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The Culture Shift of 2011, and What It Means for Business (Part 2 of 2)

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Griff Foxley

In part 1 of this post, I explored some of the forces at play today that are creating a “new normal” in the business world. Given this rising activist market, given the realities of the new normal - politically, economically - business will find it ever harder to justify doing business without attuning to the new normal. People need jobs and stability. People still want shiny products, but they need added value in life beyond shiny products; people want more from life than the trappings of a broken capitalist system, and they’re clamoring for these wants and needs. People want to know they’re supporting organizations that are not contributing to the ills of this broken system.

Business will have to create value in order to retain customers who want more from their purchasing power. Business will have to go well beyond the basic corporate social responsibility (CSR) program or cause marketing campaign. Yes, these are good starts. Measuring and reporting on effects of business practices and partnering with causes for social good are a good start. But when push comes to shove, those initiatives, by and large, are efforts towards the so-called “mitigation of value destruction.” What is needed, what is being demanded in this new normal, is “value creation,” or companies that “authentically understand the importance of culture, of values, of a mission that provides real meaning.” These are the organizations that will thrive in the new normal. Many are already here, and more are coming. The beautiful thing about this ‘emerging global mind’ and the technology wave that’s upon us is that, once the organization intention is in place to steer towards creating meaningful value, it’s easier than ever to do it.

“People’s ideas are free to interact, reproduce and cross-pollinate instantaneously,” wrote Tiffany Shlain. By harnessing social media and creating forums for mass collaboration, an organization can engage a wide net of stakeholders and build something meaningful from the deepest, widest tranche of customer needs. Call them “social organizations,” or “trampoline” organizations, or call them businesses that “listen and care.” Regardless, they’re out there.

Here’s an unlikely but fantastic example from Audi:

Audi decided to hop on the band wagon and mitigate value destruction by making its product more environmentally friendly during use by the consumer: increase gas mileage, reduce emissions, etc. But Audi tapped into its wider, deeper consumer need and decided to focus its carbon-neutral initiative even further up the value chain - to actually manufacture the car using only renewable energy. A laudable mission with immediate challenges: storage of renewable energy in Germany is difficult, so conventional energy would need to be used to supplement in off-hours. So Audi decided to innovate well beyond the ‘business-as-usual’ call of duty and develop a technology to store excess renewable energy that would benefit the wider public beyond its own operations.

Patagonia provides another example of an organization boldly going beyond the bounds of normal operations to communicate and create new orders of value for a wider customer base. Its recent holiday season ad campaign blazes the tagline “Don’t Buy This Jacket” across its own product line, outlining the environmental impact of its own product, and encouraging consumers not to buy something new heedlessly. This is one of the bolder examples of messaging that truly represents a deeper, wider set of customer needs than the usual, more narrow product-centric mentality.

While many of the trends included here and in Part 1 have been percolating for years now, their dramatic confluence in the Occupy events and other likeminded protest movements attempting to battle the status quo should rightfully be considered a market signal of big change for business. Will deep political change manifest from this emerging global culture shift? The optimist in me points to affirmation, and when that reality sets in, businesses that don’t evolve towards this type of value creation will find themselves behind the eight ball. But even if this powerful cultural moment doesn’t result in deep political change, those in the business community that want to stand the test of time in the face of this culture wave must stand up and join the movement, or lose out big.

Griff Foxley is an MBA Candidate in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Contact him at griff.foxley@presidioedu.org