We First: marketing social change

The opening line of We First

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.

 

 

11 comments
Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Hi Edward. I agree wholeheartedly with points 2 and 3. I completely disagree with point 1 when it comes to major brands. Toyota, BP, etc have taken hits but still fly strong. US Banks strong. Big Oil in general strong. Walmart considering how many including me will never buy anything from them also able to withstand a lot of vocal pressure on and off line. Even tech like Facebook should be dead in the water for it's ethics lapses and abuse of its user base. Apple should be getting dinged for tracking everyone. And all I hear is dead silence when it comes to sales (always good) and stock (going up) for all these examples. But for small brands say a local restaurant you bet your butt Social can take them down.

benkunz
benkunz

Hm. "Embrace a new set of values..."

@edwardboches You mention in your recent teaching assignment, "One team came up with the idea of a digital currency that would reward consumers for contributing time or money to worthy causes..." which strikes at the core problem -- our currency, or reward system, is out of sync with what we perhaps really need.

Businesses are based on building new financial value, driven by unchecked growth, which requires aggressive competition. This competitive force is adored by conservatives and has positive results in innovation, winnowing the weak, raising lifestyles, but also negative ones in terms of resource consumption, waste, pollution, and gaps in filling societal needs. This basic conflict between drive and debris is the foundation of the past 100 years of political debate, liberal vs. conservative, left vs. right -- do we share or be independent, protect the group's need for help or the individual's right to achieve? The truth is both sides are right, society must share and bolster independent success; society wants both shared resources and low burdens to individuals, which is why we constantly have budget deficits in government. U.S. gov't spending is 25% of GDP while taxes are only 14.4%, showing that both sides end up wanting more government than they are willing to pay for (political side note, Dems and GOP, we have to both raise taxes and cut spending to bring our budget in line, quit arguing, you are both right).

Which brings me to my point: The definition of value must change if society and businesses are to realign their growth with benefits to society. Financial currency is one definition of value, but not the only one; a healthy ecosystem, clean water and air, knowledge and education, and all the groovy stuff at the top of Maslow's pyramid require more than cash. I don't have the answer, but I do know that unchecked growth in the human body is called cancer, our planet is being terraformed, and we do not have enough resources to give all 7 billion of us steak dinners and iPads that plug into the wall. My responding to you via this computer is a privileged use of massive production resources that can't be scaled across all humans; if everyone on the planet ate like we do, we'd all be out of food. Our resource consumption is out of alignment and the competitive incentive that spurs our growth is driving us too far.

Does this sound like communism? No, it's simply a fact that unchecked growth is unsustainable. Liberals who want costly shared solutions without thinking about individual incentives, which build resources, are wrong; conservatives who suggest financial gain is a panacea and shared safeguards like the EPA are unnecessary forget we could end up like Mars. I wish either side were right; I'd also like a pet unicorn. In nature, the solution is called stasis, when everything achieves balance. The earth has been good at this, which is why after millions of years we still have an atmosphere to breathe. I may buy the book to see if it has some logical path for humanity to realign with what nature has already solved.

We have deeper issues than social-media community building at play today.

al.pittampalli
al.pittampalli

One word: Wikipedia. The world's largest encyclopedia developed by volunteers who weren't paid. We're living in a revolution, and great social change finally can be created without permission from large institutions. We can do it ourselves. Heard much about this book, sounds like an interesting read.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Howie Goldfarb You are right based on the recent past. But it may be too soon to know what lies ahead. If citizens in the Middle East can organize enough to take down a government, they have the potential to significantly boycott a company. However, they need to care enough to do so in response to a particularly bad behavior. Even short of that, however, consumers could certainly force a new dialog. Think The Gap. Why not the same action in protest of a company's economic or environmental or social behavior. They may not put a business out of business, but they should be able to force change.

JeffShattuck
JeffShattuck

@benkunz @edwardboches

benkunz, I have to disagree with most of what you wrote.

Yes, businesses build value, but value is subjective and and changes over time, you can't set it in stone and if you try you will fail.

I also don't think the real conflict over the last 100 years has been drive vs. debris, it's been central control vs. decentralized freedom, at least in my opinion.

Back to value, I would actually say that currency is not a definition of value but a measure. More accurately, it's a medium of exchange and actually has no value of its own, really. It's a holder of value, but a leaky one (inflation sucks!).

Last, earth is not good at stasis. What of the dinosaurs and countless other animals? The very geography of the planet changing constantly with plate tectonics? Evolution? Mutation meaning survival in the face of mass extinctions? Maybe things seem to be constant, but it is only because of our brief lifespans.

What's the answer to all the waste today? I don't know, but it's not writing a code we all must follow. And whatever the path we must take is, no one knows. Besides a black swan will come along and poop on it.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@benkunz Ben. You should have written the book. The fact that you can rattle this litany of points and ideas in a matter of seconds is testament to your comprehension of the facts and the challenges, not to mention an objectivity shared by few. Can't disagree with anything you say. Though the "currency" I refer to in the program the kids came up with is not meant to be a currency in the normal sense. It's not redeemable, but simply a badge of do-goodness acquired by those who want to make good decisions or try and influence companies to do the same. That being said, you get at the bigger problem of how to achieve or inspire businesses to be more sustainable in all practice -- economic, environmental, social, human capital. Some companies are trying. Walmart with energy. Google with electricity. Etc. We won't every regulate our way there, so the question is can consumer ability to harness social media be a force of change by demanding business behavior changes, and can business see that change could be in their best interest because it might inspire both loyalty and social capital. Finally, as I've learned in lots of ways, no one wants to be the first,but many will follow of it becomes the new admired behavior.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@al.pittampalli You are right, Question here is whether or not the us and them can become more about We. Will business find value in doing good not just making money. Wall St still values only the short term and next quarter's margins.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@edwardboches Very well said Edward. The past does not prove any future. I think we have such short attention spans and not sure if we always have or if they are getting shorter. I think Haiti, Katrina, BP, Chile, Japan, even some of the revolutions like Egypt already gone from our vision or care. Is the increase in stimulation in the form of media and news creating this? Or have we always had this and but on different subjects?

prosperitygal
prosperitygal

@edwardboches @benkunz Funny after talking with Simon at SXSW and then interviewing him on both #BBSradio & #Speakchat Simon continues to amaze me with his understanding of all you both has shared here.

I am wondering now like you said Ed how can we support those who are willing to be first. Whether it is banding together (hivemind I love that) and demanding accountability from companies who want our dollars as well as BEing the kind of company we ask from others.

benkunz
benkunz

@edwardboches Well said. Perhaps this is the real play for new connected communities -- to, as a group hivemind, make the balanced decisions that individuals, polluted by personal incentives, can't make for themselves.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@benkunz @edwardboches when anyone brings up that the US is a devout Judeo-Christian country I always respond no we are not. We worship only one God overall and that is money. And that is why often the most ethically corrupt and morally deficient who in my opinion resides more on the right than the left only be the right thumps the bible when really they just thump the greenback.

It is like the anti-abortion debate. Make sure the babies get born but the minute they get born how dare you raise my taxes to ensure they are housed, fed, schooled etc. And with 1 million kids sleeping on the street in the US (see Standupforkids.org whom I spent 3 years doing street outreach in LA for) how can the most God Fearing Worshipping not care about kids? Because they worship the Dollar! lol (my opinion of course)

A great book was Ishmael by Daniel Quinn opened my eyes to a different view of the earth.

Ben you are right on with your write up and yes book please.