I was in Austin last week for a Sustainable Life Media (SLM) double-header. First a meeting of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, then the SLM Corporate Members meeting.
Hosted with aplomb by Dell, sessions included a tour of the Dell Social Media Command Center (a fascinating, real-time window into what everyone, everywhere is saying about their Dell experience), and an inspiring visit to the new LEED Gold certified offices of Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG Foundation, with both proving there is more going on in Austin than music, football and great Tex-Mex like Guero's (though those are fine too, with Guero's servings proving again that everything is bigger in Texas).
For everything packed into the two days, I left thinking about a presentation by Simon Mainwaring, the best-selling author of We First and founder of the social branding consultancy of the same name. We First is "committed to helping brands build communities, profit and positive impact." This is, of course, hard to oppose, but I am interested in what We First might accomplish because Simon brings unique chops to the task.
He was an absolute advertising insider -- the former Nike creative writer at Wieden and Kennedy, and previously the worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy. His work has been honored at the Cannes Advertising Festival and elsewhere. Is he poised to use We First and the media platforms he's seized at The Huffington Post, Fast Company and like to take social or sustainability branding to new heights?
From Cause-Related Marketing...
Simon's clear on one thing -- he is not about expanding or extending historic cause-related marketing practices, which he sees having been plagued by shortcomings including: limited fund generation for the organizations associated with the causes; weak executive support; and impure motives (more greenwash than actual commitment to cause).
... to Contributory Consumption
In Austin and in writing like this blog here, Simon argues consumers are now equipped, by connecting their values and the ability to link them to campaigns and behavior change using social media, to force companies to "accept a far greater degree of responsibility" and to "recognize that they have a moral and ethical duty of social responsibility." If future corporate profit will be linked to a higher purpose than shareholder return, and companies are at risk if they do not do this, can they get ahead of the curve?
According to Mainwaring, corporations will thrive when they: better account (and pay) for externalities; actively help build societies where prosperity is broadly shared; adequately serve poor as well as rich markets, and; accept and embrace the fact that narrow capitalist self-interest is incompatible with the "complex, global, interconnected world" in which we now live.