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Published: November 22, 2011
 / Winter 2011 / Issue 65

 
 

Best Business Books 2011: Marketing

Yes, that shouting you hear in the background is coming from people at a certain end of the political spectrum, crying: “Socialist!” (Or maybe even “Communist!”) But to jump to that conclusion about Mainwaring, and his book, would be to fundamentally misunderstand what he’s talking about. A former creative director at Ogilvy & Mather on the Motorola account, and also on the Nike account at the revered ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Mainwaring hasn’t abandoned capitalism. Instead, he contends that a We First approach is needed to save capitalism, if for no other reason than that humanity is consuming the earth’s resources faster than they can be regenerated. Rethinking compensation, as another example, is not about redistributing wealth but making sure that people have money to buy things. “The basis for this principle is less a moral argument than an economic reality: without a reasonably prosperous middle class in any society, the engine of capitalism falters,” asserts Mainwaring.

Fortunately, once Mainwaring abandons some of the preachiness that occasionally drags down We First, he offers plenty of examples of companies that are already practicing We First capitalism. Like many other observers, he lauds Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for embracing rigorous environmental values — such as using 100 percent renewable energy — and pushing those standards down through its vast supply chain. But the retailer’s environmental initiatives mean it is meeting the mark on only one of Mainwaring’s five domains of sustainability. His broad definition of the term also encompasses economic, moral, ethical, and social values. To meet those standards, Walmart would have to, among other things, pay its associates more and offer them more reasonably priced health benefits.

By now, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with marketing, or with the social media–driven consumers referred to in the book’s subtitle. Mainwaring says that We First capitalism is what they demand. In reaching this conclusion, he relies heavily on the 2009 “goodpurpose” survey from public relations firm Edelman. According to the survey results, 83 percent of consumers are willing to change how they consume to make the world better and 64 percent wouldn’t mind recommending brands that support good causes. If that’s the case, the role of social media is an obvious amplifier of word of mouth.

But Mainwaring’s bigger point about social media lies in how consumers are using it to push companies toward more responsible practices. Consumers and Greenpeace, he explains, successfully used social channels to pressure Nestlé and Cadbury to stop buying palm oil — a key ingredient in chocolate bars — from suppliers that were involved in deforestation. When the initial actions taken by the two companies weren’t enough, social media helped push both of them further. Although Nestlé and Cadbury were playing defense in this case, it’s easy to see how a company could proactively change its practices to better align with the We First philosophy and use that as a marketing differentiator.

The vision presented in We First is huge and probably too idealistic for most companies to fully implement. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the best marketing book of the year because anyone who reads it will begin to question how his or her company does business, and that’s the initial step to change.

Brand Power Redefined

The first thing a reader notices about Brand Relevance is how many of today’s power brands have already made good on its central concept: Brand preference has long ceased to be a powerful driver of marketing success. Brand success, therefore, requires something more. That something, according to David Aaker, now vice chairman of Prophet, a marketing consulting firm, “is to redefine the market in such a way that the competitor is irrelevant or less relevant, possibly by making the competitor’s strengths actually become weaknesses.” This requires creating brand relevance by carving out a new category or subcategory for your offering that has these key characteristics: a weak or nonexistent competitor set, a distinctive definition, a value proposition, a loyal customer base, and, perhaps most importantly, barriers to competition.

 
 
 
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