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Why CSR is Good for Business w/ Tom Santora of Omni Hotels & Resorts

01/28/15

Southern Utah Montana footballNo one denies that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a noble endeavor, but even staunch supporters will admit that it can be difficult to justify from a business perspective. Tom Santora, a recent Social Responsibility award winner at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, challenges that notion. As the CMO of Omni Hotels and Resorts, Tom has managed to turn corporate responsibility into big business, and helped build the largest LEED gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas.

During my interview with Tom, he explained why CSR is good for business. He believes that marketing executives should “find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.”

Drew: How have you approached Corporate Social Responsibility?  Do you have a distinct set of metrics for CSR (vs. product sales) that help rationalize these investments?

Sustainability is central to Omni Hotel & Resorts’ entire business – from operations to procurement to architecture to construction. For example, our two newest builds, the Omni Nashville Hotel and Omni Dallas Hotel, are LEED Silver and LEED Gold certified respectively. Our goal is for all future new builds to become LEED certified.

While this is a tremendous achievement for both Nashville and Dallas, earning Gold certification for the Omni Dallas was particularly notable. With 1,001 guest rooms and 110,000 square feet of meeting space, the Omni Dallas Hotel is the largest LEED Gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas, and one of the only LEED Gold hotels in Texas. We are extremely proud to be able to say this.

Achieving LEED Gold status required careful planning and a disciplined approach to design and development. We worked with recycled and regionally-sourced materials, incorporated significant natural day lighting into our design, implemented a keycard-based guestroom energy management system, utilized construction process to significantly reduce construction pollution and rolled out a number of water conservation initiatives. Omni Dallas Hotel’s dining venue, Texas Spice, is even a certified Green Restaurant – two stars. Plus, the housekeeping associates collect unused soap to donate to the Global Soap Project.

We also are finding other ways to minimize our carbon footprint. We are increasing local and organic dining options by partnering with local farmers, growers and seafood purveyors, as well as sourcing – and in some cases producing our own – environmentally preferred products. In addition, we are engaging our employees and guests in conservation efforts. For example, each Select Guest loyalty club member is invited to select “Eco-Friendly Services” in his/her guest profile, indicating whether bed linens and towels should be changed only when requested. By giving our guests the option to re-use items that would normally be laundered in-between uses, we can reduce water, chemical, and energy use.

Obviously, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. This is one of our ways we rationalize our investments. But we also analyze guest feedback from Medallia to pinpoint how sustainability practices directly influence guest favorability and loyalty.

Drew: CSR activities are often handled outside of the marketing team’s purview yet the hope is that these activities will provide a positive halo for product sales.  What is your role related to CSR and are there some initiatives that you think have been particularly effective? 

As a smaller, privately held company, we are very nimble and communicate well across channels. As a result, I am usually involved in our CSR initiatives from the outset – particularly if they have the potential to benefit the guest experience and/or our brand reputation.

While our construction and development initiatives naturally fall outside the scope of my role as CMO, I often collaborate with that team to provide input on aspects of the design and development that will make Omni Hotels & Resorts more marketable to customers. For example, many large associations and groups seek venues or destinations that meet specific sustainability requirements. Naturally, our LEED Silver and Gold certified properties are extremely marketable to those groups.  In fact, we have secured business solely because we have a LEED Gold certified hotel in Dallas.

Drew: How do you make sure that your CSR initiatives come across as a sincere commitment to doing good versus being self-promotional? What advice would you give to fellow CMO’s who are just getting started on CSR programs?

We are fortunate in that our sustainability initiatives are not just good for our brand reputation; they make good business sense too. As I mentioned earlier, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. We would utilize these practices whether or not they were marketable for our company.

These practices also deliver guest experiential benefits, making them even more appealing to our company. One of our core brand attributes is providing hotel properties that are unique and authentic to their local markets. By using building and design materials that are indigenous to the local region and providing culinary creations based on locally sourced ingredients, we can cater a true local experience.. It’s what makes us special and it’s what guests look forward to when staying with Omni.

My advice to other CMOs is this:  find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.

Drew: How are you as CMO staying on top of all the new digital marketing techniques and opportunities?

I’m sure I’m not that much different than other CMOs. I am a veracious reader and have an insatiable intellectual curiosity spend a lot of time educating myself through a variety of news sources to find out what is going on in the digital marketing space and what is new and exciting in the marketplace. When I come across something truly unique, I try to find out as much as possible about it – what the planning process was for making it happen; how the idea was inspired; what similar programs have happened in the past; etc.

On a more tangible level, some good sources I would recommend for this information include: The New York Times; DigiDay Publishing; The Hub’s Daily Roundup; Retail Online Integration Report; and of course the new CMO Solutions Clubhouse!

Drew: What tool, product, or service has been the single greatest improvement to digital marketing for your brand over the last year?  Why did you choose that one?

Our website, omnihotels.com continues to be our strongest platform for hosting material and providing guests with useful information such as culinary recipes, special packages, photos and other details about our properties and destinations. To enhance that service, we recently rolled out a new website that has a complete new look and feel.  We implemented response design which creates a seamless experience for our guest regardless of the device they are using.  Based on early customer feedback, it has been enthusiastically well received by travelers and we’ve seen traffic, booking and sales increase at a double digit pace in just 90 days.

Drew: What have your experiences with mobile marketing been to date? What’s working for you? What’s not? What challenges have you faced in optimizing your mobile marketing efforts?

With the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s not only important to have a responsive designed website, but also ensure its adaptive based on mobile designed sites. More and more consumers are researching and booking using their mobile devices. We are serving up this experience to reach consumers where they are booking. Our mobile is a channel showing great promise and needs to be continuously optimized.  We offer the full range of mobile capabilities you’d expect for guests booking accommodations, as well as those who already have a reservation and are checking in.

Drew:  I noticed you have a loyalty program for customers and one for event planners. Can you talk a bit about the challenges & benefits of having target specific programs?  

Our Select Guest program has been an important loyalty driver for us for years, and we have the benefit of guest and event planner insights gathered through the program for more than two decades. In fact, it was the data we collected as part of our loyalty program that inspired us to move to a combined reward-based (e.g., earn free room nights based on your number of stays) and perk-based system (e.g., complimentary Wi-Fi, free water, shoe shines, etc.).

Having this combined platform (versus offering simply a points-based program) allowed us to develop robust, meaningful and long-term relationships with our guests, who are making higher-cost, more “considered” purchases. Offering a wide array of benefits is beneficial as it helps constantly remind members of how much we value our members – every time they log in to Wi-Fi for free, grab a complimentary bottle of water or shine their shoes before heading out to an important meeting.

Select Guest, our outward facing loyalty program, and Select Rewards, our meeting planner loyalty program are very targeted to their audiences – and there is not a challenge to having two specific programs. In fact, having both positively affected the bottom line.

Meeting planners can sign up for both Select Guest and Select Rewards. Therefore, they can enjoy the benefits of both. The key differentiator is Select Rewards not only provides benefits to our planners as it relates to their jobs/events/etc., but also their companies. When they book a qualified meeting with us, they may choose from a variety of rewards like gift cards, master account credits, professional development or even a charitable donation.

The Right Spirit of CSR w Patrón’s CMO Lee Applbaum

12/31/14

Lee Applbaum_PatronStick with me here as I drift back momentarily to one of the more profound books I remember from high school–Murder in the Cathedral. In T.S. Eliot’s classic, the protagonist Thomas Becket contemplates martyrdom and the possibility that just thinking about becoming a saint could disqualify him.  I believe that brands walk a similarly fine line with their Corporate Social Responsibility activities–it’s a great idea to do these things but celebrating them too loudly comes with some risk.  One person who clearly gets this conundrum is Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón Spirits.  When asked about CSR, Lee is very careful not to over sanctify Patrón’s activities and instead shares them with a matter of factness that is simply refreshing.  At the close of this two-part interview (check out Part 1 of this interview), you will get a sneak peak into Lee’s plans for 2015, which include a keen desire not to “eff it up!”  My guess? He has a really really good shot at it.

Drew: Let’s talk a little bit about corporate social responsibility. I know that as an industry you self-regulate and dedicate a certain amount of space and time to the “drink responsibly” message. What are you doing in the CSR area that goes beyond a “drink responsibly” message?

Obviously we do largely self-regulate and actually, being new to this industry, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the level of self-policing that goes on. I think for the most part, especially in the ultra-premium segment, you’ve more sophisticated companies, more sophisticated marketers, bigger brands that have a lot to lose. I think we always err on the side of doing the right thing, responsibly.

But I think one of the areas that we do a poor job communicating is in the sustainability space. Making alcohol, it does produce carbon dioxide—it’s a natural by-product from Mother Nature’s fermentation process. Nobody is going to tell you that’s not the case. But one thing that we turned up the dial on this this year that I am really proud of is our water ozonation and compost program.

One of the things that comes as a byproduct of making tequila is oxygen deficient water, basically waste water. If you take that water and you just pour it into a river, it has this nasty tendency to kill everything because nothing can breathe. Rather than doing that, we actually worked with a company that developed a water ozonation system for India that’s traditionally used for very serious water treatment issues. But we use this system in a proprietary manner to re-ozonate our wastewater.

When you make tequila and crush the agave plant to extract the juice, what you get is this fiber. We decided to take our re-ozonated wastewater and add it to immense amounts of this fiber and compost it. We compost it under hectares of these beautifully white, billowy tents that are like two stories high. And then we take this compost, which is some of the finest, most oxygen rich compost in the world. And we give it away to local farmers, not only agave growers, but the men and women who locally farm in the area. All of that is done without PR, under the radar. We just do it because it’s the right thing.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that the land that we work, our most precious asset other than our people, will endure. And that’s really important to us. I don’t want to stand here and tell you that we get a halo and wings, because making tequila does emit carbon dioxide, my toilet still has a lot of water when it flushes and we don’t have solar power all over the place, but we do do our part to make sure that we’re ecologically responsible in the way we make our tequila.

Drew: What you’re talking about is interesting to me because I think a lot of companies do struggle with when to talk about the good things that you do and when not to talk about them, right? As a marketer, when do you toot your own horn and talk about the good things that you do?

I think you pick the moments. I’ll give you a practical example. We ran an ad on Earth Day and the headline was, “This Earth Day, drink responsibly.” It was not only about the fact that every day we want to encourage you consume it responsibly, but to remind consumers that our bottles are made with recycled glass. This refers to all of our core tequila bottles, which is a vast majority of our sales volume.

I think if we had just made wide-open statements about what great global citizens we are, it could have been problematic. Instead, we were very focused on the couple of things that we do really, really well and that we are immensely proud of. It’s funny because we’re this big brand with a lot of cache and swagger, but when it comes to some of the charitable things that we do, we just are always very quiet and very humble. There is an immense amount of humility. And I think people appreciate that about us, even if it’s not conscious.

Drew: What’s on your wish list for accomplishments in 2015?

I think we still have a task in front of us, which is continuing to drive home the handcrafted artisanal nature of all of our products. It’s funny, we have these consumers who say, “Oh, it’s so cool that you’re making this handcrafted tequila.” And we respond, “Hold on a second, all of our tequila is handcrafted. Roca is one that is just hyper handcrafted.” But we’ve got to continue to drive that message.

The innovation group in our company reports into me and I challenge them to not just come up with product for product’s sake, but to reimagine artisanal tequila and what it could. We’ve got some really special limited edition stuff that will hopefully help consumers reimagine the category.

At the end of the day, we enjoy this tremendous market share. We just got our most recent brand audit back and the numbers would be almost unbelievable if they weren’t longitudinal. Brand awareness, brand consideration, brand loyalty — they’re numbers that I’ve never seen at Coke or anywhere. And so to be quite candid with you, it’s as much about not screwing it up as anything else, because there is like 98 percent to get wrong and about 2 percent to do better. So my task is to just make sure that we do what we’re doing better. For us, it’s like “just don’t eff it up Applbaum”.

Drew: That’s hilarious. The truth is that there is a lot of hungry competitors out there that would gladly steal share. And as the leader in the category, you either compete with yourself or someone else will do it for you, right?

Oh absolutely. Our tendency as CMOs is to walk in say, “What can we change? How do I put my mark on the brand?” But I think this is really a situation where there is so much right. We continue to gain share, lead the marketplace. The brand health is at its highest it has ever been. It’s really about the emotional intelligence to say, let’s amplify what’s working, let’s refine what’s not working really well and maybe we shed the very few things that are even remotely close to broken. It’s much more about having the emotional intelligence to resist changing for the sake of change, because so much is right.

If my legacy here is just making what I inherited a little bit better, man, I am happy. That is fine by me. I don’t need to do a 180-degree pivot on this brand. That would be wrong. There are other opportunities in this company. There are other categories. And by the way, there is a whole marketing organization to shape. So those things are really where I’m spending most of my time, on your people development, organization development and design, rather than deciding how to make the next pretty tequila ad.

Q+A on CSR w CMO Award Winner Alison Lewis of J&J

11/12/14

Alison Lewis_J&JAdmittedly, I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  I really truly want to believe that companies that are driven by a purpose that includes the betterment of the world will outperform those that simply want to make a profit.  As the theory goes, a clear mission translates to a more aligned and motivated workforce, a superior product/service offering that delivers against the “triple bottom line.”  

This is not just wishful thinking on my part. Robert Safian, Editor of FastCompany tackled this subject in his fascinating look at some mission driven companies that are indeed doing well by doing good.  So it was with great interest that I interviewed Alison Lewis SVP and CMO of Johnson & Johnson on the subject of CSR.  J&J has had its ups and downs in the last few years so I was quite curious to get an insider’s view on how a huge business can approach CSR without coming across as self-serving or insincere.  Read on and it will be clear why Lewis is a Social Responsibility award winner at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards.

Drew: “Doing well by doing good” sounds like a great idea but it is much harder to put into practice given the complexity of running a public company with quarterly earnings reports and ever-hungry competitors. How have you approached Corporate Social Responsibility? Do you have a distinct set of metrics for CSR (vs. product sales) that help rationalize these investments?

As a healthcare company, caring for the health of the planet and the communities in which we operate are natural extensions of who we are. Therefore, Johnson & Johnson has been setting goals to improve the sustainability of our business for decades. Currently, our Healthy Future 2015 goals are our broadest set of goals yet. They include goals related, but not limited, to:

  • Safeguarding our planet by reducing waste disposal, water consumption, and reduced fleet and facility carbon emissions
  • Commitments to responsibly source ingredients throughout our consumer supply chain
  • Including product sustainability information on all our beauty and baby care brand websites
  • Educating the public on recycling bathroom products
  • Engaging all employees throughout the company on how to live more health-conscious lives

We measure these goals in our annual progress report that is available at: http://www.jnj.com/caring/citizenship-sustainability/performance/healthy-future-2015.

Drew: CSR activities are often handled outside of the marketing team’s purview yet the hope is that these activities will provide a positive halo for a company’s brands.  What is your role related to CSR and are there some initiatives that you think have been particularly effective?
Sustainability is an end-to-end value chain effort. When we make progress, our brand marketing teams can help translate that progress in a meaningful way to our consumers. Marketing can play a key role to engage consumers and help brands make a difference – Our NEUTROGENA® Naturals brand is an example of how a brand can build progress on sustainability into its consumer communications.

For the third year in a row, NEUTROGENA® Naturals launched its Every Drop Counts campaign, where the brand educates consumers on the importance of water conservation. This year, throughout the month of October, NEUTROGENA® Naturals will contribute 10% of the purchase price of the NEUTROGENA® Naturals Purifying Cream Cleanser to the Nature Conservatory to support its water conservation efforts*. In 2013 the NEUTROGENA® Naturals brand exceeded their goal of saving one million gallons of water by more than 300%, over 4.2 million gallons of water were saved based on consumer pledges – – that’s the equivalent of a swimming pool the size of nearly four football fields!
*up to $50,0000

Drew: J&J received more than its fair share of negative publicity before your arrival.  How did you make sure that your CSR initiatives came across as a sincere versus self-promotional? What advice would you give to fellow CMO’s who are just getting started on CSR programs?
The key is consistency. Regardless of the business climate, our values and commitment to social responsibility have remained steadfast. One of Johnson & Johnson’s early leaders, General Robert Wood Johnson, spoke about social and environmental responsibility long before the term “corporate social responsibility” or “sustainability” became well-known in corporate circles. My advice to other CMOs is to embed your CSR commitments into your core values (what you care about) and your business strategy (how you focus) and your brands will have a strong foundation to make a meaningful difference.

Drew: Handling organizational change can be tricky particularly if it involves reorganizing / replacing long-time staffers.  What advice do you have for fellow CMOs when it comes to handling reorgs?
Just as marketing must continue to evolve to keep pace with our consumers’ needs and expectations, so must marketing organizations. When it comes to change, the important thing is to always put the consumer at the center. At Johnson & Johnson, we have a long history of being guided by Our Credo values, the first tenant of which is our responsibility to the people we serve – everyone who uses our products. Change for the sake of change doesn’t work but changing to meet consumer needs is always right!

Drew: How have you used social media to advance your brand’s overall marketing efforts? Are there any social media channels that are working better for your brand than others? If so, please elaborate.
Social media is about connecting with your target audience, therefore, every Consumer brand at Johnson & Johnson has a different “formula” for how to successfully engage and connect on social channels.

One example of how a Johnson & Johnson brand has utilized social to evolve our marketing efforts is on our teen focused CLEAN & CLEAR® Brand – – here, we recognized that social media channels at the core of a teens world. Knowing this, CLEAN & CLEAR® was an ideal brand to build the interconnected ecosystem of owned, earned, shared and paid content that would enable the CLEAN & CLEAR® See The Real Me™ campaign. By launching and activating several social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), we are able to listen to what teens want, engage in direct conversations with them and entertain, educate and inspire them with authentic content.  By engaging with teens in the social space the brand is able to forge an emotional connection and become part of their everyday lives. We have coffee with them in the morning, provide advice to them on the go, and help them relax before bed while celebrating the confidence that they portray on a daily basis by just being themselves.

Drew: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now.  Is your brand a good storyteller and if so, can you provide an example of how you are telling that story for one of your brands?
JOHNSON’S® is one recent example of how we’ve enhanced the story of one of our most beloved brands. Increasingly, we heard from our consumers that they had concerns about certain ingredients in our baby products. All the ingredients used in our baby care products have always been safe, and meet or exceed government standards for safety. But trust is at the heart of our baby equity, and we wanted to communicate to our consumers that we listened to their concerns and we know their trust is something that we must continue to earn. We knew that our actions would speak louder than our words, and we made the decision to reformulate our baby products for trust. As our reformulated products hit shelves, we launched a new campaign, “Your Promise is Our Promise” to illustrate our heartfelt commitment to the moms, dads and families that use our products.

To tell the story behind our promise, we launched our biggest social media campaign with more than 40 informative and entertaining videos that speak to our JOHNSON’S® brand promises, baby care education and the parenting journey. We’ve seen millions of consumers interact with our video content, comment on our social channels and learn more about what our brand stands for due to our ability to connect through storytelling.

How to Bring CSR and Social Media Together for Good

12/8/11

I had the pleasure of meeting Elisabeth Charles at The CMO Club Summit in LA this October.  As CMO of Petco she has orchestrated a number of innovative marketing programs to actively engage pet owners.  Learning that Elisabeth was on the board of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative, I thought she would be a great person to discuss how companies can do well be doing good and extended these activities through social media.  Turns out, this time, I was barking up the right tree.

DN: Do you think being recognized as a good corporate citizen is increasingly important to a brand like yours? Why?
Good corporate citizenship is very important to Petco – it’s built into the fabric of our entire business. Everything we do is guided by our vision for Healthier Pets.  Happier People.  Better World.

We established our non-profit organization, the Petco Foundation, in 1999 and have since raised more than $80 million in support of some 7,500 local animal welfare partners across the country. Each year, we also help save the lives of more than 250,000 animals through adoption events in our stores.  Through the Petco Foundation, we also support spay and neuter efforts, animal-assisted therapy programs and humane education. Working hand-in-hand with the Foundation, our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores serve as the first and largest national pet food bank in the country. Designated collection bins located in each of our stores allow customers to donate pet food that directly benefits pet parents in need in their local community.

As a company, we’re also increasingly adopting more sustainable business practices. We strongly believe that if it’s good for the planet, it’s good for pets and people, too.  Earlier this year, Petco became one of the only non-grocery store retailers to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Energy Star Leader for reducing our energy consumption by more than 10 percent across our entire business. Additionally, our Planet Petco line of products offers pet parents the ability to choose high-quality, more sustainable products that utilize recycled and reclaimed materials and renewable resources. These are just a few examples of what we do as a company today. It’s an ongoing process and we’re always striving to do more in this important area of corporate social responsibility.

DN: Is there a fine line between “doing good” as a company and talking about it so much that is seems insincere?
You absolutely have to be sincere and authentic in what you are doing and saying, and you must also be fully committed, rather than doing something only half way. A company’s goodwill efforts should be far more than just a marketing campaign. For Petco, all of our “do-gooding” is centered around what we believe is the right thing to do. The programs we create and support reflect our company’s values and the passion our associates have for people and pets.

DN: Is there a particular Petco goodwill/charitable program that you are particularly proud of?
There are many charitable programs that we get involved in, so it is hard to name just one.  A newer program that really took off this year was our National Pet Food Bank program and our National Pet Food Drive. Just in the program’s second year, this year’s drive ran for two weeks (late October-mid November) in all of our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores. During the national drive, we encourage customers to pick up an extra bag or can of pet food during their shopping trip, or bring unopened food from home, and donate it via the collection bins in our stores. Also for the second year, Hill’s Science Diet supported our efforts by matching 100,000 pounds of donated food during the drive. In just two weeks, we collected nearly 350,000 pounds of pet food – a more than 60 percent increase over last year – to help financially strapped pet parents feed their pets during the holiday season. The Petco Foundation Pet Food Bank is a year-round program, but it’s very exciting to see how generous our customers are during the national drive leading into the holiday season.

DN: I noticed you personally are working with an organization called HABRI.  Can you talk what and why you are doing this?
Petco is excited and proud to be a founding sponsor of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. Other founding sponsors are the American Pet Products Association and Pfizer Animal Health.  We got involved because we passionately believe that pets enrich our lives and we want to help generate formal, widespread scientific recognition of the positive role pets play in our lives.  HABRI’s mission is to support research, education and other charitable activities that validate the positive impact the human-animal bond can have on the integrated health of families and communities, by consolidating, organizing and sharing existing scientific research into the human-animal bond in partnership with Purdue University.

DN: Goodwill activities seem to translate well into social media.  Have you found this to be case and/or how do you see good will programs evolving next year?
Absolutely.  We actively use social media (especially Facebook) to engage our fan base, which is now nearing 600,000 likes, to support our charitable causes.  In general, we find that goodwill posts and campaigns featuring authentic stories perform very well in social media.  Positive campaigns with an altruistic call to action perform remarkably better (up to 100 percent more feedback) in user interaction on social properties than promotional campaigns or transactional posts. Human interest stories and, of course, anything to do with pets, are the second most shared and clicked upon posts/tweets/videos.

In October, we hosted our first ever National Adoption Reunion Weekend. Fans online were asked to submit stories about how their adopted pets had changed their lives and were given the opportunity to raise funds for the Petco Foundation through Foursquare check-ins. The social portion of the campaign performed very well, driving the most organic Twitter growth and retweets for a campaign we  have seen to date, the most views on a non-commercial video on YouTube, more than 57,000 photos uploaded on Flickr and more than 3,000 likes across three blog posts. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the results.

DN: I’m a big fan of Pedigree’s “dogs rule” campaign and their pet adoption program.  Have you partnered on “good will” programs with any of the brands that you carry and if so, what are the advantages of this approach?
Every month, we host a National Adoption Weekend when adoption events are held in all of our stores across the country. Each monthly weekend event is sponsored by one of our vendor partners.  We’ve also joined forces with several of our vendor partners for in-store fundraisers to support mutual charitable interests, including Blue Buffalo for Pet Cancer Awareness and Natural Balance for National Guide Dog Month.   I think programs like this are a huge win-win when we are able to work together to help improve the lives of pets and pet parents, and when we all know the funds raised are going to important work that we mutually care about.

‘Tis the Season to Do Well by Doing Good

12/2/11

‘Tis the season that people and brands start to think about doing a little good for others.  Lynley Sides, CEO of a philanthropically-oriented start-up called The Glue Network, has a plan to help brands do well by doing good all year round. She makes a compelling case for CSR programs noting that, “People are nearly twice as likely to buy or recommend a product if it’s affiliated with a cause they care about.” Here’s my interview with Lynley.  I think she is on to something really good!

DN: What are your goals for The Glue Network?
The Glue Network is the first to elegantly combine giving with digital media to deliver bottom line results for companies (greater return on marketing spend or greater return on company giving) and to be a catalyst for good in the world. Our two primary goals are:

  • Deliver business results for companies. Today, corporate giving groups are under tremendous pressure to deliver business results beyond goodwill — we deliver that.  Marketing groups are seeking authentic (non-gimmicky) ways of engaging with their consumers and stakeholders that not only deliver more clicks but deeper relationships and a positive image — we deliver that.  Small companies are especially challenged to accomplish these things due to limited resources — the Glue automated platform delivers the same results for a company / program of any size.
  • Be a catalyst for good:  Success with #1 means companies will spend more this way — more results for them + more good for the world.  Also, as individuals are engaged in giving at younger ages, they give more over the course of their lives and influence more giving from others.  Through the individuals a company engages with their Glue program, we encourage future good (giving, volunteering, social entrepreneurship).

DN: Do you think a lot of brands are looking to do well by doing good right now given the challenging economy?
Yes, this is absolutely a hot topic for business right now because there are 2 competing factors at work.  Despite the challenging economy, companies (not just big ones) face higher expectations from consumers/stakeholders for social responsibility and the lowest levels of satisfaction in history.  But also (as supported by a recent study by The Conference Board), as these economic pressures persist, what doesn’t improve the bottom line is in the end not sustainable.  So, if companies don’t figure out how to give back and have that giving drive value beyond goodwill or a golden halo, it will cease to be justifiable — which would be a missed opportunity for business and a massive loss for the world.

Companies that aren’t feeling the pain of this challenge are either the few that are far ahead of the curve, with social responsibility deeply engrained in their businesses in ways that create value, or have not yet faced this reality because they continue to look at marketing and giving separately.

DN: There are so many ways for brands to “do good,” why should they align with The Glue Network?
Glue does more than they can do otherwise and we make it far easier for them.  People are nearly twice as likely to buy or recommend a product if it’s affiliated with a cause they care about.  However, when a company makes a charitable gift, the nonprofit may fit with their brand and help a good cause — but necessarily, it’s not the one most of that brand’s customers would have chosen.  To drive greater business value, companies need to create cause-based experiences that allow consumer choice and provide rich, social experiences.  Voting campaigns by brands like Pepsi, Chase, Gap, Target and more take a step toward this but could do more to deliver engaging experiences and tie the experience back to direct direct business results.  And they aren’t feasible for smaller companies to pull off.

Glue’s automated, closed loop platform enables cause-based social marketing programs of any size that create deep engagement, multi-point brand/cause associations, high sharing rates and a closed loop brands can use to drive new customers and rich data.  This is a unique and powerful combination.

DN: What makes you confident that the “goodwill” generated by TGN will translate into ‘good’ revenue?
Companies don’t need Glue to create goodwill.  But when individuals are given rich options and the power to choose (not just vote but choose), they become personally attached to their choice and to the company that enabled them to make it — and more inspired to share the experience with their friends and support the company in the future.  That’s not just our opinion.  Our user data blows away industry average rates for sharing and clicks — meaning we’re inspiring the users (the company’s customers), giving the company access to those customers’ friends and colleagues (highly attractive targets), and enabling them to directly drive new customers and revenue from that base PLUS develop new customer data which all companies know to have value.

The Glue platform is flexible enough to fulfill numerous business objectives spanning customers, partners, and employees.  But for any audience, a Glue program delivers significantly higher business value for the cost than comparable traditional digital media, loyalty, or giving programs.

DN: What kind of commitment are you looking for from brands?
Very little.  We’re committed to making robust Social Cause Marketing feasible and justifiable (through business results) for every company.  We’re like a Salesforce.com <http://Salesforce.com>  (sophisticated CRM for all) or Eventbrite (anyone can be an event organizer) — this December, businesses from small local startups to one of the largest tech companies are creating greater value from the same holiday gift spending through Glue.  For brands that want to create larger programs with a more integrated, branded experience, we can do that too.

This ease and flexibility is made possible by the robust platform we’ve developed with an extensive back-end that enables campaign and non-profit project management.

DN: What can companies do quickly to harness the spirit of the holidays to increase customer loyalty and attract new customers while doing good?
Companies of all sizes spend on gifts and branded merchandise (a $17 billion industry), many of which wind up in landfills and few of which the recipient finds meaningful or worthy of telling people about.  Instead of mugs or gift baskets, give a Glue gift which has meaning for the recipient, does good in the world, and generates free PR for the business in the form of social media recommendations — for the same cost and minimal effort. Contact info@thegluenetwork.com

Final note:  Lynley Sides is CEO of The Glue Network and has spent her career bringing groundbreaking new products to market. She’s passionate about digital media, social ventures, running, skiing and the fight for global human freedom. You can follow her @LynleySides.

Why Timberland Planted 1 Million Trees in Inner Mongolia

08/2/10

This is not a story about a bunch of granola-loving, tree-hugging, goody two-shoes. Timberland, the company, is in business to sell shoes and other outdoor apparel. As Chief Brand Officer Mike Harrison put it in my interview with him last week, “We’re not advocating for good causes just for the sake of it, there is an element of enlightened self-interest in this,” adding, “we’re an outdoors brand, if winter goes away its not a good thing for us financially either.”

That said, Timberland’s approach to corporate social responsibility could be a model for any likeminded company around the world. Timberland is considered one of the most socially responsible brands in the US and was recently recognized by Ceres-ACCA as having the best sustainability reports. Timberland’s commitment to fighting climate change permeates the global organization, from the CEO to the sales staff in Japan, and serves as the starting point for this 7-point guide on how to do well by doing good.

1. Create a Culture of Doers

Timberland has long believed in empowering its employees to give back. Harrison reported that, “back in the early 1990’s, we started giving employees paid time off to volunteer in the community.” So when a bunch of employees in Japan linked their concern about air quality with deforestation in Northeast China, the next thing you knew Timberland was planting trees in Inner Mongolia. Noted Harrison, “It started out as a pretty low-key community service project in 2000,” and culminated in April 2010 with the planting of the millionth tree!

2. Walk the Walk First Especially in China

One of the more remarkable aspects of Timberland’s tree planting program in China is that they didn’t even sell boots there until 2006 (6 years after the first tree was planted). According to Harrison, “We were planting trees but we hadn’t gotten around to figuring out how to do business there.” Not famous for welcoming foreign brands, Timberland benefited from six years of good will generation. Describing the launch in China, Harrison noted that, “we told them about the Timberland brand and what we stood for and why we’d been planting trees and that definitely got a lot of interest.” Four years later, China is one of Timberland’s fastest growing markets.

3. Make it Green But Don’t Lead with Green

In 2007, Timberland launched the Earthkeepers boot, which, Harrison noted, “was the greenest boot that we knew how to make.” Since that boot was well received, they turned Earthkeepers into a “collection of environmentally responsible footwear and apparel,” that has become Timberland’s fastest growing collection. But Harrison recognized that, “consumers are not going out shopping for brands in our space wondering about how they can save the planet, so you need to look at environmental values as the gift with purchase.” Harrison considers this one of the biggest lessons, noting that his consumer won’t buy it if it doesn’t look good and perform like its less green counterparts.

4. Don’t Underestimate Online Engagement Among the Green Inclined

No good marketing story would be complete without a few bumps in the road. Timberland’s bump came after launching a virtual tree planting application on Facebook in late 2008. “We had all these grandiose plans to engage consumers and create a movement online,” noted Harrison, whose group was taken by surprise when the demand for virtual tree planting exceeded the speed at which they could plant corresponding real trees. When Timberland then took down the application there was a huge backlash and Harrison discovered, “Just how engaged our consumers were.” How Timberland responded to this crisis is as instructive as the rest of their actions.

5. Fess Up To Your Mistakes

After the Facebook application was shut down, Timberland’s “engaged consumers” created online petitions to bring back the application and then started to question the veracity of Timberland’s tree planting programs. This was potential PR disaster requiring an immediate and honest response. Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz held a chat session with the petition’s organizers and posted the conversation for all to see. This approach helped to diffuse the protestors and offered Timberland a valuable dose of humility. Offered Harrison, “it’s much better to openly engage with critics, be transparent, be open about your failings—we never say we’re perfect and we never will be.”

6. Don’t Be Too Earnest

Understandably proud of their green track record, Harrison noted that one of the biggest marketing mistakes they’ve made is “to come across as preachy” when advertising their Earthkeepers products. “We’re trying to be more humorous in our ads now—it’s a serious issue but we shouldn’t claim we’re curing cancer—we’re just planting trees and doing the best we can.” “We seem to engage better if we’re reasonably light,” offered Harrison while lamenting consumer’s general disinterest in reading longer and more serious eco-stories. Advised Harrison, “pick your message, be positive, upbeat, reasonably light hearted about it and don’t come across as overly earnest.”

7. Think Global, Act Social

Offering a glimpse into their future marketing plans, Harrison noted that “half of our business and half our consumers are outside the US, so the next big step is moving to a more global Timberland.com and moving to a more global social networking strategy.” This coincides with new tree planting initiatives in Haiti and Nepal along with continuing efforts in China. In fact, CEO Jeff Swartz has set the audacious goal of planting 5 million trees in the next five years. Timberland is also updating its virtual tree planting initiative with the introduction of a new Facebook application, which will be integrated with its soon to be launched “Nature Needs Heroes” marketing campaign.

Final Note: In its Q1 2010 earnings report, Timberland’s revenue was up 7% overall and 17% in Asia. Seems like Timberland is doing pretty darn well by doing good.  (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com)

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