Tag Archives: Starbucks

September 9, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged , , ,

Becoming a lifestyle brand, the Apple way

top-10-brands-on-socialcam-eef22540ddI’ve led corporate branding and narrative development for companies in every industry, from start-ups to the Fortune 100.  At one point in each and every audit, when asking executives who they most want to emulate or be aligned with, they all say the same thing: “I want to be Apple.”

It has happened so often that I have had to specifically re-engineer my question to include a caveat – Apple doesn’t count.  Nor does Nike or Starbucks.

These are the go-to brands that transcend their categories. Their very names have become known as widely-accepted verbs by everyone from Wall Street Analysts to Main Street Millennials.  These companies have created such strong emotional connections with their customers that they now serve to validate their identities and customers reciprocate by voluntarily tattooing their cars, computers and even bodies.  Because for their audiences, they are not corporations, they are a lifestyle.

Lifestyle brands do more than achieve cult-like status among their followers. They successfully break away from the commodity space.  They command a price and loyalty premium unavailable to competitors.

And the secret sauce? After researching and following so many of these brands, including those that have had success on a humbler stage, such as Harley-Davidson, Whole Foods and Ralph Lauren, it has become apparent that there is none.  No amount of imitation in the way these companies look, talk or act can transform an everyday organization into a lifestyle brand. However, several major themes have consistently emerged in the way these companies operate market and think about their businesses that are worth putting into practice:

Stand for something specific

Have a defined identity and corporate narrative that your employees can strive to exemplify and customers and investors can believe in.  Invest in the time and resources to really understand what your company stands for and where it is headed, as well as what drives your stakeholders to action.  Building authentic and ownable thought leadership platforms from that narrative can help get your story told by the influencers, but then you need to reinforce that mission consistently by creating the same experience in everything you do: in store and out, online and in person, on Main Street and on Wall Street.

Tell Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We connect and learn through them; they can help humanize even the most esoteric of topics. However, how you tell yours and who tells it means the difference between empty noise and building authentic relationships with key audiences.  Take Nike for instance:  its 1977 ad campaign was revolutionary for its time, many called it “risky,” even “crazy.” The first of its kind, it featured zero actual Nike products, and it was all centered around the art of storytelling and creating an emotional connection with its audience around hope for what they could accomplish – as athletes and as people, punctuated by the “Just Do It” tagline that has become an iconic, cultural mantra of motivation for everything from climbing Mount Everest to climbing the corporate ladder.

The key is to think about what people want to hear, what motivates them and shape your communications strategically around that.

Are you shuttling people from point A to point B or are you enabling a great travel experience? Are you selling technology that brings Wi-Fi to a stadium or are you making it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to stay connected no matter where they are?

Every corporate story starts with a mission. Find ways to get people excited about yours.

Nobody wins by following the crowd

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional – culturally or otherwise. Distinguish your company from competitors by encourage new standards and “best practices” by looking outside the industry – who does it well in general?  Where are all the thought leaders on topic X, Y or Z convening?  Thinking beyond the category can help employees focus on excelling in key areas like customer service and innovation no matter what gadget or offering they’re supporting. It will also help to reshape the way you think about and approach strategies fornew products, experiences and communications that build your reputation as a leader.

Stay true. If it deviates, don’t do it

Because all associations echo your brand and can have a significant impact on your corporate reputation, mandate a laser-focus on associating yourproducts, partnerships, services and offerings with thesocial and cultural aspirations of your targetaudiences. You can only do this by making understanding the wants and needs of your stakeholders a corporate priority.  Building new products, services and innovations around insights will provide a framework for all decision-making.

July 2, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

When Values-Based Organizations Go Wrong: Why Hypocrisy is the Enemy of Reputation

hobby lobbyFree speech is alive and well – at least on social media – and it has never been more evident than it is with the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.  Placing religious freedom, personal liberty and other Constitutional arguments aside, watching this situation unfold begs the question about the reputation implications of being an organization that is “values-based.”

Most organizations are built on core values – some through a purposeful design of mission and vision statements, followed by the core values the organization espouses.  Others have been less orchestrated – but not less meaningful – often derived from the personal values system of the founders – maybe even religious values. Some of the greatest, most iconic companies in America were built on a religious foundation.  The Hersey Chocolate Company was certainly influenced by Milton Hershey’s Mennonite values.  Marriott’s commitment to The Mormon Way is well documented, as is its refusal to offer pay-per-view pornography in its hotels.  Tyson provides Chaplains of multiple faiths for its employees and believes in spirituality in the workplace.  And Timberland’s CEO credits his Jewish faith for his commitment to treating all people with dignity, and severing ties with Chinese factories for human rights violations.

So why the backlash against self-proclaimed Christian companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A?

While the issue is very complex, the answer is simple.

  1. When a company proclaims a set of values – there is an expectation that those values will be applied consistently – not in a cherry picked fashion.   This piece about Hobby Lobby’s extensive sourcing from China sums it up nicely.  Consumers won’t tolerate hypocrisy – such as Forever 21 selling skimpy clothing to young girls, while printing bible verses on your shopping bags.  Or Chick-fil-A’s proclamation as an advocate for families (and closing on Sundays) but rampant disrespect for gay families.
  2. When your organization’s values benefit your employees and protect your customers– such as Tyson’s Chaplain program, or Starbucks banning weapons in their stores – this is a good thing for your reputation.  When your values are used as a blunt instrument to restrict or deny your employees – that is something else.  (And yes, I understand that some believe that restricting weapons is impeding the personal liberty of the lawful gun owners who believe in their right to bear arms…but that is a topic for another blog, another day.  I don’t think ordering a Venti Frappuccino requires being armed.)

So should you just forget about being a values-based organization?  Absolutely not.  But before you proclaim those values, remember that we live in a complex world, and that hypocrisy is the enemy of building and preserving your reputation.  You’ve got to walk the talk.

June 17, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Will Corporate Citizenship Become the Reputation Game Changer As Starbucks Ups the Ante?

As if ethically sourced coffee weren’t enough to make your $5 cup of coffee a fashion statement. Starbucks upgraded its reputation to a double shot Venti with the announcement that the company will pay for all employees to go to college. That’s right, all employees – and without the handcuffs of retention requirements, partial reimbursements or anything else.

For brands that are planning their next pink product line in a cause marketing pile-on known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month (aka October) and calling it corporate citizenship; or viewing themselves as the education advocates by donating school supplies to teachers – think again.

The notion of social purpose as a business driver is catching on, fueled by leaders like The Gap, who’ve pledged to pay above minimum wage; Google, whose employees are required to spend a portion of their work week doing something other than company business, and even Apple, where CEO Tim Cook is seemingly defining his legacy not on design or innovation, but on doing the right thing. Starbucks – whose humble beginnings with health insurance for all and banning guns are beginning to look like simple table stakes for what was to come.

The data is clear – businesses with a well-defined sense of purpose outperform those that don’t with customers, with employees and with influencers. CSR officers are increasingly a C-level position, reporting directly to the CEO. Yet thinly veiled marketing programs are still being passed off as CSR.

Those of us in the PR and communications field need to take note. If your approach to CSR is a communications activation of a cause marketing program, you aren’t going to move the needle on your reputation. This is not to say that cause marketing is bad – it isn’t. So many truly worthy causes raise funds through this mechanism – and who doesn’t like to know that choosing the Oprah Chai Latte, vs. the “normal” chai latte, helps educate young women in Africa? But it isn’t enough.

An integrated model, beginning with a higher purpose for your company’s existence, and supported by a rationale for sustainability – of our planet, of our communities and of your own organization — is the new expectation, and those expectations keep rising.

This is not a new concept, in many ways it’s the return of something we haven’t seen in many generations, when companies like the Ford Motor Company built affordable housing for its employees, or Milton Hershey built a hospital to create jobs during the Depression and serve the health needs of his factory employees.

An organization’s Chief Communicator (or communications advisor) is uniquely positioned to change the internal conversation and metrics about what it means to be a good citizen because these roles tend to be among the few that truly take a total stakeholder approach; and this is the area most often tasked with the advancement of reputation.

Is the PR industry ready for the challenge?


2011 CIA Award Winners

December 26, 2013 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

Reputation Winners of 2013

While we often think first of the big losers when it comes to reputation, it’s worth taking note of those who have done it right. Here’s our take on the biggest reputation winners of 2013:

Starbucks – The epitome of a company guided by its values, with the character, conviction and reputation equity to pull off controversial decisions with aplomb. When Starbucks announced that guns were not welcome in its stores, they did so in a way that respected a customers’ right to have one (if you are a gun kind of guy), but respectfully told them to leave them at home when they come for their latte. In the process, Starbucks sent a strong message to its employees (your safety matters more than a $5 cup of coffee) and to all of its stakeholders about what it stands for. In addition, the company was running on all cylinders in 2013, blowing away earnings estimates and articulating a vision for the future with the acquisition of famous Bay-Area bakery La Boulange and expanding the retail presence of Evolution Fresh. Well done.

Yahoo/Marissa Mayer – As one of the most scrutinized CEOs in the world, Marissa Mayer has taken her share of hits for everything from taking a job like this while pregnant to banning telecommuting while building a nursery for her baby at the office. But it is hard to argue with success, evidenced by a stock price that is roughly double what it was when she arrived and the acquisition of white-hot web properties like Tumblr and Qwiki. Score one for girl power.

The Vatican/Catholic Church/The Papacy – We haven’t seen a Pope be this relevant (and in my opinion, for the right reasons) since Pope John Paul II freed Poland from Communism. Pope Francis walks the line between preserving the Church’s values and encouraging tolerance. The personification of the concept of a servant leader, Pope Francis earned himself the distinction of being Time Magazine’s Person of the Year with his wisdom, compassion and example.

Netflix – The Comeback Kid of 2013, Netflix moved past its pricing debacle and concerns about its future to grow its user base and its bottom line. Netflix redefined entertainment delivery with its big bets on House of Cards, Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black and Lilyhammer. Cable providers nationwide are sweating bullets with Netflix and rivals like Hulu and Aereo growing rapidly.

Marriage Equality – Advocates for marriage equality showed a stroke of brilliance when they positioned it as a human rights issue, not an LGBT issue or a “fairness” issue, and that bet is paying off. This year, support for marriage equality tipped to the majority of Americans for the first time, and 18 states now provide full equality, and Utah may be next after a federal court judge struck down state law.

The Jersey Shore – In the spirit of full disclosure, this is an MWW client. And we’re pretty darn proud of the work we did. But the numbers don’t lie…despite predictions of a disastrous decline in critical tourism revenue in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey rallied, rebounded and got people back to the beaches in record numbers, proving that the state is Stronger than the Storm. Lonely Planet and Fodor’s just named the Jersey Shore to its top 10 U.S. destinations.

Tesla – There may not have been a hotter company in 2013, so much so that its own CEO tamped down expectations and did the unthinkable by saying its share price was overvalued when its stock exploded by 400 percent in a single year. CEO Elon Musk has transformed his reputation as a big dreamer into a big doer, and continued to push boundaries on how we think about travel including a hyper-fast train system. Still, challenges remain ahead to deliver on the hype.

Amazon/Jeff Bezos – Amazon scored a banner year with impressive financial growth, possibly the greatest media placement of all time (debuting Amazon’s drone delivery service on 60 Minutes the day before Cyber Monday), and a CEO who purchased one of the world’s greatest media properties in The Washington Post with a plan to invest and expand coverage. The sky does seem to be the limit for where Amazon goes from here.

Honorable Mentions to Big Data, proving that PR people don’t hate numbers after all. Pantene, for igniting a national debate about gender bias in the workplace, and the Boston Red Sox, who obliterated the rally cap with the rally beard.


September 18, 2013 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Guns, Coffee and Social Media: Howard Schultz’s Deft Execution of His Open Letter

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz issued an open letter to customers in states with “open carry” gun laws, and respectfully asked them to leave their guns at home.

The public response and focus of the coverage has been predictable. Some lauded the move as a bold gesture to families across the U.S., citing it further enhances the company’s efforts to establish their stores as a “second home” space focused on family comfort and security. Others took Schultz’s stance as a personal and national assault on civil liberties, and are beating the social media drum to spark a boycott of the brand.

The politics of it, I’ll leave for the media and the engaged public to dissect. The biggest takeaway here for me, was the brilliantly tactful way Schultz’s communications team used social media to deliver his open letter.

With more than 70 percent of Americans in favor of some form of gun control, an overzealous communications team might have seen that as a mandate to trumpet the open letter as the main social content for the day. Much the same way, Oreo came out in support of marriage equality with a dedicated Facebook cover image, Starbucks could have developed a specific ‘unity’ graphic to be featured on its Facebook page or Twitter background. Or, it could have taken a page from Lululemon and prominently splashed the open letter as the marquee content of their website.

Fortunately, Starbucks navigated away from these potential communication landmines and decided to share the open letter with a curt Facebook post and tweet. Anything more would have enraged the pro-gun community, and make the brand’s social channels a messy battleground. That would have placed a burden on the community management team to deal with reading posts from angry fans on breaking constitutional liberties instead of engaging with the community on the joy of sipping Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

As you visit Starbucks’ website, Facebook and Twitter pages, take note. The brand is doing a great job of making sure its social channels remain a “second home”, an online space where the main focus is caffeinated concoctions and nothing else.

November 14, 2012 | dlauer | Tagged , , , ,

Mission Critical: No Better Time to Get Naked

Storytelling is the foundation for every corporate public relations program. I spend a lot of time working with companies on developing and refining their core stories – or what we refer to as a company’s “master narrative.” Like all great stories, there needs to be a centrally defined focus – a purpose that brings together the main characters and the plot and makes the story all worth telling. The business equivalent is a company’s mission, the articulation of why an organization exists.

At a time when many corporate leaders are battling extreme global competition, evolving regulation and consolidation, articulating why the company is in business should be the easy part, right? Wrong. Surprisingly, I have found that the single biggest stumbling block executives have when thinking about their companies is agreeing on the very essence of what they do and why. Many have the most trouble getting back to the basics and stripping away superfluous language that can water down or even distort the mission.

So who is getting it right? Take a look at a few of my favorites:

Zappos: “Wow” philosophy “to provide the best customer service possible.”

JetBlue: “Bring humanity back to air travel”

Starbucks: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

McDonald’s: “To be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.”

I list four very different businesses and four very different missions, yet they all have one thing in common: they get at the very essence of why they are in business, simply and cleanly. You don’t need a PhD to understand what they do, who they do it for and why they do it. You immediately get why their people come to work every day and while it’s not to cure cancer, abolish poverty or another of the world’s intractable problems, they are inspiring in their own right.

And why should a company care? Mission statements have been directly linked to greater returns on investment, and return on equity has been found to be more than double in companies with a written mission statement.

Telling your company’s story with a strong mission at the core has the ability to rally employees, inspire customers and keep the company on track when it verges on losing its way. When thinking about your own business, remember that a mission statement is more than words on paper, and often what’s not there is even more telling. Less can be more. Go ahead and bare all!

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.

April 23, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

CEO Perspective: Balancing Profitability and Company Conscience

Businesses are expected to do more these days. They must treat employees ethically. They must be transparent with consumers. They must be sophisticated in their CSR programming and initiatives. They must set long-term sustainability and community engagement goals. And they must constantly report on how they are doing.

The list goes on.

Business leaders know that they have to do this. They’ve seen the studies that show again and again that being a good corporate citizen is also good for corporate performance. Even amid tensions from investors and increased expectations from consumers, CEOs are realizing that it pays to deliver on your CSR promise.

Then why is it that so many still do it wrong? Or, even some cases, not at all?

Perhaps they just don’t have the role models.

So here’s one: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who from the start, had a goal to build a company with a soul and social conscience. From a new U.S. jobs program, to comprehensive health insurance for part-time workers, and a focus on ethical sourcing and environmental stewardship, Starbucks has made investing in communities a key element of their brand promise. And it has paid off. Starbucks is enjoying record profits, with Schultz contributing success to the company’s conscience.

Need more evidence that companies can satisfy both consumer and investor pressures? Take a look at what Schultz chose to talk about during his remarks at the annual shareholders meeting last month – the importance of giving back to communities.

Take notes.

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.

June 15, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

Celebrations and Citizenship

Today is IBM’s 100th Birthday….it is also my daughter’s 16th birthday – so it is a big day all around. Unlike the celebration I am planning – which includes a party bus and a jam-packed day (and night) of entertainment, IBM is celebrating their day with service to the community.

This is an important trend in a citizenship movement by major corporations…the notion that service to others is more important than simple philanthropy. Checks to support the arts, medical research and hosting galas are all fine. Indeed, many worthwhile causes couldn’t survive without it. But more progressive organizations are looking at their ability to impact their communities in a hands-on, service oriented way.

For CSR to meaningful, it must be relevant – internally and externally. A service-oriented approach bridges that relevance gap in one simple swoop. Employees who are involved in a hands-on service project feel better about their companies, and feel proud to be a part of them. And demonstration of philanthropy and citizenship is more accretive to reputation than talking about it.

Here are some examples of great companies and brands who bring this philosophy to life:

• Starbucks has partnered with the HandsOn Network, a non-profit that organizes volunteer projects, and has a goal to donate 1 million community service hours from its employees by 2015. This is in addition to the $22.4 million Starbucks distributed in 2010 in corporate giving and grants.

• Disney’s VoluntEARS program allows employees to volunteer for causes of their choosing and aids in raising money for charities that employees support. Disney VoluntEARS assist in more than 2,200 projects through 495,000 hours annually. Employees also raised $1.7 million through Disney’s assistance.

• Intel supports its employees to volunteer all around the world and matches every volunteer hour with a monetary contribution. Intel also uses its employees’ capabilities to establish technology in classrooms in developing countries.

Similar programs from MWW clients – Deloitte’s Impact Day, a massive celebration of the organization’s year-round commitment to workplace volunteerism, and Nikon’s work in local communities both home and abroad contribute to a service-oriented approach.

Relevant approaches to worthwhile causes, which is meaningful CSR.