Friday, 11 October 2013

The Progressive Prince

The joke about anyone who broke a window having to report to his grandmother was on the weak side, but Prince William’s decision to host a football match between the two oldest grassroots clubs in the country on the Buckingham Palace lawn to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary was a nice move.
The joke about anyone who broke a window having to report to his grandmother was on the weak side, but Prince William’s decision to host a football match between the two oldest grassroots clubs in the country on the Buckingham Palace lawn to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary was a nice move.

Actually the latest in a series of nice moves. In fact, it’s beginning to seem as though in William we  have a Prince who could be described as progressive. A Prince who feels as though he is part of the future.
It’s not just that he has a Twitter account and a Facebook page , though this helps. It’s because while he still feels like he’s being true to who he is and where he’s come from, he is also beginning to feel like someone of our times (not some crazy bygone times).

Compared to the royal model of old, he’s more human, more open, more self-depreciating. He’s willing to share though also wanting some privacy.  And he’s at least trying to do some good in the world, to contribute to our times.  

Take the move to ask for donations to a handful of selected charities in lieu of wedding gifts. Not ground breaking, but nice, particularly as the selection was far from being a list of the big names and the obvious causes, but felt personal, and thoughtful, and put small charities like Beatbullying on the map.

Then there’s the way they managed the whole birth business. They struck the right chord. They gave enough – the photo, the smiles. There was William’s insistence on driving his wife and son home himself – like anyone else – and the willingness to joke about the car seat jitters.  It all felt very natural and totally authentic.  And he didn’t take it too far. It all felt very true to his roots. Tradition certainly wasn’t dispensed with, no doubt to the disappointment of anyone who took a punt on the young Prince being given a contemporary name (you could get odds of 20-1 on Barack!)

We’re not talking about a radical transformation here. The fundamental role of the Royal is the same. Wills hasn’t changed what he does. He’s changed the way in which he does it and how he approaches it.

All this also acts as a nice demonstration of how just how powerful a sense of progressiveness can be. It’s done wonders for the Royal brand. And it was in a real fix. The annus horribilis really wasn’t very long ago. The Royal family felt outdated and outmoded, stale and old. And look at what’s happened now. All of a sudden, everyone wants a part of it. Everyone wants to get as close as they can to it.

And this should give heart to all those businesses and brands out there that feel like they’ve failed to move with the times, and are at risk of being redundant to the modern world. You can turn the ship around. And working to make sure you feel progressive is a great way to do it. Because people want to be connected to something that feels like it’s ready to move ahead. Something that feels like it knows where it’s going and what it wants to be. Something that will be part of the future.

# be progressive

Friday, 4 October 2013

Stella Principles

As pictures of Cara Delevinge and Miranda Kerr hitting the catwalk for Stella McCartney fill the papers, and the fashion cognoscenti fall over themselves to applaud the of-the-moment magic of the McCartney collection, it is easy to forget how negative the pundits were when she entered the fashion world a decade or two ago.

It wasn't just that they questioned her talent – though that they did – they also turned their fire on her determination to never use leather or fur in any of her products. The general consensus was that real leather was the only way you could ever properly ‘do’ accessories, that accessories are where the profit comes from, and therefore that McCartney would never be able to make any serious money.
Despite all the criticism, she didn’t change though. She had set out her principles and her point of view and she stuck to her guns.

And this makes the Stella McCartney success story – the brand posted sales of £25.8mn in 2012 up 22.8% and she designed the kit for the London Olympics – particularly interesting from our perspective.

It’s not that the world has turned against real leather in handbags, it hasn’t. There is far greater acceptance of non-leather options, partly because of what McCartney has done, but she remains the only high-end designer who makes exclusively non-leather handbags and shoes. For everyone else, leather still sells.
So it’s not the choice of issue that has helped fuel her success. We haven’t all joined PETA.
It is the approach.

It is the fact that she stuck to her principles – and creatively found a way to make really beautiful products without compromising them.

This is progressive. She’s helping create the world as she wants it to be. She’s doing what she believes in and thinks is right, not just what’s popular.

The approach also drives trust – in her, and in the brand. People are more likely to trust her to do the right thing in other areas. To make principled decisions, even if they’re not easy, and to work hard to make sure that change really happen.

The point is that people like a business which has a set of principles and a point of view – even if they don’t always agree with it on everything. They like a business that knows where it’s going and why and has a sense of purpose. And they like a business that’s willing to think hard about how to make what it believes in work for everyone else.

The sense of progressiveness that imbues the Stella McCartney brand gives its style some substance.
And it also helps explain why one of those faux leather bags that the pundits didn’t think would fly now goes for a grand.

# be progressive

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Tesco Tablet

What to make of Tesco’s entry into the tablet market with the 119 Hudl? Particularly given that the bare economics of offering what by all accounts is a decent machine at that price point makes it clear that it’s intended to say something about the company rather than generate profit, at least in the short term. No surprise that analysts have been quick to put this into the bag as part of Tesco’s self-improvement programme.
So progressive? Or not? 

Well on first inspection it might seem like a great way for Tesco to be progressive. Not just because tablets are becoming the modern face of technology and the move demonstrates a willingness to embrace the fact that, in Phil Clarke’s own words, being online is an “increasingly essential part of family life.”

But also because it has the potential to democratise the tablet market and make something that can seem intimidating and expensive accessible to a much greater swathe of the population. 

And this is indeed all good stuff. But it doesn’t mean it will serve to make people think differently about Tesco, to make them think it is a company of the 21st Century, a company that is genuinely of its times and is contributing to its times. 

And that’s because of the way it fits with Tesco – and what people currently think about it. The Tesco tablet is cheap. So questions are already being asked about where and how it’s made and how it’s managing to squeeze this price point out of its suppliers. The tablet also feels expansionist. Doesn’t Tesco’s core retail business needs some help, before it starts becoming a consumer electronics company? And there’s a danger it looks self-serving. Loaded with Tesco content, to act as another channel for people to spend more money at the company that sold it to them. 

So we’re not so sure the Hudl makes Tesco feel genuinely progressive. Because for a company to make a move that captures the public imagination, and makes it feel like a valuable part of our future, it has to fit not just with what society needs and where it’s going, but also where the company is and what it stands for.   

It has to accentuate positives and remind everyone of just what the company or brand can – uniquely do. There can’t be anything catch-up or me-too about it. 

And by this reckoning, the Hudl doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Good match but no match: Barclays vs football fans

A new kind of marketing is making its way into our lives, and it's hoping to win your heart.

Picture this. It’s early morning, and we see a young girl waiting outside her house for a coach to pick her up and take her to a football game.

The camera cuts to an old man, waiting in his armchair for the start of the same game.

We see the coach again, delivering the girl and fans to the stadium, and cut back to the old man – but now we’re seeing him 30 years earlier – he’s arriving at the same stadium with his son.

We watch the fans, in the past and in the present, passionately watching their team. They're on the edges of their seats, they're living the highs and lows and they're doing it with dedication and commitment - rain or shine, win or lose. Love and loyalty of fans captured in an emotional 90 ninety seconds.

This is Barclays – Barclays Premier League to be precise – celebrating the dedication of football fans in a film to mark the start of the new Premier League season. Dedication is an admirable quality but not one we usually see as the focus of such high profile brand advertising – especially when we’re talking about the dedication of the public, rather than the brand. What’s going on here?

Austerity has a jostling impact on brands – pushing them in multiple directions when it comes to communicating what they stand for.  Yes, consumers have tightened their belts and are not willing to pay over the odds for something, just because it’s framed as ‘good’. But that doesn’t meet they’ve lost their sense of values. Quite the reverse: if anything, we’ve seen consumers reprioritise their values and expectations of brands. Take a look at data released this week by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, showing how the public have reprioritised healthy, nutritious food to the top of their concerns while organic has now moved down the agenda.

Consumers know what they care about, and they expect brands to be caring about the same things.

This is fundamentally what a brand is about – a brand promises a certain standard, it reassures you that you can trust what you’re buying. A brand needs to show its commitment and its loyalty to you, the customer, and your interests – which include a responsible attitude towards society and the economy.

So the scandals that hit various banks including Barclays during the past few years have been doubly disastrous: they fuelled the decline in trust, and they did it a time when the public wanted increasingly more reassurance and commitment from brands.

Barclays’ YouTube and Twitter campaign to ‘thank fans’ for their dedication to football comes hard on the heels of a major new drive by the bank to emphasise its own dedication – to customers. Barclays is trying to align itself with positive social values and tell every stakeholder it’s doing so – from internal memos to employees, to speeches at business conferences, to films to inspire football fans.

It’s not the only brand crafting a position in the values landscape.Take Coca-Cola: recent months have seen a major drive by the company to scale up its commitment to getting people active – most recently through the Grandpa advert promoting the healthier lifestyles of the days gone by.

It’s good to see marketing teams responding to consumer sentiment and a real demand for brands to prove that they stand for something positive.

But are they proving it?

Marketing can be powerful, yes, but this new, savvy, technology-enabled, social consumer is looking for more than messages. They’re looking for proof. They’re looking for action and impact. And when I say looking, I mean expecting to see - because most of them don't want to have to go out there and find it, they want to experience, sense or come across it.

I’d like to see more social leadership programmes by our favourite brands. Programmes that use the skills, assets and brands of a business as a force for good in the world, creating both commercial and social impact. They come in all shapes and sizes, from Gucci’s landmark Chime for Change movement supporting women’s empowerment around the world, to Telef√≥nica’s Think Big commitment to put young people at the heart of the business. In fact, Coca-Cola’s support for the Special Olympics – which is being significantly scaled up this year to create a ‘stronger brand’ for the event – is a nice example of doing it through sponsorship.

These are the kinds of activities that marketing teams can and do get excited about when it comes to communicating values. They’re designed to say something powerful about what a business stands for, what its values are, what impact it wants to have on the world. That’s when brand values mean something real to consumers – when they’re doing, not saying.

So I like the football fan film: why not celebrate the commitment of fans? Barclays and the Premier League are a good match, and getting personal with fans is an effective route to help make the most of an expensive sponsorship deal. But it'll do less in terms of halo effect for the brand's new positioning around commitment to customers. Until the brand does something powerful, inspirational and meaningful to show its own values in action, I’m left feeling that the football fan wins in the dedication game.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Wonga versus Welby

It was interesting to read the recent announcement from the Archbishop of Canterbury stating that the Church of England was going to out-compete Wonga in providing micro-loans. When I first read this story I was impressed by the Archbishop for taking an active stand. Rather than do the usual thing and bash Wonga or to wag a finger, here we have the Church of England saying that they will take them on at their own game. Archbishop Welby is said to have had a robust discussion with the Founder Errol Damelin telling him "we're not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence; we're trying to compete you out of existence".
Can the Church make it work? Only time will tell.  

However, what is probably more telling about this story is what then followed. Having said how much he disapproved of Wonga, Archbishop Welby then had to make a rather embarrassing admission. He had to admit that £75,000 of the Church’s money was actually indirectly invested in Wonga. He said Church investment managers "didn't pick up" that they had put funds in a "pooled investment vehicle" which, through its investments, had bought into Wonga.

Admittedly this is a small fraction of its total investments of £5.5 billion. However, what it does shine a light on is not only the inter-connectedness of the financial system but also the importance of being an active investor.

The Church are probably better than most when it comes to an ethical stance on its investment portfolio and being an active investor. It has its own Ethical Investment Advisory Group which "recommends against investment" in companies which make more than 3% of their income from pornography, 10% from military products and services, or 25% from other industries such as gambling, alcohol and high interest rate lenders.
However, too often in the past it has not taken these principles to the next level by taking a stand in public about how it invests and the important of being an active investor. When we had the banking crisis taken to the door-step of the Church of England in the form of the Occupy protests at St Pauls the Church had a perfect opportunity to take a stand, but it struggled to find its position and its own voice, probably because it worried out what it had in its own portfolio.

So now it is good to see the Church taking a stand on what it believes and taking action rather than just talking. But what this situation with Wonga has shown is that this space is a difficult and complex arena in which to take a stand and to uphold your principles.    

Monday, 25 March 2013

Behaviour change campaigns can help tackle big social issues

We really like this campaign that Gillette India launched a few weeks ago - Soldier for Women. The campaign builds from the recent story of rape on a bus in India that sparked international attention about the treatment of women. Through the campaign, Gillette urges men to awaken their 'inner valour' and stand up for women in their daily lives.

Without knowing about the campaign it might seem strange for a men's razor company to create a campaign about women's rights, but Gillette's creativity has proved that the two can marry well together.

Whilst most of the attention to date has focused on the rapists and abusers of women, little has been said about the bystanders who witness the abuse of women in public. Which is why Gillette's message works so well - because it switches the attention back to the everyday man and what each of them can do to make sure these instances happen less often.

Gillette has leveraged its brand well by making this campaign about behaviour change - because with a problem as big as this, behaviour change is one of the few solutions that has the potential to impact the problem as a whole.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

New Scope 2 reporting guidelines

The Carbon Disclosure Project issued new guidance last week, on how businesses should account for Scope 2 emissions - otherwise known as emissions from electricity. The revision recognises that, prior to this, the guidelines were in a bit of a mess when it came to the question of how to account for emissions from electricity generated from renewable sources.

Everyone felt that the blanket use of a grid average emissions factor was wrong but no one had come up with an alternative.  The good folk of the GHG Protocol had maintained a stony silence while their working group looked into the issue, Defra created a Gross and Net approach, energy suppliers had exploited the confusion to sell "green" tariffs that were anything but and businesses that had paid a premium for a renewable energy supply felt cheated that they were then not able to use it in their green house gas calculations.         

There are 2 major differences in the new guidance. 

In simple terms, businesses are now required to account for emissions from electricity using a supplier specific conversion factor (not grid average), based on the supplier’s declared fuel mix.

Furthermore, businesses can log zero emissions for each MW of electricity consumed for which they receive an acceptable tracking instrument.  These instruments are Guarantees of Origin, confirming that the electricity consumed corresponds to an equivalent amount of electricity generated from a renewable source.    

Putting to one side the fact that this will add another level of complexity to an already complicated process (one of our clients has almost 100,000 electricity meters)  its interesting to look through the facts to speculate on the potential implications -  

1. Procurement of electricity generated from renewable sources will now be seen as a valid component of a corrporate GHG reduction strategy.  Will this increase demand, price and therefore encourage investment in new supply? Clearly this is the hope from a policy perspective
2. Energy company tariffs will be less important than fuel mix. Will suppliers scale back green tariffs, which have had little to recommend them and aim to buy more renewable supply?     

3. EDF and British Gas could be beneficiaries.  A look at table below shows the fuel mix of major suppliers in the UK. As maybe expected, Good energy and Ecotricity top the table for lowest emissions per kWh, but with the likelihood of higher unit costs.  EDF and British Gas, on the other hand, with high proportion of nuclear in the fuel mix, are significantly better than the rest at no premium.  


Good Energy
0.000 g/kWh
195.5 g/kWh
EDF Energy
280 g/kWh
British Gas (Centrica)
338 g/kWh
505 g/kWh
Scottish and Southern Energy
505 g/kWh
npower (RWE npower)
509 g/kWh
Utility Warehouse
509 g/kWh
E.ON Energy
543 g/kWh
620 g/kWh

UK average
450 g/kWh

Source - Uswitch