When you write a blog, you get sent a fair number of books to read and review. Some you get around to, some you don’t. This month, as part of marketing blitz from Simon Mainwaring and company, I received a copy of We First along with a number of emails asking me to post and link to the book on Amazon, which I dutifully do right here.
Yet while We First is perfectly packaged – a dissertation on the still popular topic we call social media; a well-done website including sound bites on what blogger reviewers should say; numerous shout outs to brands such as Toms, Nike, Zappos and others who might buy the book in bulk; and more than a few proclamations that the author is the owner of the idea behind We First, a sure way to line up paid speaking gigs and more sales – the book is well worth reading, whether you’re a company trying to navigate the “End of Us And Them” or an agency or marketer striving to guide clients.
In short, Simon makes three strong arguments. The first is that in an age of consumer control and the ability to support or take down a brand for its misbehavior or bad judgment, all companies should learn to leverage that same social behavior by inspiring positive word of mouth through actions that do good.
Second, the author lays out convincing evidence that consumers are motivated by more than low price. Brands that have integrity, that commit to sustainable practices, whether economic, environmental or social, enjoy higher sales, greater loyalty and more endorsement.
And finally, Mainwaring reminds us that our biggest problems – global warming, hunger, economic disparities, and potable water — are too significant for governments and NGOs to solve. It’s time for business to embrace a new set of values and focus on making contributions of value to society and community.
Simon is clearly not talking about making charitable donations or using superficial social acts as a ploy to generate PR and temporary good will. In fact he condemns the “hypocrisy of many businesses to save with one hand what the other hand has destroyed.” The truly sustainable company wouldn’t need to write checks because its daily operations would enrich rather than deprive the community.
We would all be better off if business heeds some of We First’s recommendations and examples. And there are plenty of the latter for inspiration, as Mainwaring gives kudos to the usual suspects – Whole Foods, Starbucks – along with giants trying to do good (Pepsi) and smaller firms who have social responsibility built into their DNA (Dancing Deer Bakery.)
And to his credit, he shares practical suggestions for how companies can get with the program, including ways to leverage employees; the benefits of collaborating with government, supply chains and even competitors; using consumers as partners; and something he calls contributory consumption.
Side note re contributory consumption: When I taught last year the University of Oregon, my assignment to the school of journalism and communication was to develop a program to jump start innovation in America. One team came up with the idea of a digital currency that would reward consumers for contributing time or money to worthy causes. Brands could purchase or earn the currency through certain behaviors, then grant the digital value to consumers who supported bought their products and services. The team is working on bringing this to life as we speak.
The cynics among us wonder if the inherent greed and profit-motives of most business might cloud a more modern perspective that reveals the benefits of embracing this new social responsibility. More practical thinkers simply hope that consumers take advantage of their recently acquired power and force change. And finally the optimists might actually believe that companies and businesses can change on their own. Let’s hope so. If Simon’s own transformation is any indication, at least it’s possible.
Simon Mainwaring can be credited with a few things. A lesson in how to market a book. Positioning and packaging himself as a writer/speaker. But more importantly for actually writing something that will push an important conversation forward. If you’re tired of what social media is and interested in what social media might actually let us achieve, pick up a copy of We First. And think about what you and your business can change to answer the question that appears on page 1.