2017 posted by Kevin Nabipour and David Baum
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”-George Orwell
As President Obama said in his farewell address on January 10, “The selective sorting of facts is not just dishonest; it’s self-defeating.” That statement, by and large, for those in the Washington bubble, Wall Street and Main Street alike, used to be the general rule of thumb when conducting oneself. You were entitled to your opinion and spin, but not your own set of facts. If you were following the trends in marketing and business up until recently, you would have likely come to the conclusion that the desire of most consumers, stakeholders and employees was greater transparency, greater understanding of a mission, a demonstration of values and a purpose beyond the products and services you sell. Confronting the truth of our globalized world of which we’re active participants, it stood to reason, invited greater admiration and brand love.
Starbucks. Chipotle. REI. Microsoft. Companies and business leaders gained credit for boldly addressing an inconvenient truth within our culture and the world at large and committing oneself to it. Results followed. Good will translated to spikes in revenue and sales, stock prices and recruitment. But a lot of that seems different now.
Of the many lessons and handwringing that occurred in aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, one has jarred our mind and shaken the communications world to its core. As message specialists, marketers and CEOs look forward to the months and years ahead what the rise of Donald Trump has revealed in crystalline detail is the ghastly reality that audiences want affirmation, not information. Today, what’s true is what people want to think. This is a trend with no end in sight.
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”- Christopher Hitchens
The rise of and casual acceptance of fake news (married with the outright hostility to more prestigious and traditional outlets). The mistrust of science (health and nutrition: wine is good, no bad; chocolate is good; wait, bad; vaccinations, GMOs, climate). But perhaps most importantly, the myopic tunnel effect of social media feeds where nary a counter argument to a recommended or followed storyline is revealed, creating an echo chamber of one-sidedness that, while validating the mighty algorithm’s ability to consistently present relevant content to users, shuts down empathy and disavows nuance and context. In fact, social media and the control readers have in discovering the digital content they require has had the most breathtaking impact on this “selective sorting of facts,” where you never have to confront the truth if you don’t have to.
This schism had been building for years, yet for most pundits and leaders there was always a delusional sense that the firewall would be our political institutions. That firewall came crashing down on November 8, 2016 with the election of a celebrity who majestically played the media like a fiddle. Contradictions and bold-faced lies are no match for a bully pulpit who understands the media and the American audience better than editors and producers. Fight, never surrender, never admit defeat or show remorse, then fight again.
We have already seen how profound the consequences of this newfound truth crisis have had on business. In a Trumpwitter era, companies must now embrace new rules of the road, and the ride will be bumpy and ever-changing, with the real potential that you will twist toward a screeching crash. The surge in know-nothing boldness, where past is no longer prologue and standards, ethics and decorum are not seen as virtues but weaknesses that imperil your ability to win. Where higher ground is less important than an upper-hand.
In short order, we have seen pillars of the business community being forced to dodge and weave simply by President-Elect Trump issuing a single tweet. Whether Mr. Trump is taking a swing or supporting the company, the ramifications are immediate and profound (stock fluctuation, boycotts, employee protests). Here are just a few examples:
- Macy’s Inc.
- “Good news, disloyal @Macys stock is in a total free fall. Don’t shop there for Christmas!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 4, 2015.
- Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.
- “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 22, 2016.
- “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 6, 2016.
- General Motors Co.
- “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!”-Trump tweeted on Jan. 3, 2017.
- L. Bean
- “Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean @LBPerfectMaine”- Trump tweeted on January 12, 2017
So what do we now? Well, for one, you need to be quick or be left for dead by the Twitterverse. Now is not the era for corporations to sit back and wait for the truth to come out. No one is coming to the rescue. Go and shape it.
Don’t get drunk on Trump’s brand of post-truth liquor. Unlike elected leaders, corporate heads are answerable to board members, stock holders, investors and customers; the fallout can be immediate. For the most part, Mr. Trump can be held accountable in the midterms of 2018. In today’s digital age of communication and commerce, companies are accountable by the minute.
With President-Elect Trump set to take office on January 20th, the curtain is about to rise on the new communication landscape for organizations, media institutions and influencers. We will be closely working with our colleagues and clients on how best to navigate this new reality and will be keeping our eyes on the new pulpit of the digital age, 140 characters in length and with little room for truth or substance.
This is the first of an ongoing series that examines complex and consequential cultural moments from various perspectives within Allison+Partners’ walls. Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners. David Baum is a vice president in Allison+Partners’ Corporate practice who has worked on political campaigns in the United States and United Kingdom.
2017 posted by Jerry Zhu
While CSR in China has evolved significantly over the past 10 years, it has still been slow in adoption. One reason is that many young businesses are focused primarily on increasing revenue and profitability. Rather than embrace CSR as an integral part of a successful growth strategy, they view it as an option for, and the responsibility of, established corporations. Another is that many companies equate CSR with simply giving to charity and, as a result, support multiple trendy causes. This approach is unrewarding for both employees and nonprofit/ NGO partners. It also makes CSR feel superfluous to the core business, which usually results in abandoning the program.
Chinese companies would do well to follow the examples set by PepsiCo, Nike, P&G and L’Oréal, whose programs are successful precisely because they follow a set of time-tested strategies that bring value to their brands and the communities they serve.
- Make CSR your business.
It’s the social responsibility of every company to serve its employees and customers by providing competitive compensation, safe and friendly work environments, and delivering high quality products and services. From this perspective, CSR should be considered the business of every business in China.
- Connect with your core competency.
Successful CSR programs make the connection between what the community needs and its core business. For example, PepsiCo supports farmers in Inner Mongolia by helping them plant potatoes. This program lifts farmers out of poverty, while ensuring the company receives a supply of high-quality potatoes to produce its chip products. Nike worked with the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a physical education curriculum urgently needed by primary and secondary schools, while further promoting fitness among Chinese children.
- Stay focused for the long-term.
It’s essential that CSR programs be focused and engage partners for the long-term. This fosters maximum impact and ensures the relationship becomes an asset to the brand. The most effective programs adopt an overarching theme with corresponding goals that can be tailored to different markets and partners. This approach provides a consistent focus while keeping the program fresh. For example, P&G’s global theme for its CSR program is to help children “Live, Learn and Thrive.” Under this umbrella, it localized a strategy in China to fund Hope Primary Schools; a government-led school system that ensures poor children receive compulsory education. After 20 years of partnership with Hope, P&G has become its largest donor, made a significant impact in the lives of countless children and has earned a strong and positive reputation among Chinese consumers.
- Engage employees and business chain partners.
CSR programs have much greater impact if they leverage the efforts of employees and business chain partners. For example, P&G invites its employees, distributors and partners to participate in Hope School projects. BP is also a good example of having an effective mechanism for engagement. The company created the Employee Matching Fund to encourage volunteerism. It extends the impact of the program by calculating the monetary value of employee volunteer time and then donates those funds to its nonprofit/NGO partners.
- Integrate, integrate, integrate.
As CSR is still a young concept in China, many companies have yet to integrate their marketing and CSR initiatives. However, appropriate alignment can multiply impact, promote sales and build brand loyalty. L’Oréal’s “Be an Employee for a Day” program provides financial support to low-income students through a series of product charity sales held on campuses around the country. The company recruits socially minded university students to become volunteer salespeople at these events, providing them with product training and introducing them to the company culture. As a result, many of these students join L’Oréal after they graduate. Since 2003, this program has contributed millions of yuan to fulfill the needs of China’s poorest students, built a positive image among existing and potential consumers, and expanded its employee recruitment efforts.
Jerry Zhu is a partner and managing director in Allison+Partners’ Global China Practice.
2016 posted by Bill Adams
Global marketers are obsessed with getting their brands into Chinese households, as no other country offers so much potential for growth. However, before western marketers attempt to gain market share, they should first step back and ensure they truly understand the evolution taking place inside Chinese homes and its implications for world markets.
No other country has experienced such profound change in both the lived experience and concept of ‘home’ as modern China. For much of the 20th Century, the seismic forces of war, collectivization, mass political movements and internal migration during an economic boom, displaced vast numbers of people and disrupted families. More than 20 years ago, no citizen of The PRC owned their own home. However, today, China has one of highest home ownership rates in the world.
After generations of disruption the Chinese are settling into their homes and learning to organize and decorate them. They are hungry for information that will support these middle class ambitions. However, this new generation of homeowners can’t seek decorating tips from their parents, as they have little experience with these matters. In their objective to become homemakers and hosts, they respond to brands and resources that provide this kind of advice.
As the Chinese build, buy and nest in their new homes, they also want them to be smarter. Smart home technologies, like e-commerce, mobile payments and wearable tech, are playing an important role in advancing markets in China. Chinese consumers embrace smart home technology to a greater extent than their global counterparts. In fact, an international survey conducted by GfK found that more than 75 percent of people interviewed in China said that smart home technology would impact their lives in the next few years, compared to the global average of just over 50 percent.
Chinese consumers’ knowledge and appetite for smart home technology gives its domestic retailers and suppliers a strong start in the global competition for these products. The country has a tremendous ecosystem of innovation to respond to consumers’ needs and aspirations. Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are partnering with the country’s impressive array of consumer electronics firms – Huawei, Hisense, Hai’er, Xiaomi, Midea and others, to create smart home solutions.
The government could also push the smart home boom. Over the last 20 years, the internet, mobile phone, and digital television networks that enable smart homes were part of government plans to establish universal connectivity. Connecting all homes and enabling technologies to control energy consumption and emergency response systems, could well become part of the Communist Party’s vision for building a stable, well-off society.
A New Global Model for Living?
The China market could develop a new model for 21st century living based on an urban experience and a critical need for sustainability. It’s predicted that by 2050 approximately 64 percent of the developing world and 86 percent of the developed world will be urbanized. That is equivalent to three billion urbanites, living mostly in Africa and Asia, markets where Chinese brands are building leadership positions.
Consumer demand, smart home innovation and sustainable development initiatives, are further bolstered by China’s economic and trade policies destined to push a new model for the home globally. Under the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, Chinese firms are building apartment blocks and infrastructure across Asia, Africa and Latin America. President Xi Jinping’s much-touted ‘China Dream’ is beginning to take form, and it looks a lot like an affordable, smart, sustainable urban home for everyone, built by Chinese companies.
Advice for American Marketers
- First, change your mindset. Many marketers assume that global consumers will follow American consumer behavior when they attain a certain level of buying power. This was a simplistic, but relatively useful, view ten years ago. Today, we must acknowledge that what’s happening within the Chinese home is complex and evolving. While consumer research about buying and the user experience of refrigerators is necessary, if you lack an understanding of what consumers are doing or want to be doing in the rest of the house, your engagement with them will be short-lived.
- Second, when communicating to Chinese consumers, remember that ‘home-making’ is still a new experience. Brands that appeal to newlyweds or single professionals to help them decorate, organize and clean their homes, will find audiences hungry for support and eager to show off their accomplishments via social media. More established homeowners are looking for solutions related to entertaining and living more comfortably.
- Third, American style furnishings and décor are noticeably under represented in the conversation about the home in China. Brands like IKEA and MUJI are leading the way for other more premium northern European and Japanese brands. If American brands want to win in China, they must first define American style for Chinese consumers and then build a demand for it.
- Finally, get ready for intense competition. Now that Chinese white goods have saturated the global market, solutions for smart homes will follow. To go head-to-head with competitors, marketers must understand how Chinese brands built domestic and global demand and how they are now targeting the world’s new middle class in developing countries.
Bill Adams is an executive vice president in Allison+Partners’ Global China Practice and market leader in Shanghai.
2016 posted by Emily Wilson
They came, I saw, and in a very unbiased (and slightly annoyed way), they conquered. By “they” I mean Airbnb.
I recently attended the third annual Airbnb Open, an event that brings 7,000 hosts from 101 countries together to find ways of “improving hospitality together.” I also heard from celebrities, entrepreneurs and other influential people paid to attend.
For the event, Airbnb took over downtown Los Angeles in a powerful, impressive and money flaunting, step and repeat kind of way — and I liked it. It reminded me that in order to stand out in an ever-crowded media market, brands that go big, never lose, and this was no exception.
Beyond the celebs, impressive stage, oversized and glowing branding and boast-worthy gift bags, the purpose of the conference was to let consumers know loud and clear that Airbnb wants them to do more than just rent a room. Rather, through their new “Trips” feature, they want you to buy the experience.
As a long time hospitality PR veteran and staunch believer in hotels, I would like to say that the conference was a grotesque display of wealth and power. But, in fact, it wasn’t. It was a true and sure-to-be award-winning example of PR done right. I’d like believe that the idea for the conference came out of a brainstorm with their PR agency about how to launch an “experience” in a crowded space, and that some talented PR veep said that the only way to launch an “experience” platform, is to create an “experience” that no other brand can replicate. Thus, the Airbnb OpenLA was born.
In addition to making their big announcement about “Trips,” what I proceeded to see over two days was a superb example of brand-making moments and thought leadership done mostly right. I had the pleasure of listening to producer Brian Grazer talk about importance of remaining curious, Blake Mycoskie from Tom’s telling the story of how he started the cult classic shoe company out of his apartment, Frank Gehry and Kelly Wearstler waxing poetic on design, and many more. All the while, there was very little to no real push for Airbnb.
The lack of overt brand pushing got me thinking that great brands play supporting, not central, roles. And while celebs and entrepreneurs gathered on the stages of some of LA’s most famous venues, it was not to talk about Airbnb, but to talk about creativity, curiosity, innovation, charitable giving, localization and dare I say it, “experiences.” Branding for Airbnb was not over the top, but it was there if you wanted to unpack it (pun definitely intended).
Another takeaway was that celebrities, when used sparingly, and not a Kardashian, create a WOW factor worth remembering. While it was the Gehry’s, Mycoskie’s and Wearstler’s of the conference that gave thought-provoking and inspiring speeches, the celebs posing on red carpets, and keynote speaker Gwyneth Paltrow bragging that she once thought that Airbnb offered rooms for rent with air mattresses on the floor, are the stories and pictures that made the gossip rags. #WINNING for Aibnb who used celebrity right to get the brand into a new consideration set of celebutante fanatics and future Airbnb consumers. #DOUBLEWINNING for also scoring a piece in Forbes that called the conference a successful step towards becoming a “lifestyle brand” while highlighting the launch of “Trips” (which, while packaged nicely and tied up with an expensive bow, is not an entirely new concept).
On the final night of the Airbnb Open, and in mic drop fashion, Lady Gaga herself showed up for a surprise acoustic performance. As she sang her hit “Millions,” I found myself thinking not only about what an incredibly talented performer she was, but also the millions of dollars spent on this “conference.” I can smell a Gold Anvil Award a mile away.
Emily Wilson is an executive vice president at Allison+Partners, and a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of experience who has served as a marketing and media liaison for clients especially in the travel industry.
November 7, 2016.
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