What is the future of work?

Decision time

I just received an advance copy of a new book on the future of work. Great read!

It was a project I was closely involved with, writing on the changing face of collaboration and competition for one of the contributing teams.

But enough introduction. Have a look here. And if you like it, please let everyone know.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this story. If you found it useful, please pass it along to your Linkedin network.



Posted in Brands, Current Affairs, Green Business, Innovation, Uncategorized

Will Consumers Will Put A Bullet In Your Brand?

futureproof brand maglev

I help build futureproof brands that are resilient enough to thrive in our highly unsettled times.

These brands live at the intersection of the brand steward’s higher order purpose, and the consumer’s higher order need. It’s consumer need I want to talk about today.

Mike Maddock,  a mentor of mine, had a mantra about consumer need. The need had to be real and immediate, not just a ‘nice to have’ superficial want. And it had to be a need felt by enough consumers to warrant your product. A hundred people that really wanted your product didn’t cut it. A million people, much better.

Now, there are many factors that can shift consumer need. I specialize in one of the biggies – climate change.

In order for a brand to be futureproof, it has to set itself up to succeed in a world where climate change is a growing part of the conversation. With diminishing resources, punitive legislation, and media hypervigilance, a product that was a ‘nice to have’ a few years ago, may suddenly be a ‘need to have’ today.  

So it was with some interest that I read the New York Times story about Japan’s goal of bringing its ultra high speed (360 mph!), ultra high cost ($100 billion between Tokyo and Osaka!) maglev train to the US.

The technology has some incredible benefits. Not least of which is cutting down travel time between Washington and New York to an hour – that’s faster than flying.

So what’s blocking the way, apart from the price? The story cited consumer mistrust about maglev, a technology that levitates the train on a cushion of magnets.

I suspect there’s a much, much bigger hurdle. Our need hasn’t gone from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’. Yet.

Need (gasp) train.

The Europeans have high speed train technology that matches the Japanese. And the Chinese, while not as technologically advanced, have the world’s most developed high speed train network.

In the case of Europe (and to some degree, China) the technology was developed to build a sense of unity. But I believe there is a far stronger impetus behind China’s rapid rail expansion.

In 2010, outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in China, nearly 40% of the global total. While economic expansion seems to be the sole focus of the Chinese government, the leaders know unrest can easily upset their lucrative apple cart. Air pollution – so dense in major cities that it blinds drivers and slows traffic to a walking pace – is a very visible source of unrest. 

The ‘want’ for technology that symbolizes a commitment to clean, has become a ‘need’.

When blue skies turn to brown

In North America, we can still see our air. On a good day, the sky is brilliant blue. So will we wait for game changing technology like Japan’s maglev? And by waiting, will we miss the train and be relegated to ‘catch up’ players?

I believe not.

Thankfully, our globe is more a village than ever before. Unrest is building here, not just because of events like the horrific tornadoes in Illinois, but also because of the hurricane that devastated the Philippines.

For the first time in history, our neighbor’s climate disaster is becoming our concern.

What does this mean for marketers?

Check your brand’s green credentials. If they aren’t sterling, you may find yourself surprised by a sudden consumer shift away from you.

The world is littered with brands that set their future course by looking to historic trends. Brands that didn’t see the real future coming. Brands that died.

Don’t give your brand the bullet. Wake up to the shifting need.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this story. If you found it useful, please pass it along to your Linkedin network.

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Posted in Brands, Cities, Green Business, Innovation

To build a futureproof brand, build your global expert network.

Futureproof brand global expert

This story first appeared in Sustainable Brands November 18th, 2013.

A few years ago, my green ad agency was acquired by Maddock Douglas, an innovation agency based in Chicago. For a year, I worked with the team at MD, honing a green innovation process for their clients.

I learned a number of incredibly useful things from my friends at MD, but one has served me particularly well in the business of building futureproof brands. The power of a global expert network.

A global expert network is, as the name implies, a network of smart, specialized idea people you can call upon to guide your thinking. In my case, they’re C-suite level, generally entrepreneurial, with strong brand experience.

I tap them in the insight phase of futureproof brand building, telling them about the brand I’m trying to shape, and asking for thoughts from their own area of expertise. The results are always inspiring.

It was, however, in my latest brand building effort (for a new concept supermarket slated to launch in January 2014) that I was truly blown away.

In this instance, I posed the question ‘What’s the future of grocery?’ to two gentlemen with deep experience in very un-grocery sectors. The first was Bob Taylor, founder of Taylor Guitars, a man who has redefined both the way guitars are built and the way they can be built more sustainably. The second was John Marshall Roberts, an expert in worldview thinking – the science of understanding the personal context that shapes an individual’s perception of the world around them.

Normally, I would never divulge information gathered in the service of a client. But because their answers were so remarkable, I stuck my neck out and asked my client, Bob and John if I could make an exception and share their responses with my readers. Happily, all agreed.

Although I have edited their responses for flow, the information is all theirs. Enjoy.

Bob Taylor On The Future Of Grocery

“What’s missing? Organic food. Meat that doesn’t come from factory farms.  And real vegan cheeses and spreads.  I don’t mean glop made from palm oil and tapioca, but real cream cheese from cashews and cultures. Real aged cheese from nuts. (That’s tricky but it exists).

Homemade food. 

A vegan chef to head up a deli/pre-made food/takeaway food/ hot case food section. One who can make vegan dishes that are more than a salad, dishes that are a little hard to prepare but taste delicious. 

You need a chef. Then all you need is people to follow the recipe.

Teach people how to cook with less meat. Or no meat. Or proper meat. 

Free range, and cage free, mean little to nothing these days. Study it and know for yourself what they get away with when they print that. Offer something better. Way better. Really better. It would be great to sell eggs and roasters where those label words actually meant something. 

If one were to sell organic produce in a northern climate they’d have to import it much of the year.  So a good strategy for that would be great, and it should be communicated. Do a good job communicating. 

Tell the truth about food.  Put real information up in your store, make the decorations informative. Show consumers what they get for this price vs. that price. Tell them what they’re buying into when they buy this vs. that. Help them afford better food by figuring out recipes that only use a portion of the really expensive stuff. People will, and do, spend money on food. 

Let them know that raising meat makes way more global warming gases than the entire transportation sector worldwide. 

Just tell them. Tell them the real truth of it. They’ll still buy meat but if they decide they’d prefer not to, offer them quality delicious vegan or vegetarian options. Teach them what they don’t know. 

Nobody wants to eat their vegetables because their mom cooked them sooo bad! Let your company’s chef teach them that it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Lead the way. Get in for more, rather than get out for less. 

Have a bookstore. Rent documentaries of how food is raised these days and let them go home and watch them. Then sell them the correct version in your store. Narrow the selection and survive on less choices, but every choice vetted well. People eat the same fifteen things over and over for their whole life. Help them get the best version of those fifteen things. 

Okay I’ll stop. You’re probably sorry that you asked. 

Sell seeds. Let them grow a tomato. You’ll still sell tomatoes because they won’t grow them, or grow enough of them, but you’ll be inviting them to learn where good comes from once again, and how we undervalue it, and how your food is a good deal. 

Okay I’ll really stop now. 

Show them how to make chia/banana  pudding with almond milk. Let your chef perfect your store’s brand recipes and share them, and let them buy them already prepared so that they can see how good it is. 

Show them how to make cheese at home. The simplest cheese. It’s fun. It’s easy. And the ingredients cost more than cheese, so you win either way they decide to buy. Makes cheese look cheap, or you sell ingredients. Win/win. 

Sell soy chorizo / potato hash in your hot case. Let them make a burrito. Teach them how to make a real tortilla themselves. Or bread. Bake bread? Who does that?  Show them how to scramble tofu so that you can’t tell it apart from eggs. They look at that square lump in your fridge section and they don’t know what to do with it. 

If your gonna sell groceries then you need your customers to be cooks, right?

Put cooking back into their lives. Then sell the groceries and the utensils. Hold cooking classes. And have a New Year’s Eve party with all the food made from the incredible ingredients from your store.

People want to eat well, they have just forgotten how, and once they remember they can only buy a bunch of crap at their current store, so they give up. Change that. Make them feel lucky to live next to your store. 

Okay I’m really gonna stop now.”

John Marshall Roberts On The Future Of Grocery

“If supermarkets had a deeper understanding of the universal processes that drive perception they’d be able to thrive with minimum investment in traditional market research.

My advice is to develop a better understanding of social media – why do certain campaigns go viral while others fizzle? Our research suggests that the non-linear dynamics of social media are animated by the experience of inspiration that comes with natural resonance. Any leader or brand attuned to the resonance between the products, product displays they use and the target markets they serve can attract loyal customers and advocates by activating the 99% of their minds that remain unconscious.

The big mistake is always to think that human decision making is rational. 

For example, I once led research for a package redesign of a retail organic food product. The product cost a dollar more than the competition, but had a very loyal following.  But leaders wanted to expand market share among mainstream consumers. After studying buying behaviors in a retail setting we saw how the themes of innocence, simplicity and purity resonated so deeply that price considerations didn’t matter with consumers from this normally price conscious group. We recommended a label that embodied these themes fully, stripping away anything that didn’t serve this.  Sales naturally began to climb and the client was able to stop losing margins by doing extensive incentives (coupons, etc.) to attract uninitiated people to their high quality brand. 

This is just one example of the power of resonance. 

The secret is understanding the worldview structure of target audiences. 

People are not behaviorally driven by demographics. They are driven by resonant values, metaphors and the emotions these bring. 

Worldviews show us exactly what these deeper triggers are for a person or group. 

Without this sort of understanding, we are left using left brain logic that may or may not resonate at a heart level. 

Logic is always a losing battle – even when it wins – because genuine understanding and relationship loyalty cannot be created through logic alone. Leaders who overemphasize logic before attaining a genuine understanding cannot even properly diagnose their successes when they do succeed – much less when they do not. 

As for families: 

I believe they are increasingly looking to purchase products from brands who care. 

Care about them.  Care about their impact on the world.  Care about something – anything – other than simply the bottom line. 

For companies that care, people will pay extra. Companies that pretend to care, well that’s another story.  People are smart. They can tell the difference. 

As the economy continues it’s strange ways in the 21st Century, people are increasingly valuing experience over materialism. 

Money is important, but money isn’t everything. It’s a tool for living life fully and enjoying one’s experience as much as possible.  An extra dollar spent on a brand that resonates at that deeper level can often bring people a sense of peace, comfort and hope with value that far exceeds a dollar. 

Just look at Apple.  Their products are good, but functionally they aren’t all that different than many of the competitors who offer similar products for less than half the price.  Is this price difference completely justifiable on quality grounds alone? 

No. Apple is simple, resonant and deeply aligned with the principle of creativity. People who aspire to create, choose apple because it’s part of their identity. Apple helps them remember who they are and who they aspire to one day become. Apple stands for something. 

Times have changed. People are looking for products that offer them a sense of something beyond the ordinary, grounded in authenticity and quality. This is true for everything from computers to cabbage leaves. These principles are driving capitalism into a grand new stage in which value and money are deeply connected. In fits and starts of course. But the companies who refuse to stand for anything other than the bottom line are having a terribly hard time producing anything that resonates with the every day joe and jane. This is just the way it is. No moral imperatives or ideological beliefs needed to see the new pragmatism of commerce. 

Be yourself and thrive. Play the old game and barely survive. 

I believe that this is the new pragmatism of the creative economy.”


If you’re like me, your first response to these answers was probably Wow. Then Wow again.

This is the power of global experts. People who can take your simple question (remember, I just asked Bob and John ‘What’s the future of grocery?’) to a place you’d never imagine.

That’s something you want to build. 

I appreciate you taking the time to read this story. If you found it useful, please pass it along to your Linkedin network.


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Posted in Brands, Innovation

Getting Over The Sustainability Innovation Hump

sustainability innovation collaboration

This story first appeared in Huffington Post November 12th, 2013. 

I just read an interesting Deloitte study linking sustainability with innovation inside corporations. According to the study, companies engaged in sustainability innovate more than their competitors. At the risk of sounding cheeky, I don’t find this hard to imagine. Companies that recognize the importance of sustainability tend to be those pushing for new ideas. And applying the sustainability filter to innovation efforts sparks new patterns of thinking – and fresh ideas.

But what happens with those fresh ideas? Sustainability is about whole system thinking. ‘Fixing’ one element tends to reveal an array of new shortcomings. Frustration sets in.

For example, in a previous blog, I wrote about the application of William McDonough’s sustainability-focused Hannover Principles to innovation. Markus Kittner, a reader, pushed back:

“…I think you are underestimating the difficulty of applying McDonough’s Hannover Principles…because as our society gives increasing importance to commodification, it neglects other principles. Additionally our aggressive pursuit of instant results/gratification and the disposable nature of many things in our culture also reduce our ability for long term planning and an appreciation for McDonough’s Hannover Principles.

Not just that, but it’s also difficult it is to keep a company afloat, let alone successful in such a competitive market, without adding the additional burden of applying McDonough’s Hannover Principles, especially for a company making consumer products with investors demanding higher dividends.”

Fortuitously, I had a conversation on this topic last week with Brian and Mary Nattrass, best-selling authors and international sustainability consultants.

They fully acknowledged the hump that companies hit when engaged in sustainability-focused innovation. As they said “After you have picked the low-hanging fruit in eco-efficiency and made a real commitment to eco-innovation, you may be faced with harder, sometimes more costly calls – investing in people, exploring alternative, greener energy sources, and examining the life cycle of products and impacts across the entire supply chain. There are myriad hurdles involved in each, a universe of issues that increase complexity, and conventional ROI calculations can become more challenging. Authentically walking the talk takes commitment and perseverance.”

So is it an exercise in futility? Far from it.

The Power Of Collaboration

The Nattrasses stressed the fact that the bar is constantly rising in corporate sustainability.  Actions that represented sustainability leadership just a few years ago are the price of admission today. Continuous innovation is essential.  For example, when the LEED green building standards came out, they were a game changer. Today it is increasingly the norm for companies to talk about their LEED certified buildings.  To take it the next step, Starbucks committed to constructing all of their company-owned stores around the world to LEED standards—raising the bar and upping the game for global companies. 

Thankfully, companies starting down the sustainability path can take advantage of a growing phenomenon that will allow them to keep up: collaboration.

As the Nattrasses said about their client Nike, “They got to the point where they realized no matter how advanced their sustainability initiatives were, they couldn’t change an entire industry on their own. To really address systemic global challenges in their industry, Nike needed to collaborate with others.  Today this collaborative work even includes sharing research that Nike has conducted in sustainable materials with their competitors.  The intent of this collaboration is to raise the sustainability bar for an entire industry in order to make positive global change.”

As a result of collaboration, one company’s investment will be leveraged many times by hundreds of others adopting this technology. Competitors can ramp up their own green efforts without grinding through painstaking R&D.  Sustainability-centric innovation has accelerated across the entire apparel sector.

It seems this new spirit of collaboration is giving companies fresh impetus to drive sustainability forward. As the Nattrasses point out “When Patagonia and Wal-Mart teamed up to spearhead the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, they opened the door to other apparel companies who also saw the limitations of going it alone. Savvy companies with deep engagements in sustainability like Timberland and North Face realized they could still be tough competitors in branding and style, but accelerate sustainability in the global sector by doing it together.”

Innovation isn’t the only reason for sustainability collaboration.

For one, it tends to be easier to convince your CEO to do more in sustainability if he or she knows the competition is pushing ahead. Secondly, these collaborations provide a way for companies to work together on sustainability challenges that impact their entire industry. Just a couple of examples outside the Sustainable Apparel Coalition – the Better Cotton Initiative and BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy).

Tapping The New Momentum

If you’re frustrated with the pace of sustainability innovation in your company, this may be an opportunity worth investigating.

Groups like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are being formed in many sectors, and informal alliances are sprouting up everywhere.

In other words, there’s a group of companies out there that will help push you over that innovation hump.

I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read this story. If you found it useful, please pass it along to your Linkedin network.

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Posted in Brands, Green Business, Innovation, Uncategorized

Futureproof Brands In Europe

futureproof brands belgium

I just returned from a terrific speaking gig in Belgium. The event, sponsored by Duurzaam Communiceren, featured respected international marketing speakers including John Grant and Beth Bell. I’m happy to say my futureproof brands talk was well-received and provoked lively discussion. For a quick peek, check out this video.

And of course, no trip would be complete without snapshots. Here are some of the moments we captured…


Moderator Nick Balthazar, John Grant, Beth Bell and myself fielding questions. (Photo courtesy Green Product Placement)


John Grant, Lucie Van Den Bosch of Method Europe, and myself at an intermission. (Photo courtesy Green Product Placement)


The ‘graphic harvesting’ of our speeches in action. My futureproof brand talk is at right. (Photo courtesy Green Product Placement)


My interview with the media for the video. That’s our host for the event – and event organizer! – Inge De Clerck doing the interviewing. (Photo courtesy Green Product Placement)


You gotta love how the Belgians do lunch break!


The awesome refurbished warehouse where the event was held. The Belgians are masters at blending old and new with style. (Photo courtesy Green Product Placement)

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Posted in Brands, Current Affairs, Green Business, Innovation

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