose to share the deals they got, you’ll also see it in the news feed as well as in the description of the deal that states “Your friend purchased this deal.” This social aspect is a potential game changer in the deals market that, according to BAI/Kelsey Group, is estimated to reach $3.9 billion by 2015.

The second major announcement was the launch of  three new types of sponsored stories. Sponsored stories are the much debated advertisements which turn a user’s content into an actual advertisement. According to All Facebook, the three stories category are as follows:

  • The page post like story will allow you to surface stories about your fans liking any post from your page, so that their friends (even if they are not yet fans of your page) can see and engage with your post.
  • The app used and game played story will help app and game developers surface stories about people using their app or playing their game, so that their friends will be encouraged to join the App or Game.
  • The domain story will allow you to give more visibility to stories about people liking or sharing something, so that more of their friends will visit your site to discover this piece of content.

The diagram above (provided by Facebook) explains the seven types of sponsored stories now available and they represent a huge financial opportunity for advertising on Facebook as a way for publishers to get new readers (especially using the gaming and app stories).

Nor should either of these platforms be viewed in isolation as each weaves an ever denser web of connectivity between users, their social circles and Facebook. As products, advertising and games become commonplace within the Facebook ecosystem, it will become harder for competitors to attract users or readers away. This portends an even stronger financial position for Facebook at the end of 2011 and an even more unassailable market leader position.

Do you believe Facebook deals will trump Groupon? Do you think users will users accept the advertising contained in sponsored stories?



Patagonia: How a brand remakes an industry and our world (Part 2)

April 25, 2011 1 Comments

SM: Hi I’m Simon Mainwaring, and I’m here at the Flagship store of Patagonia HQ in Ventura, California. I have a special guest here today: Rick Ridgeway, who is the VP for Environmental Initiatives.  I’m super excited to talk to …

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Patagonia: The power of brand transparency (Part 1)

April 22, 2011 8 Comments

Yesterday I had the real pleasure of visiting Patagonia HQ in Ventura, California. It’s a brand that I, and many others, have admired for so long because of the powerful alignment between their core values and how they run their …

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Water Changes Everything: now it’s your turn

April 20, 2011 0 Comments

This morning charity: water launched their newest video, a 3-minute animation showing how Water Changes Everything. It’s both a demonstration of powerful storytelling around the critical issue of clean water for millions of people, and an inspiring example of how …

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Apple: How brands, customers & society benefit when a company shows what it stands for

April 17, 2011 4 Comments

This week Apple employees joined the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign in support of gay, lesbian and transgender rights. The campaign got started last year after college student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his …

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Broadcastr: Social media as unlimited soundscape

April 14, 2011 1 Comments

httpv:// At SXSW this year I had the opportunity to talk to Brian Lindenbaum who, with has brother Scott, has launched some very exciting audio technology that has enormous potential for brands, non-profits and individual alike. Here’s how he explained …

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About Simon

About Simon Mainwaring

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.