Can we blame the economy for company performance? 6 lessons brands should learn from political campaigns
I came back from my summer vacation a week ago hearing all the media noise about negative political ads, fluctuating stock markets, consumers cutting back on spending, businesses investing less, well, you know the rest. It is an election year, afterall.
As a strategic branding consultant, I couldn’t help but to research the effectiveness of the political attack ads that are designed to diminish positive effect for the opposing candidate’s target. I wondered if it is working. So many opposing views in articles and blogs.
I reviewed a meta-analytic assessment of the effects of negative political campaigns. This Research concludes that negative campaigning is no more effective than positive campaigning, but seems to be more memorable, generating greater campaign-relevant knowledge. It also suggests that negative campaigning has the potential to do damage to the political system itself, as it tends to reduce feelings of political efficacy, trust in government, and perhaps even satisfaction with government itself. However, contrary to the popular belief, it provides no support that it reduces or depresses voter turnarount. Interestingly, while the overall findings for intended turnout are negative, the overall findings for actual turnout is positive.
Net, net, I think the negative political attack ads are designed to energize the base and increase campaign interest–and contrary to current articles and blog posts, backlash effect is minimum. The country is already divided and strategic differentiations are clearly defined. There is not much any of our candidates can do or say to change the opposing views. With that said, I think the Democratic party has much more to gain by energizing and uniting their base, versus the Republican base who have been united and energized the entire time these past four years.
As for the undecided voters (are there any out there), this strategy may increase campaign interest, only if campaign-related knowledge is shared. More importantly, trust must be build on the information shared, which is hardly the case with intensely different fact sharing on each side. What is true is that you are neither wrong or right if the crowd disagrees with you—you are right only if your data and reasoning are right.
You would think that political parties can continue disagreeing on how to tax the top 2%, but at least agree on how to tax the 98% consumers to revive middle class, which will in turn improve the economy and business performances. What surprises me even more is the extend of discussion on taxes versus cultural values that are true behavioral motivators—in voting or consumption. If business leaders were more concerned about leveraging the cultural macro trends and driving sales and profit from the front end, versus cost cutting and bitter tax debates, they will actually end up making more money for all the shareholders.
What can we learn about from all this as it relates to branding and marketing strategies? Can we just sit back and blame the economy for the company performance? Here are 6 important lessons to learn and follow:
- People have a simple wish for a better life. Communicate how your brand can improve their current conditions.
- Energize your base through powerful, emotionally charged marketing campaigns.
- Great brands are built on beliefs and values. Decide which beliefs and values to include in your Value Propositions.
- In today’s economy, all consumers are seeking price value. Don’t lower your price at the expense of your quality and service. Lower it only to gain market share through a meaningful campaign.
- Gain trust by showing you truly care for your base target…share relevant trustworthy reasoning why the consumers should choose your brand…more importantly, deliver on your brand promise.
- Leverage the 3 major cultural macro trends, and step in to The New World Marketplace which is a far cry from the one taught in business textbooks.
Why do so many companies and entrepreneurs with great products and services fail to deliver success? Is it lack of strategy and vision—or lack of knowing how to “execute” a strategic vision in the marketplace? Hint: maybe both.
Fast Food companies offer the same products with incremental differences in price and ingredients. Ethnic restaurants offer mainstream brand names and menu items that have nothing to do with their unique positioning. (I’m sure Dallas residents have seen quite a few Persian restaurants with Italian brand name, signage and décor.) Social media agencies and entrepreneurs all call themselves social media experts. Which one should we believe or prefer? Media companies chase after the same story and sensationalism, so flipping through new channels feels like watching reruns. Even airline companies, such as Delta, promote trust and integrity as their brand values, with no concept on how to execute these values.
We’ve been numbed to brand promises never kept or delivered. Many companies claim and promise universal values such as, trust, honesty and integrity …. But which one is delivering and how? Challenge is lack of decisiveness and know-how on the execution of these values in branding messages. Values stem from our beliefs, and our beliefs grow from what we see, hear and experience. It’s all about execution and delivery.
No doubt, future growth and profitability will come from a different way of doing business in the New World Marketplace. Here are 6 easy steps to get you started:
1. Define your strategic differentiation
Strategy is not about being the best, whether it’s operations excellence or best practices. Strategy is about being different. Strategy is just as much about what not to do as it is about what to do. It’s a combination of benefits and trade-offs that your brand offers, differentiating you from the competing alternatives in the marketplace. Trade-offs are essential to strategy. They create the need for choice and purposefully limit what your company offers in order to have a clear differentiation and competitive advantage.
2. Determine your strategic priorities
Trying to be all to everyone is like being nothing to no one. Are you trying to promise and deliver efficiency, high quality, low price, innovation, superb customer service, high profile/image and fastest to market—all at the same time? Can you? Focus and prioritize your strategic execution. High-performance companies tend to focus on one or two primary strategic priorities, and they align their culture to support them.
3. Align company culture with strategy
Your company culture must be aligned and fully focused on your strategic priorities. Achieving and sustaining this alignment long term is the biggest challenge most organizations face in achieving business success. When culture and strategy align, both people and functions work toward a common goal and purpose. Definition: Company culture is a set of shared values, beliefs, causes, assumptions and behaviors that reflect how a business strategy is executed. The key to effective execution is having everyone in your organization internalize strategy in their daily thinking, actions and behaviors.
4. Choose your customers
Many companies need to re-evaluate their existing target customers, based on the 3 major macro trends in The New World Marketplace. More importantly, remember that strategy is about which customers and which needs. You can not effectively communicate to your changing customers, unless you carefully choose which customers you can deliver and execute specific needs to.
5. Align your company values with your chosen target customers
Businesses must appeal to the values that their target customers hold dear, and they must also know how to express those values in branding messages. This means aligning your values with those of your chosen customers, believe in what they believe in. I call this marketing to the inside not outside of the customers. Customers don’t just buy what you do, but why you do it. Most companies know what and how to sell…but they don’t know why. Like it or not, customers decisions are emotional, and you must engage them on an emotional level to change their minds and behaviors. This is a different way to interpret reality than rational levers of facts and features. Pick and choose the emotional values that you can and know how to truly deliver on, and then communicate it.
This is, and should be, the last phase of strategic execution. More often than not, companies of all sizes jump to the communication phase without completing the prerequisite steps. Nothing hurts the company performance more than communicating a branding message that is not consistent with your strategic differentiation and priorities. Bringing your strategic vision to life in your communication tactics is not easy. If you don’t know how, you should consult with an expert and make the best use of your marketing dollars. Otherwise, you’re confusing your customers while your competitors are getting it right.
The United States is considered the most powerful country in the world. Then why is it that we stand 90th in the world in terms of women in national legistures?
Most don’t know that even countries like Cuba, China, Iraq and Afghanistan have more women in the government than the US. Most of us remember Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, thanks to Hollywood and pop culture. But not many know that Argentina had the world’s first women President more than 3 decades ago—Isabel Peron. But she can’t claim the title of the world’s first elected female head of state. That position was filled in 1960 in Sri Lanka by Sirimavo Bandaranaike…even before Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir.
Since then, more than 50 women have been elected heads of state, from powerful nations like England and Germany, to smaller countries such as the Phillippines, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland, to developing countries like Lithuania and Rwanda. Some of these countries have already elected women leaders two or more times (to see a complete list, click here.)
So the question remains, how come the US has not elected a woman President yet? This can’t be just a conspiracy by men. Let’s face it, there are more women voters than men, just as there are more women in the population and work force than men. Could it be that women are not voting for women, and if so, why?
This is not to imply that the qualifications should be gender based, but let’s at least ask the question: are we really standing up for the right values? Even the highly acclaimed oscar-nominated movie “The Iron Lady” about Margaret Thatcher’s life showed the hard powers versus soft powers. And yes, she got elected 3 times. Do we think that’s what it takes? Safety, security and domination before freedom, openness, trust and partnership? Women and men of all races, cultures and ages largely agree on life goals. We all have masculine and feminine qualities. It is the position of power and domination that differentiates us, not just between men and women, but also among women themselves.
You can’t be what you can’t see. I believe that media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. We see that in top Corporate/Board positions (only 5-8% women representation) to Congress (17%). So surely there is emotional and cultural resistance on top to fiercely guard the status quo. This is largely due to all the gender stereotyping and how we define power and success in media as well as business and social models….how we create a culture of fear that justifies the social model of domination in the name of safety and protection.
Being the most powerful country in the world is not an easy position to maintain on an ongoing basis. But so long as we continue embracing the mindset of security, protection and domination for that top position, we are forcing our nation to default into the masculine qualities and hard powers. And, yes,, women are perceived as softer/nicer. Why else would we have 93% of prison population occupied by men, and only 7% by women. I believe as long as we value hard powers, masculine qualities for President position, we will continue asking ourselves this very same question—or maybe in a decade or so, end up electing another “Iron Lady.”
Great New World Leaders—women and men—should be ready to trade fear, scarcity and domination mindset for love, abundance and partnership mindset….lead from the heart and manage from the head. That means combining hard powers of safety, protection and competitive advantage with the soft powers of love, caring and relating. Let’s just call it “smart powers.”
Generation Y has come of age with the Harry Potter franchise. While on the surface, it would appear to be just an epic fantasy, to the generation, it means so much more. The themes of standing up for your beliefs, distrust of those in power, equality for all races and genders, as well as overcoming all obstacles through the actions of a few people, are indicative of Gen Y’s mindset. Harry Potter himself is a symbol of this generation, embodying all the characteristics they aspire to.
In my book, The New World Marketplace, I get in to details of the new values and ideological power of the youth culture. With a population estimated at 72 million, making up roughly 26% of the population, Gen Y is the most educated, diverse, tech savvy, optimistic yet disappointed, and soon to be the largest American generation–more than 3 times the size of Gen X. They have greater influence on cultural evolution than previous generation, with unique needs to connect and relate on an individual basis versus trying to fit into a “social norm.”
I explained the concept of “delaying adulthood” in both my book, and also my blog, Do You Really Know 20-somethings? Different studies have shown a range of 5-7 years of delay in reaching the five milestones to adulthood–completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. I just read the most recent data by Pew Research survey that showed 24% of adults 18-34 moved back in with their parents in recent years because of economic conditions. I wondered why my previous research showed 40%–then, I realized that the vast majority of them never moved out in the first place. So here’s the latest numbers of young adults living with parents, according to the March 2012 survey by Pew Research:
- 39% of all young adults
- 53% of 18-24
- 41% of 25-29
- 17% of 30-34
This poses a big marketing twist for companies trying to reach this generation. How should branding messages to these multi-generational households look and feel like? The challenge is that these young adults who moved back in with parents because of economic necessities don’t all have a favorable outlook, although most do. But majority of them contribute to household expenses in one form or another. This changes the picture of parental financial support altogether.
What’s even more interesting is that this generation was raised in an era where the divorce rate was high, brief marriages were the norm and numerous partners was acceptable. While this has been raised as a major issue for many social experts as it relates to commitment, it has also resulted in this generation being very culturally liberal.
Ask yourself if your company is making certain assumptions and stereotypes when it comes to branding messages toward Gen Y. Do those messages contain personal growth, relationships, causes, beliefs, values and a sense of purpose? Gen Y is transforming business and branding norms. Connections, contacts, friends or fans, word of mouth, yelp reviews, and Facebook likes may end up mattering more than just a great Super Bowl Ad.
Have you heard this, or seen this on t-shirts and bumper stickers? It’s true. I’m turning 50 this summer, so I’m inspired to write a blog about what this really means. People flatter me all the time by saying I don’t look my age. But I’m not the only one. Turning 50, for many, have made it possible to live an active, healthy, productive lifestyle. This is a game changer for many businesses that have been stuck with their 18-49 target planning. And here’s why….
In my 2012 trend predictions blog, I noted that with baby boomers staying younger and more fit, expect to see a higher % of ad dollars for them. There is more. Boomers 50+ have unique life stage milestones that provide them with the means to splurge more on bigger-ticket items—changing jobs, starting a new business (yes, thank you very much), children going off to college or getting married, adopting a healthier lifestyle, changing homes, developing new hobbies, discovering new habits, taking more trips, joining the digital/mobile way of living, enrolling in weight loss programs, becoming care givers to parents or even a spouse. This is more than just going through a mid-life crisis of ditching the spouse and buying a motorcycle/sports car, or jumping out of an airplane.
Maybe it’s just about forgetting to get and feel older. For women, in particular, it’s about saying good bye to invisibility and getting traded in for the younger. I think 35 to 60 is where it all comes together for women with elegant maturity, spiritual wisdom and a balanced outlook on inner and outer beauty.
This mid-life transition, once a very exhausting and confusing life stage, is now a midpoint to another adult life that can easily last 30 to 40 years more, thanks to medical science coupled with holistic herbal approach, greener/healthier forms and diet, active lifestyle, and living a more meaningful life in pursue of happiness beyond a paycheck and financial planning. These are rapid cultural shifts with a completely different set of needs and values. Our pop culture, from actresses and TV personalities to business leaders and writers, is already redefining 50.
Companies who understand the dynamics of this new milestone and negate existing stereotypes will be able to intelligently develop products and services that allow this new 50+ target maximize the upside of their lives, and will win in the New World Marketplace.
So to all friends: let’s celebrate the new 50 and start redefining our culture.
PS—My pre-release party and book signing event is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18th. Click here for the details.
As much as these two words resemble one another, their social and political meaning are perceived antagonistic. You would think that revolution naturally follows evolution, as actions follow the desires to act. Are they fundamentally the same thing, differing only according to the time of their presence? Are revolutionists the true evolutionists? At what point Evolution turns into Revolution?
Evolution by definition means the change over time and variation causes in one or more inherited traits found in populations and individuals. Socially and culturally, it means the gradual and continuous development in morals, ideas, beliefs and values. The fearful word, Revolution, is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a sudden, short period of time, resulting in either complete change or modification of an existing constitution, culture, economy and socio-political institutions. It implies the sudden change, entailing some sort of catastrophe and pressure from the great masses below. Most speak well of natural progress of evolution in general, until they resent progress in a particular direction that challenges the norms and ideals of wealth, power and comfort of privileged worth preserving.
Seth’s Godin in his blog, “forever recession,” explains two types of recessions: a cyclical one that comes and goes – and a permanent one caused by the rise of productivity eliminating jobs for good – end of an era and start of another – a revolution. The industrial revolution fueled economy by massive factories and efficient assembly lines. The information technology revolution faded the local mass production. The internet squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems eliminating not only many clerical office jobs, but also enabling the move of interchangeable parts and jobs around the globe for “cheaper.” Every revolution destroys the last structure before the new one becomes profitable.
The revolutions we are seeing around the globe are not just about job eliminations for efficiencies. So many people have already shifted gears, training and changing expectations. People of all races, cultures, ages and lifestyles have access to the same information technology…their own factory. You would expect that this revolution will level the playing fields. But it has moved profits generated through efficiencies benefiting a very few, and the wealth of a nation has become sum of its tradable riches. Companies are holding on to the profit, not spending, not hiring. It is fueled when leaders are hell-bent on running each other into the ground instead of running the nation.
I spoke at a panel last week and was surprised of how women are still clinging to the old archetypes and mindsets, discussing “shift” of power, instead of partnership and linking. The social model needs to shift for women, as well as men. State of abundance replacing scarcity. Caring and relating more than just ‘networking.’ Lasting outcomes, not just short-term payoffs. Creating and innovating what makes life better and provide more meaning and authenticity – not just trading power, domination and money. The incoming tide is bearing us onward towards a future radically different from existing conditions.
So at what point evolution turns into revolution? When the tide gets stronger and voices are heard….when more people join and believe in the same values, causes and beliefs… .when the monstrous status quo has failed too many, too deserving, and for too long. Not just because of the rich getting richer, but at the loss of human dignity and sovereignty over one’s own fate to live a good meaningful life. We are the creators of our future. To make this a meaningful revolution, we must ask ourselves which human outcomes we want to evolve rapidly.
We are living in a business world of downward forecasts, slipping GDP growth, shrinking middle class, declining consumer confidence and spending, erratic stock market, and…yes…financial earthquake. And yet, behaviors and mindsets are all the same. Most economists don’t forecast an improvement until 2018. What should leaders do in a time when everyone is pinched so hard? How do we shape the path forward?
I attended a leadership seminar earlier this year in Atlanta, and was amazed by how all speakers were saying the same things for years with slightly different terminologies. The new buzz word in the business world is influential leadership. While that’s good, it lacks the fundamental shift that we need in our thought process and actions.
A few thought leaders have touched on the high need for “feminine values” and “soft powers”, but none of them clearly defined these terms that seem to be loaded with polarizing reactions. That’s why I have developed emotional and cultural frameworks for my consulting business, to steer away from gender stereotyping of these critical business and leadership models. This will be explained in details in my book, but I’d like to share a few highlights with my loyal readers.
Riane Eisler in her book “The Chalice & The Blade” explains a remarkable Cultural Transformation theory with two very different social models: Dominator and Partnership. The Dominator model is the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The Partnership model is based on the principle of linking rather than ranking. Feminine values are associated with creation, life generating nurturing powers and giving – versus taking, conquest and domination that are often associated with masculine values. This is not the battle of the sexes or genders, for we all know not even in our male dominated world not all women are peaceful, giving and nurturing and many men are. I am referring to human values that have become a business and social imperative in our current economic climate.
As both technology and society have grown more complex, the survival has become increasingly dependant on the direction of cultural evolution. The virtual worldwide web reveals both possibilities and cultural shadows. It reveals collaborations and alliances as well as exposing famine terror and epidemic greed leading to global financial collapse. As a result, we’ve seen a step backward to our defensive needs (food, safety, basic living essentials) instead of shifting to higher needs of growth, actualization and our interconnectedness with all of humanity. It’s time to consciously and collectively choose our own cultural evolutionary path.
Sounds too woo woo or too soft? Not really. The need to control and dominate is a feeling of powerlessness…control or be controlled. I believe it is time to redefine power as less need to limit or control other and define power as affiliation, linking and partnership. That means leaving behind the hard, conquest and domination oriented values. Replacing conformity and uniformity with individuality and diversity. Focusing more on relationships than on hierarchies. Balancing of intuition with reason and logic. Balancing competition and cooperation. Making conflict productive rather than destructive. Embracing equality, justice, freedom, openness, trust, honesty and integrity. A New World leader ought to possess all this power, and must know that it is time for a partnership society where neither half of humanity is ranked over the other, nor inclusion equated with inferiority or superiority.
If I was born from 1982 to somewhere close to 2000, I’d be feeling pretty unique and awesome by now. Let’s look at some Gen Y characteristics that are stereotyped: idealistic and socially conscious, confident, ambitious, achievement-and-team-oriented, authenticity seekers, attention cravers, culturally liberal, virtual relationships, engage or loose me, ask and guide me, immersed in the digital world from an early age…. This is known to be a generation of self-confident optimists due to years of helicopter parenting and unconditional positive reinforcement from work-centric and goal-oriented Baby Boomer parents who over-compensated for how tough they had it.
While all that may be true, when was the last time we asked a Hispanic, African American, Asian or multiracial Gen Y if these so-called core traits apply to them? Did they have helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them? I’m not convinced that socio-economic groups other than white affluent teenagers display the same Gen Y attributes we read about. It’s not that multi-and-cross-cultural parents don’t want to treat their kids as special, but they often don’t have the social and cultural capital, the time and resources to do it.
Since the 2000 Census allowed people to select more than one racial group, Gen Ys have asserted their rights to have all their heritages respected, counted and acknowledged. 2010 Census showed 32% growth in multiracial category from 2000, and on track to grow another 25%.
I think we can look for cross-cultural commonalities and find these shared values and characteristics:
- Yes, first era of reality TV, rise of dot-com, virtual relationships
- Change is mandatory, make it meaningful
- Demand for authenticity and honesty
- Culturally liberal, color and gender neutral if it weren’t for parents influence & 9/11
- Family centric with much closer relationship with parents, unlike the “individualistic” Gen X’ers
- Delaying some rites of passage into adulthood (for more on this, click here)
- Love flexibility and work-life-balance even more than Gen X’ers
- So, yes, perceived as a bit lazy by workaholic Boomers
- Less employed than any other generation due to the economic situation starting up in
- More educated, purchasing power rivals that of the Boomers
- Leverage the digital world to connect, engage & motivate – but want it personal & real
- Freedom, equality, opportunity, inspiration & honesty are cross-cultural shared values
How do you think all this will re-define Corporate America as Baby Boomers start to retire? You’d have to be willing to make a difference to make a living. Think of Lady GaGa and her message of “be who you are”, and Black Eye Peas, a group as multi-culti as you can get. Cross-cultural messaging through commonalities works. Start now.
I was thinking about the spirit of 4th of July celebration this past weekend. An American holiday to commemorate declaration of independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain that was made on July 4, 1776. To me, it represents spirit’s deep desire for freedom and self-expression. I love Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
I took some time to reflect on what all this means in the multicultural society that we live in, where “we” is getting trickier to define in terms of race, ethnicity and collective identity. Is it “freedom of,” “freedom from,” or “freedom to”? It’s certainly not about every man, woman, and child for himself or herself. But it is the right to think, believe, value, speak, worship, and behave….freedom to choose….so long as it does not infringe on another person’s freedom. It is a shared value, securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
In a multicultural society, this typically means both celebrating the uniqueness of each culture and navigating relationships with cultural differences. I think multiculturalism should neither be a demand for special rights for minorities, nor a threat to protecting one’s own cultural identity and safety. It is a phenomenon of resolving differences and building on commonalities based on values of freedom, trust, respect, equality, dignity, open mindedness and mutual happiness.
Shared values are much more important in any relationship than skin color or demographics. Good, happy relationships – personal and professional – have a lot in common across all cultures, and challenges are all the same as well. To read the full article on how to make multi-and-cross-cultural relationships work, click here.
Atlanta (June 29, 2011) – Walk through the mall, a school or a business office today, and in nearly any city in the country, it will be obvious that “we” is getting trickier to define in terms of race, ethnicity and collective identity. Within relationships, cross-cultural is becoming the norm rather than the exception. This shift from a similar-looking status quo to one that incorporates a plethora of faces, has been referred to as “multiculturalism,” and this typically means both celebrating the uniqueness of each culture and navigating relationships with cultural differences. That might sound nice in an employee handbook, but what does it mean at the bank, at a PTA meeting, on a date or even at a wedding?
Farnaz Wallace, Founder of Farnaz Global and expert in multiculturalism and social and cultural change, has developed strategies and frameworks to help people and organizations find success in forming relationships across all kinds of cultural boundaries. “Multiculturalism should neither be a demand for special rights for minorities, nor a threat to protecting one’s own cultural identity and safety,” she says. “It is a phenomenon of resolving differences and building on commonalities based on values of trust, freedom, respect, equality, justice, dignity, open mindedness and mutual happiness.” (more…)