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May 27, 2008

The Soul of the Corporation

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

Soul of the CorporationIn their book, The Soul of the Corporation: How To Manage The Identity of Your Company, Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly do a masterful job arguing why the future of your organization comes down to how well you manage its soul. Consider their opening thesis:

We are in the midst of a transition on a global scale from an era in which the vast majority of individuals and human groups lived with a sense of clarity, continuity and consistency about their identity--their notion of who they are and how others view them--to an era in which identity is increasingly problematic across all levels of human organization, from the individual person to entire nations or civilizations.

The result of this identity crisis, perhaps unintentionally, is that organizations have now become suppliers of individual and collective identity.

In traditional societies, individuals inherited much of their own identity from the social milieu (family, place of birth, tribe, religion) into which they were born. In an organizational society, individuals are defined by the organizations in which they participate. When people draw much of their sense of self from belonging to, or buying from, a particular organization, they tend to be anxious about and resist changes that may alter what, in their eyes, is the very soul of that organization.

"[Identity] is not a private matter; it is a social construction."

Ask yourself the following questions:

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April 21, 2008

Remembering Your Roots

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

Starbucks: Remembering Your RootsWe've blogged a good bit about Starbucks over the past couple years: their soul, their scent, their steps. Starbucks is such an easy target these days for the work we do at Personality™, and anytime you can use mainstream examples to substantiate your claims, it makes communication that much clearer.

Barbara Kiviat wrote a great profile piece on Howard Schultz in the April 7 issue of Time magazine. The gist of it is Howard's journey back to the heart of who Starbucks really is. "We haven't been as good at telling our story as we once had in the past," says Schultz.

Kiviat rightly concludes that "To Schultz, keeping in touch with the past is key to future success. Remembering who you are is the first step to becoming who you should be." She tells the story of Howard and how he sometimes goes to the original Starbucks at Pike Place in Seattle and lets himself in before the store opens. "He puts his hands on the wooden counter and thinks about how he felt at the beginning, what it was he was trying to do."

Remembering your roots is critical to knowing your personality as an organization. And keeping your roots rooted is critical to staying the course. Perhaps this is why Howard has brought back several people from his original management team. He's also been circulating a memo that he wrote in 1986. "We recognize this is a unique time; when our coffee bars will change the way people will perceive the beverage. It's an adventure and we're in it together." He even signed it the same way he signs memos today. "Onward, Howard."

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March 7, 2008

Narrowing the Focus Ain't Easy

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

One of the most difficult things we encounter working with clients is the process of narrowing the focus. It's something we all struggle with, especially when there are entrepreneurially bent brains like mine in the room. I want to leave my options open just in case it makes way for something bigger or better.

We're wrapping up the Personality Profile™ for one client right now and it always happens at the end. The closer we get to completion, the tougher it gets to make the critical decisions that keep the story specific, unique, differentiated, etc. It's always easier to be vague and generic than specific and concrete.

This challenge to narrow the focus is at direct odds with the culture we live in. We get stressed out at all the choices in life yet we're frustrated when there are not more options. If the shirt comes in blue, black and gray, we want it in red. We want the computer to have one more USB port than it does. We want our kids to learn all the subjects in school so they can keep their options open. In-N-Out is the king of narrowing the focus and keeping options to a minimum with their simple menu, but even they have a "secret" menu with several more options in case you're feeling too limited.

Think deeply. Narrow the focus. You might just get somewhere.

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January 11, 2008

Know > Do > Treat

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

Shawn and I had a conference call earlier this week with a client about some staffing issues. The client had called wanting some feedback on a particular employee they were thinking of promoting to a new position. Not only were we against promoting this person, we were also not so sure this person was best matched with the position they already have.

About half way through the call, the client got a little somber and shared some personal issues this employee was going through, and how difficult it would be if this employee was not promoted, not to mention let go.

I shared some advice I received several years ago about how to deal with situations like this. I call it the "Know > Do > Treat" approach.

1. Know the mission.
2. Do the vision.
3. Treat people really well.

All three of these must be done together and in this order.

1. Know the mission
The mission for your organization is what you're moving toward. Without it, you're lost. When JFK said the U.S. was going to put a man on the moon and return him safely home by the end of the decade, we all had somewhere to look to.

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January 8, 2008

Full Circle

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

I blogged about Andy Whitlock a couple months ago when he talked about putting meaning before marketing. Andy later pointed me to an older post of his about how companies behave. It's quite the read and echoes a lot of what Personality™ is all about.

I find it quite interesting how so many things come full circle. Andy had watched The Corporation, a movie that tells how the idea for corporations came about by the need to create a "person" (a shelter of sorts) that was made up of people but was not an actual human. Today, the talk is all about how companies need to become human again. Full circle.

This reminds me of the telephonic communication story. After years of trying, on March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson, would hear each other's voice over a wire for the first time. Just three years later the Bell Company had connected 133,000 telephones. This all came about because Bell and Watson figured out how to convert data signals across wires into voice. Now, over 100 years later we figured out how to send data over those same voice lines to get the Internet (remember those modem sounds with AOL dial up?), which now again is being converted into voice for VOIP. Full circle.

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January 5, 2008

No Competition, No Passion

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

I'm often caught up in the uniqueness of what Personality™ does and tempted to think that we're the only ones doing what we do. Perhaps no one else could ever do what we do as good as we do it. Lest my arrogance and ignorance get the best of me, I quickly remember that if I don't have any competition, two things must be happening:

1. If we don't have competition, maybe what we do doesn't really matter. If it mattered someone else would want to capitalize on it too.


2. If we don't have competition, we must not care enough about what we do. If we were passionate enough about what we do, we would want competition because we know the problem we're trying to solve is too big and we're going to need others to help.

Competition is a good thing because it means you must be on to something that really matters and you'll go to great lengths because you want to be a passionate part of helping solve that problem.

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July 5, 2007

Cause Marketing vs. Corporate Responsibility

Posted by Brian Zopf | Filed under: Philosophy

Perhaps I shouldn't pit them against one another, but I wanted to give you a clear title you could sink your teeth into. In reality, the two terms above are often complimentary, albeit distinct.

Whenever I meet someone new--whether a prospective client or someone just interested in cause marketing--I've noticed that there tends to be some confusion in the differences between corporate responsibility and cause marketing. So I thought ... "I'll blog about it!"

I should say, first, that at Personality™, we're faithful subscribers to the Cause Marketing Forum and that the information in this entry is from one of their excellent tele-classes (available to members only).

According to Carol Cone of Cone, Inc.--one of the founding gurus of the category--the following are a few of the key differences between cause marketing (or "cause branding") and corporate responsibility. More than an exercise in semantics, understanding the difference between the two definitions will help you properly delineate company strategies and set priorities.

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June 28, 2007

Spitting on the Common Good

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

This morning I came across a centuries-old proverb that rings true louder than ever today.

"Loners who care only for themselves spit on the common good."
--Solomon, from the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament

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May 21, 2007

4 Types of Corporate Responsibility Brands

Posted by Shawn Stewart | Filed under: Philosophy

There was an interesting article written by Solitaire Townsend of the UK communications firm Futerra posted on the Ethical Corporation web site on May 7th. Solitaire's article touches on the importance of your corporate responsibility flowing hand in hand with your business strategy, something we mentioned in a post on last friday.

The article identifies four kinds of companies that exist when it comes to corporate responsibility, or corporate social responsibility, as it's called in the UK, those kinds of companies are:

The CSR brand - This is for you if your market research shows that corporate responsibility is a key driver of brand preference with your customers. From the Body Shop onwards, many niche players have been CSR brands, and the signals are that we will see more of them. If you have the right business model and the right customers then your brand promise becomes a responsibility promise.

The "bit of CSR" brand - Perhaps CSR can be part of your brand in selected targeted ways: through sub-brands, strategic partnerships and with specific customers. You will take this approach when your market research shows that corporate responsibility does drive preference, but your company cannot live up to a full CSR brand, or when only a sub-segment of your customers place significant value on responsible business practices.

The CSR shy brand - For many companies corporate responsibility has been part of the company's philosophy and practice but not visible to consumers, either because the company is not ready to integrate responsibility into the brand or because the customer has been shown not to care.

The greenwash brand - This one is easy. You do not actually undertake any core corporate responsibility activities but build it into your brand promise anyway. We all enjoy watching what happens next.

Understanding where you're at on this list is important to understanding what cause marketing could and should look like for your business. It's good food for thought.

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May 18, 2007

Peanut Butter and Corporate Responsibility

Posted by Shawn Stewart | Filed under: Philosophy

Peanut ButterI was reading through some online articles on the CRO web site and was reminded of our tendency to look past the obvious. You know, kind of like when I open the pantry and yell to my wife, "Where's the peanut butter?" and she walks in, reaches up, and pulls it from a place on the shelf that's four inches from my face. I give her an embarrassed smirk, and she smiles and shakes her head. Come on, you've been there.

So where's the peanut butter? Your business is, well, a business; we don't expect you to be a nonprofit. You should make money, but you should do it responsibly. So the way your company is corporately responsible is best approached on the foundation of your business strategy. Let me say that again--because this is the thing that's often right in front of our face. Corporate responsibility should flow out of your business strategy. That way, it makes sense, it's an authentic effort to help, and positions you to stay in business.

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May 11, 2007

Why Starbucks is Losing Their Soul

Posted by Shawn Stewart | Filed under: Philosophy

StarbucksBrett, Brian and I were talking on a recent road trip about the Starbucks memo from their founder, Howard Schultz. In it he rang an alarm about how dangerously close Starbucks is to losing their soul.

We discussed possible reasons beyond what Schultz had mentioned based on our own experience of Starbucks and our Personality Profile™ process. Along the way we stopped for coffee at—you guessed it—Starbucks, and boy did our conclusions become crystal clear.

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April 23, 2007

What Business Can Learn from a Tree

Posted by Shawn Stewart | Filed under: Philosophy

It's a wonder what you can learn about life and business when you take the time to sit in a park. I recently did just that and had an epiphany that took me back to 8th grade science. We all remember this simple little lesson: "Human beings breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen."

OK, so you're probably wondering what's the epiphany?

It's all about the give and take relationship! The tree and our lungs both give out and it comes back as something that nurtures and sustains our very existence and perpetuates our relationship.

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April 9, 2007

Ad Agency Model is Broken, Duh

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

It's no secret that the ad agency model is broken. You can pick up any issue or back issue of Advertising Age or Adweek and read about the demise of the business. In that process of discovery you would also learn about emerging boutique agencies that are becoming industry darlings as they attempt to specialize, not generalize like their soon-to-be extinct dinosaur predecessors.

Alas, this model is still broken. At issue is a fundamental conflict of interest that exists between a typical ad agency and their client. When an agency must give away ideas in order to sell services that will keep themselves in business, we have a problem. A perfect example of this is seen in the 2000 movie What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.

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February 14, 2007

Marketing Turned Upside Down

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

A classical approach to marketing has always been find out who the market is and what they want, and then create a product or service to meet that need. The rhetoric: Why create a product or service if no one wants to buy it?

Another approach has been to find out who the market is, and then cajole a demand for a particular need that can only be met by the product or service you create. The rhetoric: The higher the appetite for our product or service--regardless if anybody needs it or not--the more money we make.

The next wave of marketing we're seeing is that organizations must first find out who they are and what they're passionate about, and then figure out who the market is.

Continue reading "Marketing Turned Upside Down"

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February 9, 2007

Mind Your X's and Y's

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

02_09_2007MYXYsbook.jpgI just finished reading and sharing with the team in our weekly brown bag lunch about Mind Your X's and Y's: Satisfying the 10 Cravings of a New Generation of Consumers. Written by Reach Group's Lisa Johnson, it's an excellent look at how the next generation will be interacting, interfacing, and engaging the world. I really appreciate the way Lisa organized the book into 10 different chapters--one for each of the cravings--and surrounded everything with excellent examples.

There are certainly redundant lulls in each chapter--as if I didn't get her point the first three times--but overall it was a quick and mind-stirring read. It didn't help that I read the book before bed every night. I had to keep my pen and pad ready for putting some of this stuff into action.

Lisa begins the book with five essential criteria that underlie each craving for the next generation.

Continue reading "Mind Your X's and Y's"

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February 5, 2007

If the Cause is King

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

One of our core convictions at Personality™ is that the cause must always be king. This has been an important guide for us because it guards against putting for-profits and non-profits ahead of the cause. This is not to say that companies and organizations can't win--indeed they must be winners too!--rather that the cause we are fighting for must stay front and center. The cause is what will ultimately bring success (sustainability, goodwill, profit, donations, etc.) to the for-profits and non-profits.

However, this begs a natural question if you let the progression of this philosophy--that the cause must be king--play itself out to the fullest extent. If the cause is king, what happens when it has no kingdom? For example, if one of the causes we're fighting for is a safe classroom environment for all children in K-12 grade in the U.S., what happens when that is no longer an issue? What happens when all classrooms for K-12 grades are safe (absent of infrequent exceptions)?

Continue reading "If the Cause is King"

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