Tag Archives: Corporate social responsibility

How About A Bowl Of Sugar?

Foodie Friday, and this week I’m revved up about a food issue which also raises an issue with every business. You are probably aware that there is an epidemic of diabetes in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control, 1 in 3 adults in this country has pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar) and over 9% actually have the disease. This incidence is much higher here in the South with some states having well over 11% of the population affected. Having spent a few years here I can tell you that there is a lot of sweet tea and other sugar-added foods sold everywhere.

What’s got me off on this rant today is what I would call yet another nail in the coffin of those who will contract the disease. Apparently, some genius at Post Cereals felt it would be a good idea to make a cereal named after Sour Patch Kids, a candy. I guess we can commend them for dropping all pretense for most breakfast cereals being anything other than candy and just calling it what it is. You think I’m hyperbolizing? You can literally pour a bowl of some breakfast cereals and half of what you pour is pure sugar. Golden Crips cereal (called Sugar Crisp when I was a kid) is almost 52% sugar. Honey Smacks (formerly Sugar Smacks) is over 55%. You would be better off feeding your kid a Snickers bar – it’s only 45% sugar.

There is a greater question here for anyone in business. Post isn’t the only company doing this. General Mills sells cereal with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on the front. I refuse to believe that the folks at Post or General Mills don’t have an understanding that what they’re selling is fostering an epidemic. It’s easy for them to shrug their shoulders and say “well, responsible parents will let their kids eat this only in moderation.” So why change the names of the aforementioned cereals to delete “sugar? Why isn’t the nutritional information for Reese’s Puffs on the General Mills website? These are dangerous products, folks, and they raise the greater business question. Should we make products that we know are doing great harm? Just because we can do something, should we? Isn’t it possible to sell the healthier alternatives you already make to kids and stop pushing something that you know puts these kids on the road to diabetes?

It doesn’t have to be that way. When scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer and attributed it to the use of CFC’s, many companies that used CFC’s as the propellant in their spray products changed to something else. The products are less dangerous and the hole is healing. Having a conscience to go along with having a bottom line isn’t inconsistent nor bad business. It’s quite the opposite. Selling kids bowls of sugar under the guise of “making your day better” really is a sad way to make a buck, don’t you think?

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Food And Doing Well By Doing Good

This Foodie Friday I want to chat about a couple of food-related things I read this week and how they might translate into some thinking about your business. The first is an article (seen here) about how Nestle has figured out a way to cut the sugar in its candy. The second is something businesses are doing in Japan to help with a problem on their roads.

Nestle Crunch in most recent packaging

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nestle says its researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently so that it uses 40% less. It claims this can be done without affecting the taste. As a former fatty who misses chocolate A LOT, this is good news. More importantly, it helps to address the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Nestle is patenting the method which seems like a missed opportunity to open source something that can help a lot of people. Of course, once you file a patent the method is no longer secret so maybe others will find a way to do the same.

In Japan, as in many other countries including our own, the population is aging and the old folks are continuing to drive. My 91-year-old Dad refuses to give up the car keys and it’s something that keeps our whole family up at night. What they’re doing in Japan is to offer the super seniors discounts. In fact, nearly 12,000 seniors living in Aichi had voluntarily given up their licenses in exchange for discounted goods and services, and that was before one of the leading ramen chains (hence the food focus!) offered a discount for life to those who hand over their licenses. Since the proportion of all fatal accidents attributed to drivers over 75 has spiked from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent, this seems like a pretty good public service.

In both of these cases, the motivation may not have been to do well by doing something good but I think that’s the effect. Who wouldn’t want to eat less sugar and not down a bunch of artificial sweeteners which are just as bad? Nestle ought to sell more candy. In Japan, safer roads help everyone, and the businesses providing the discounts can’t serve younger customers who’ve been hurt by an older driver, not to mention the older drivers themselves. Hopefully, the additional patronage more than makes up for the discount.

This is the sort of thing any business can think about. How can we do some good in our community and does that activity hold the promise of helping the business? As anyone involved in Corporate Socal Responsibility will tell you, the two things are not exclusive to one another, and I’m all for it. You?

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Ends And Means

The cynics among you believe that as a brand or as a company behavior matters far less than a low price and a quality product. If you provide a great service or a good product and price it as low as possible, consumers will buy. It doesn’t matter if you pollute the air or pay lousy wages. Consumers just want to know what’s in it for them. The good news, from my perspective, is that you are wrong. Here is the evidence to back it up.

The Havas folks did a study to understand how corporate social responsibility has evolved over the past decade. They looked at how are companies responding to consumer pressures to work toward the common good and what those consumers now expect from their brand partners. Most importantly, the studied how critical these expectations are to their purchase decisions.

As it turns out, consumers are extremely interested in this. Half of mainstream consumers and two-thirds of Prosumers (a term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler – a consumer who produces and consumes media – and who doesn’t?) avoid buying from businesses deemed to have a negative social or environmental impact. As the study states: “People still want bargains, of course, but it’s even more essential that products and services offer some sort of enduring value.”

Some other points from the study:

  • When we asked respondents how important it is for a company’s CEO to do certain things, paying workers a fair wage and providing a pleasant work environment received higher scores than earning profits or even being environmentally conscious.
  • People aren’t looking for businesses to act as quasi-governments. On the contrary, around two-thirds of our global sample actually fear the power big corporations already wield. What they want to see are all the world’s players—governments, corporations, NGOs, citizens—working together to tackle problems that no single entity can solve alone.
  • Two-thirds of our global sample agreed that businesses actually bear as much responsibility as governments for driving positive social change, and 62 percent said they’d like their favorite brands to play a bigger role in solving social problems.

The point is that if you believe that your brand or company can let the ends – revenues and profits – justify any means, you’re sadly mistaken.  The study shows that companies that do good are more likely to do well.  Isn’t that the end we’re all after?

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Responsibly Irresponsible

This Foodie Friday, I want to rant a bit on responsibility.  What’s prompting this is a report from the Center For Science in the Public Interest on their annual awards for the 9 most unhealthy chain restaurant meals.  I’ll admit that almost everything on the list sounded pretty good to me.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy 7 cheeseburgers piled high on a bun?  But my rant isn’t about chain restaurants offering dishes that are really unhealthy.  We allow people to sell cigarettes and lots of other products that can potentially kill the consumer (cars, for example).  Is it inherently irresponsible for businesses to create products that end up causing societal problems?  You tell me.  Diabetes is an epidemic but nearly every supermarket product has some form of added sugar and we’re just getting around to banning trans fats which bring about heart disease.  I’d rather than any business person think about minimizing the damage before they offer something to the public but that’s probably wishful thinking.

Here is the thing: you’d have to be pretty stupid not to understand that you’re consuming a lot of calories and fat when you chow down with that 7 cheeseburger menu item.  You probably don’t understand, however, that the 1,330 calories in the burger are accompanied with 47 grams of saturated fat and 4,570 mg of sodium.  Let me quote the report on another dish which comes from The Cheesecake Factory:

The Louisiana Chicken Pasta, which weighs an impressive 1½ pounds, comes topped with four slices of heavily breaded chicken (in case you didn’t get enough white flour in the mound of pasta). Add the New Orleans sauce (butter and heavy cream), and your plate is up to 2,370 calories (more than a day’s worth), plus 80 grams of saturated fat (a four-day supply) and 2,370 milligrams of sodium (1½ days’ worth). For those numbers, you could have had two Fettuccine Alfredos plus two breadsticks at Olive Garden.

When you jump out of an airplane, you know it’s risky.  When you get on a roller coaster, there are always signs explaining the risks.  When you order many of the extremely unhealthy products available in restaurants, you’re generally flying blind. Even when the nutritional information is posted, it’s often inconspicuously posted on a wall someplace and it’s rarely on the menu near the copy that is pushing the product.

So back to responsibility.  We all need to pay more attention to what we’re eating and we need to learn to ask questions about just how bad a dish is.  At least that way we can attempt to minimize the damage by eating a bit better over the next couple of days.  Marketers need to provide enough information to allow us to make intelligent choices.  Killing your customers is almost always a bad idea, and encouraging them to kill themselves (slowly) without speaking up about the risks is, I think, irresponsible.  At least someplace like the Heart Attack Grill is pretty upfront about the risks.  You might not like it, but it’s responsible.

Thoughts?

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Dylan On Managing

I said a couple of weeks ago I was going to try to incorporate more music into the screed.  Today I thought I’d bring in one of my favorite artists who is also (apparently) a management guru to answer a question:  Is managing a business and other people an art or a science?

English: Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, Ju...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect it’s some of both. There are data points and studies over time which point towards the scientific method: we tested a theory and this is what we found. There are scientific journals devoted to management which report on best practices and help managers to operate in a sound manner. Science at its best.

I happen to lean the other way, and it’s because of a quote from that great businessperson Bob Dylan:

“The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but to inspire them?”

I believe that’s how one manages as well.  Businesses can be inspirational and I’ve worked for people who have been as well.  This notion is a lot more obvious when we’re talking about motivating and guiding a staff.  Sure, sometimes we have to use “scientific” methods to make that inspiration real, but I’ve found over the years that the best moments happen when we just stand at the head of the line and pull the folks behind you along via inspiration.  It’s art.

Many businesses are becoming involved in the Corporate Social Responsibility movement – giving back to the communities and people who support them and taking responsibility for the company’s effects on the environment and impact on social welfare.  That can be inspirational as well (assuming it’s not faked) and done well it’s art too.

Where do you come out on this?  Art or science?  While there is no “right” answer, do you think trying to inspire is part of a corporate credo?

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The ROI On A Cup Of Soup

According to what I can find in their public reporting,

Panera Bread

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Panera Bread spent somewhere north of $33 million on marketing last year.  Their financial results are impressive and they get good ROI on that investment.  I’m willing to bet, however, that the best marketing return they’re going to get this year is on a cup of clam chowder and a box of cookies. You might have heard about this story, but if you haven’t, this AdWeek article sums it up nicely.  A dying grandmother wants some Panera Clam Chowder on a day when the local store doesn’t make it.  A grandson calls to ask them to help.  A smart, responsive, caring manager immediately says yes and when the kid shows up to get it, gives him a box of cookies for grandma to go along with the soup.

It being the age of social, the grandson shares the story on his Facebook page.  Half a million “likes” and 22,000 comments later, that cup of clam chowder bought Panera more goodwill and positive marketing than most of the cash it spent.  Let’s think about what went right and why.

  • Someone answered the phone.  Sounds like a small thing but how many companies do these days?
  • Someone made a decision.  Not “I’m not authorized to do that” or “I need to ask corporate”.  Someone decided to do the right thing and was empowered to make the decision stick.
  • Someone went beyond what they were asked – cookies too!
  • A brand behaved like a person!  The kid didn’t call Sue, the manager.  He called Panera which Sue represented.  The wholly human way in which she responded was perfect.
  • Panera didn’t tell the story – the kid did.  Panera didn’t manufacture anything (except the chowder and cookies).  This resonates because it’s real.

The best marketing these days tends to be just like this – treating your customers well and letting them tell the story for you.  Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other review sites are all about this, and their comments often get ported to other social sites (the usual suspects).  More time on service training and less on trying to create viral media might just get you to the same destination.

Did you see the story?  What do you think?

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The Boss And Your Consumers Are Thinking Alike

Part of what my clients pay me to do is to make connections.  Sometimes that’s in the literal sense – an introduction.  Most of the time it’s in the sense of making connections among seemingly random things – putting pieces together to form a coherent picture.  This morning, I’m getting ready to go see another Bruce Springsteen show – anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right? – and I came upon two pieces that seemed to fit together so I wanted to share them with you.

Bruce Springsteen (with Max Weinberg in backgr...

Bruce Springsteen in concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first is an excellent article from The Nation about Bruce’s political voice – where it came from, how it’s grown, and what it’s saying now.  The second is a piece of research about socially conscious consumers.  Now as you know, we don’t do politics here so there is an important business point both pieces make and that’s what I want to share today.

The Nation piece says the following:

Springsteen began to ask questions of himself about what really determined the contours of the lives of the working-class characters whose tribune he had become. “A lot of the core of our songs is the American idea: What is it? What does it mean?

Speaking to reporters in Paris on the occasion of (Wrecking Ball’s) release, he made the album’s inspiration—and intention—explicit. “The genesis of the record was after 2008,” he told a group of reporters there earlier this year, “when we had the huge financial crisis in the States, and there was really no accountability for years and years. People lost their homes, and I had friends who were losing their homes, and nobody went to jail. Nobody was responsible. People lost enormous amounts of their net worth. Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no pushback: there was no movement, there was no voice that was saying just how outrageous—that a basic theft had occurred that struck at the heart of what the entire American idea was about. It was a complete disregard of history, of context, of community; it was all about ‘what can I get today.’ It was just an enormous fault line that cracked the American system wide open.”

In other words, Bruce has done what most great artists do:  reflects his times in a timeless way.  We could digress here and look to the Occupy movement, the current presidential campaign, etc. but you figured that out already.  As it turns out, many forward-thinking companies have as well.  The second article is about a Nielsen study about how companies and consumers are becoming much more socially conscious:

The survey confirmed that the majority of consumers express a general preference for companies making a positive difference in the world. 66% of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. That preference extends to other matters as well. They prefer to work for or invest in these companies. A smaller share, but still nearly half, say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from these socially conscious companies.

So today’s point is this:  while doing well by doing good isn’t a mandate, consumers are paying attention, and if your business isn’t, you might be falling behind.  To paraphrase Dylan, the times are a-changin’ yet again.  I’ve pointed out before that marketing today isn’t about you but about us – your consumers and our connections to your business.  That outward focus needs to mirror the concerns and solve the problems of your customers, who clearly are more socially conscious than they’ve been.

Those are how these pieces connect in my mind – how about in yours?

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