Tag Archives: GE

June 7, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Is CSR the Key to Sustainable Relevance?

When I sit and catch up with my colleagues from all of our practice areas there is a universal challenge our clients are facing:  how to be relevant, and stay relevant, amidst the noise.  As companies and brands seize the opportunity to use communications to advance their business goals – whether promoting a product, increasing brand awareness, building reputation or attracting the best talent – our 24/7 information environment has turned into a proverbial shouting match of content, news and conversation.

It isn’t enough to matter.  You need to matter more.

It all boils down to good citizenship – and it’s the commitment, more than the cause.  Creating an authentic culture, from the inside out. Having a social purpose that is more than about making money, but making change and improving lives. That’s what is going to matter over the long haul.

When it comes to using CSR to create relevance, how can you be sure to get it right?

1. Alignment: Your purpose should be aligned with your business mission, and make people feel good about the experience of your product.

There are some great examples of companies doing this well: Starbucks and Chipotle have a similar approach – quality ingredients, sourced with integrity. As I wrote here, Starbucks’ investment in thriving communities and Chipotle’s Food with Integrity platform show CSR integration across every aspect of operations.

There are also a lot of clear misses: Remember when KFC partnered with Susan G. Komen to create pink “Buckets for the Cure”? What was the purpose?  Sure, women buy chicken, and women hate breast cancer.  But the mission wasn’t aligned with cause.

Using your stores and your customer base to raise money for a cause is a good thing.  But it doesn’t automatically make you relevant.

2. Staying Power: Plan to stick with this purpose for as long as you plan to be in business.  The ways you do it can change, but the purpose doesn’t.

Nike’s brand promise has been to make their customers the best they can be – whether a professional athlete in training or running to the supermarket. Its CSR programs support that premise. Similarly, Seventh Generation’s cause is to inspire a more conscious and sustainable world. Their CSR platform looks to nurture not only this generation, but the health of the next seven.

To create any significant and long-lasting effects on the planet and communities – and stay relevant – companies must commit for the long-haul.

3. Specificity: Platforms and umbrella branding are good things – it’s a great way to tie together all of the local, regional and national initiatives and give them broader meaning. The danger is when that umbrella becomes so big and broad that it no longer stands for anything.  Specificity is what makes programs ownable and memorable.

GE does this well. Their corporate citizenship strategy is framed within two key pillars of energy and sustainable healthcare.  Within these pillars, GE has four clear support strategies, tied to their operational sweet spots: infrastructure, technology, financing and capacity building. Much like their business, it just makes sense. But even good companies can fall victim to diluted CSR strategy. Pharma has been criticized for CSR programs that are too broad and sometimes overly conceptual, making it difficult for consumers to see meaningful results and tangible impact.

Identifying what matters – truly – to your consumers and community and committing fully to that cause – that’s what will cut through the noise, and start a long-lasting conversation.

October 12, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

If you want to be relevant, tell a great story

If you work in the public relations profession, you’ve probably heard a common lament among clients – “People aren’t getting our story.“

It may be one of the common denominators that make clients from diverse industries and across all practices of public relations alike.  Whether launching a brand, working an issue in Washington, conducting an investor road show or managing a crisis, having a compelling story is a fundamental requirement

In the public relations business, we’ve always been storytellers – whether you call it messaging, corporate/brand positioning or narrative – it’s all about the story.   And the greatest, most iconic brands and companies do it really, really well – Nike, GE, Apple and Starbucks all understand that to remain relevant as you grow and change, having a story that resonates is key.

This piece on Starbucks features the philosophies of noted brand evangelist Stanley Hainsworth, and credits great storytelling for transforming a commodity product into a $4 splurge.  He talks a lot about the art of storytelling, and gives us a glimpse into the approach he uses to create an emotional connection with stakeholders.  As I read this piece, I was struck with the significant alignment between his priorities and the way we approach developing a client’s narrative at MWW Group…in particular, the emphasis on tailoring your story for different audiences – what we call the Total Stakeholder Approach.   

The irony is that while this may be a fresh, new approach for the brand evangelist – it has been core to of great public relations programming and strategy from the beginning.   

How do you know if your story needs revisiting and refreshing?

  • Any time there has been a significant change in your business – new leaders, new business strategy, new line of business.  Chances are you need to rethink your narrative.  A more thoughtful approach would have made a big difference for Netflix, and saved them lots of backpedaling.
  • Significant changes in your industry also call for a new story – because your old story simply won’t be relevant anymore.
  • Shift in strategy or emphasis on who, or what, is important.
  • If you are underperforming – in sales, in employee retention, in share price performance – that may be a sign that your story isn’t resonating.
  • If it feels stale, out of date or misaligned with your priorities – even if it isn’t impacting your stakeholders yet.

January 18, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Is Executive Branding Ever Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Apple PR machine is on overdrive convincing the world that the team at Apple is up to the task of running the company without Steve Jobs. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it, in large part because they’ve weathered this crisis once before, and have the results to prove it. They’ve got the financial community on board, with supportive analyst quotes about the depth of management. And they even got a NYT story today with a headline that talks about Apple’s deep bench.

Yet an informal poll around the office today failed to yield a single member of our MWW Group news junkie team that could name a single member of theirs (other than Jobs) — even with all of the media attention around this news and the management team at Apple.

Has Jobs become so larger than life, that Apple just couldn’t be Apple without him? Is his “brand” too much of a good thing?

The tech sector is filled with iconic, branded leaders –Ellison, Jobs, Gates, Bezos. No first names, or companies, needed. Even in that crowd, the Jobs mystique is legendary – it’s hard to say whether the iPad, and its migration to an entire i-lifestyle, made Jobs cool again, or if it was the other way around. (Remember, he was actually ousted from Apple in the mid 1980s).

I think the question isn’t whether Jobs has been “over-branded.” Plenty of organizations have transitioned an iconic CEO – Welch at GE, Gates at Microsoft, Kelleher at Southwest Airlines – to name a few. All of these companies have retained strong, positive reputations. The question really is whether Apple has done enough to prepare for an eventual transition. Should members of their team have better name recognition outside of Wall Street, particularly since this is not Jobs’ first time taking a leave of absence for serious health issues?

It is my sincerest hope (and seemingly that of the Twitter-verse) that Jobs will return to the helm, fit as a fiddle. But even under the best of circumstances, he can’t stay forever.

To me the real question is whether Apple can “culture-ize” the Jobs mystique, so it can continue beyond his years of service, like Walt Disney. Or will it need to re-invent itself under the vision of a new leader, and become a new, equally successful Apple?

March 29, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Customers Really Don’t Come First…..But Don’t Say That to Your Customers

Last week I had the privilege of moderating a panel at a seminar by The Conference Board on the customer experience. It was a great conference with leaders from iconic service and experience organizations like Disney, Starbucks and the Girl Scouts.

Our session was about creating a culture for service, and our panelists provided some great insights into this critical subject matter.

Stan Hart of Ritter & Associates talked about the importance of measurement in order to translate the language of the importance of service into action at all levels of the organization.

Ed Reilly of the American Management Association provided some great context around the reason that service and customer service has been elevated to a C-level imperative, and provided great guidance on how to provide the leadership and training that “walks the talk.”

For me the proverbial “a-ha” moment came during a session led by Michael Chen, CEO of GE Commercial Finance. He talked about the 4 I’s of creating a culture for success, and reminded us of the window of Batman’s girlfriend who told us (in Batman Returns) that actions are more important than intentions. He also said “Customers don’t come first – your employees do. Treat your employees like customers, and they will treat your customers like royalty.”

It’s great to hear that coming from a CEO, because this simple truth is so often forgotten as companies become entangled in creating measurement protocols, rolling out CRM programs and otherwise focusing their customer service resources externally. Your employees are the single greatest asset you have in achieving customer satisfaction – they impact every step in the process. And the power of social media means that you are only as good as the worst decisions of a single employee. Just ask Domino’s – who found itself battling a massive reputational threat after a couple of part time employees posted some distasteful video on YouTube.

Carreen Winters can be reached at cwinters@mww.com