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We’re Following the Money more than Woodward and Bernstein

Mike McGrail · April 17th, 2015

Six years after the recession ended, Americas are still obsessed with financial security to the point that it’s affecting our work performance.

Highly paid executives and hourly wage earners alike are worrying about money like never before, according to a Boston Globe report on the results of a recent State Street Global Advisors study. The study found that 61 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed constantly fret about money, often to the point of taking time off from work to deal with financially sparked stress.

State Street’s findings dovetail with the results of the Brodeur survey we wrote about last week that found people think about their finances more than anything except their families and spouses, with romance and sex trailing in sixth place. The Globe article quotes Andy Coville’s observation that “There are just very few people who aren’t thinking about money. That’s a lens you have to understand when you’re talking to people.”

Check out the article here: Financial Stress is Hurting Worker Productivity

For more details on Brodeur’s financial industry relevance research check out our whitepaper on Money and Investing

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Jerry Johnson · March 23rd, 2015

How often do people think about money? Or loved ones? Or intimacy?

The notion that men think about sex every 7 seconds is an urban legend. That’s because it’s impossible to measure thoughts with today’s technology.

So in our recent investigation into Money and Investing, we did the next best thing. Since we wanted to get a sense of how preoccupied people are with their finances, we decided to simply ask them what’s on their mind compared with other preoccupations. We posed this question to 600 Americans in a recent national survey.

How often do you think about…?
Money and finances
Politics and policies
Purpose and spiritual life
Sex and love life
Spouse, partner or significant other
Career, work and job

Turns out we think about money and finances nearly twice as much as sex and love life. More than 2 out of 3 Americans (69 percent) said they thought about money finances all or most of the time. Nearly 30 points behind, sex and love life edged out politics with 2 in 5 (40 percent) thinking about it all or most of the time. Money and finances won that contest at every age.

Financial Research graph image

The takeaway: Although we’d never dismiss sex and love as trivial (sex does sell) we’d advise communicators not to overplay that hand. Unromantic as it may be, money weighs heavily on our thoughts.

Other findings:

  • Blood rules. More than 4 in 5 people (83 percent) say they think about their family either “all” or “most” of the time. This datum affirms findings from earlier Brodeur Relevance Research that family is probably the most important factor in determining the personal relevance of a cause, product, or service.
  • We bring our work home. Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans say they think about their work and jobs all or most of the time.
  • Politics trail the pack. Around 1 in 3 Americans (32 percent) think about policies and politics all or most of the time.

(One curious twist: The amount of time people thought about their jobs and work declined with age while the amount of time people thought about their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend increased. I would have assumed the opposite.)

So what does all this mean for communications, branding and public relations?

  • Make a family connection. How does your product, service, brand, candidate or cause help someone care for their family? In today’s society, the concept of “family” is diverse, disparate, and nontraditional. Make the connection.
  • Whatever it is, simplify the “economics.” Our findings suggest that the cost-benefit ratio of a product or service – whether a technology or a college education – matters more to people today than it has in a long time. Sell it.
  • Make your offer a personal development opportunity. People seem to be more preoccupied these days with purpose and career development, perhaps because of the financial crisis of 2008. Marketers should explore how their organization, product or idea advances individual self-realization and growth.

If you can cover all these in one message or initiative, you’ll be tapping into thoughts that occupy Americans every day. If not every 7 seconds.


For a deeper look at this and the rest of our Money and Investing research, click here: White Paper Money and Investing

Wellness, Healthcare and Talking Things. Specifically, the Internet of Things

Mike McGrail · February 13th, 2015

If you want to be in the next healthcare marketing hot spot, go to the intersection of healthcare and wellness and then look up the road for the approaching Internet of Things. Where they come together is where the action is going to be.

That’s an odd stew of factors – two health-related concepts and the next big thing in high tech – coming together to create opportunities for healthcare marketing professionals. But when you look at them in the larger context of what’s relevant to consumers, they’re not the odd pairing they appear to be. When healthcare and wellness come together in the Internet of Things, they become an ongoing conversation that enables marketers to engage consumers on a deeper level than conventional marketing channels can reach.

The IoT is just what the name implies: things, i.e. devices and sensors, communicating to each other without human intervention. IoT applications can automatically monitor key healthcare metrics around the clock and feed a steady stream of intelligence to consumers. They can use the information to manage their conditions and modify their behaviors to head off problems before they occur.

Healthcare experts expect it to be transformative in wellness.

“Promoting wellness in a healthy but aging population provides a great challenge, but (self-managed care) could reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases,” Paul J. McCullagh and Juan Carlos Augusto wrote in the European healthcare technology journal CEPIS UpGrade. “The Internet of Things can overcome many of these challenges.”

In a 2014 Deloitte report, Pete Celano, director of consumer health initiatives in the Innovation Group at MedStar Health, went ever further, saying the IoT could boot the current healthcare delivery model right out the door.

“Remote health monitoring begins to disrupt the traditional treatment environment and the incident-based model. The combination of wearables and other intelligent equipment that allows an individual to

capture, track, analyze and share data about themselves, will open up even more disruptive potential: the individual, rather than the health care provider, will own the data about her body,” he said. “Health and wellness providers will use the data to offer more personalized treatment or course of action based on the individual’s context and responses to previous measures. Individuals will connect with a diverse ecosystem of wellness providers who can help them get more value and insight out of their data to improve wellness and better use traditional health care providers when they are not well.

For a window on where marketing and public relations fit into the picture, take Celano’s concept into the world of a thirty-something middle-aged man battling obesity. In the IoT world, sensors in his shoes send data over the Internet to a wellness application. The application processes the data and sends the man a notice that he hasn’t walked as much as he planned that day.

Using the bar codes on his lunch items, which he photographed with his smart phone, the application also tells him that he ate 170 more calories at lunch than he intended, which means more exercise. It tells him that two walking groups he’s affiliated with are going walking that night. He can sign up for the walk through his smart phone or his desktop computer.

Staying on the IoT-based wellness regime helps keep the man’s weight problem from progressing to Type 2 diabetes. However, his wellness app does detect an upward trend in his blood pressure through a sensor in his watch. The app puts a note in his medical file and sends his doctor an alert for the man’s next checkup. The app refers the consumer to a list of blood pressure control medications that have been recommended by other members of his wellness community, complete with first-hand accounts of their experience with the medication

IoT-based wellness conversations like these encompass three elements of relevance: community, values and thought. The IoT wellness app joins consumers into a community of people with similar needs who value independence and  share knowledge and experience. They are making knowledgeable wellness decisions and using the intelligence from the app to weigh alternatives and make informed decisions.

Spotted the marketing opportunities yet? Hints: How does raw wellness data get on the Internet? What turns the data into intelligence? How do medications make it onto the wellness community’s preferred list? Product, services, vendors and a market, all in one.

Marketers can be in the thick of these conversations. They can help healthcare and wellness companies forge mutually beneficial partnerships. They can counsel clients on content and viral marketing campaigns to created grassroots awareness that permeates through online wellness groups. They can help with messaging that places products and services in the broader context of wellness, moving the conversation to a more positive context that reaches consumers on meaningful levels and forces durable, long-term relationships.


Is Reading Still Fundamental?

Steve McGrath · June 13th, 2014

The words in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” haven’t changed in 130 years, but the experience of reading it sure has. I don’t mean the sociological context; I mean the mechanics of reading the novel itself. Or any novel.

berodeur blog bokk girlWhat’s changed is our brains. They seem different. That’s because we’re
awash, day in and day out, in emails, tweets, Facebook posts, IMs, text messages, PowerPoint slides and Google results – bits of information we need for a multitude of simultaneous tasks that are interrupted every five minutes.

So after five days and at least 40 hours of this during the work week, it’s asking a lot of our scattered minds to immerse themselves in a great American novel on the weekend. We make this challenge even steeper when we try reading it on a computer screen instead of in a traditional book with paper pages.

Researchers are looking deeply into these issues – problems focusing and the potential shortcomings of the digital reading experience.

relevance egg We at Brodeur are fascinated, too. We already explore on a daily basis how variables like people’s sensory experiences make things more or less relevant to them. We also try to stay current on behavioral science, since we exist to help clients change the behavior of their customers, constituents and supporters.

 The feel of a good book

Logically, a novel is the same thing whether bound in leather or digitized in a Kindle. You’ll be reading the same words. But consider the sensory experience of a traditional paper-based book that is solid in your hands throughout the entire read versus an ephemeral digital image of pixilated text that vanishes when you scroll to the next paragraph.

“What I’ve read on screen seems slippery,” writes Brandon Keim in Wired.

Ferris Jabr elaborates in Scientific American:

In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.

In contrast, most screens, e-readers, smartphones and tablets interfere with intuitive navigation of a text and inhibit people from mapping the journey in their minds. A reader of digital text might scroll through a seamless stream of words, tap forward one page at a time or use the search function to immediately locate a particular phrase—but it is difficult to see any one passage in the context of the entire text.

As an analogy, imagine if Google Maps allowed people to navigate street by individual street, as well as to teleport to any specific address, but prevented them from zooming out to see a neighborhood, state or country. Although e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad re-create pagination—sometimes complete with page numbers, headers and illustrations—the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.

(Sorry that was so dense. You still with me?)

That article, as well as this one in the Washington Post and Keim’s in Wired, cite studies with varying implications for digital’s effects on reading. Some suggest problems in the digital experience, others not really.

Your brain on Twitter

Book format aside, what have done to ourselves by disintegrating our days into micromoments? Can we really handle the cognitive burden of shifting gears from consuming small bytes of information during the workday to layers of lengthy narrative at night? Assuming we even still like books?

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habit of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading, told the Post. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

Maryanne Wolf, author and Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, put a fine point on it in the same article: “Will we become Twitter brains?”

I think we will. At least I am. Or my brain is.

I’m reading “Middlemarch,” the celebrated Victorian novel, and I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s taking, even accounting for its 900 pages and my naturally scattered brain. Let’s just say months. You can’t scan that novel, but that’s exactly what my brain wants to do.

While there’s a lot more to study about reading in the 21st century, the questions alone have implications for communications. They hint at the limits of the time-honored white paper to sustain a reader’s attention as it makes a patient, elegant case. They challenge the wisdom of relying on 1,500-word case studies to sell a prospect. They suggest that any content worth producing needs to be distilled along the way into Tweets, dramatic photos, infographics and short videos to meet its potential.

These questions also suggest that we as marketers need to focus even more than ever on serving the interests of our audience. Obvious? Yes. Practiced? Sometimes. Blatantly self-serving communications, always cheesy, no longer stand a chance.

And sadly, the mere sight of a dense essay, no matter how brilliant the writer and timely the topic, risks scaring “readers” away.

Am I right? You still with me? Anyone?!

Our body parts, ourselves

Steve McGrath · January 7th, 2014

Why do we clench our fists when we’re angry but struggle to get out of bed when we’re depressed? Why do we tingle all over when we’re happy or in love? And do these bodily sensations actually help us figure out what we’re feeling?

Scientists are still working all that out, but a novel experiment from Finland may give us some clues. Researchers asked people from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan to think about emotions they’ve experienced and, on a screen, “paint” the areas of the body that feel stimulated (hot colors) and deactivated (cool colors) during those times [try it]. When combined, the bodily sensation maps look like this:

Note how turned on the happy person is, how the loving person is glowing, and the depressed person is feeling, well, blue.

“Even though we are often consciously aware of our current emotional state, such as anger or happiness, the mechanisms giving rise to these subjective sensations have remained unresolved,” says the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. “Here we used a topographical self-report tool to reveal that different emotional states are associated with topographically distinct and culturally universal bodily sensations; these sensations could underlie our conscious emotional experiences. Monitoring the topography of emotion-triggered bodily sensations brings forth a unique tool for emotion research and could even provide a biomarker for emotional disorders.”

Why we care

Although bodily sensation maps may never drive marketing decisions, we at Brodeur are deeply interested in the interplay of physical sensations and emotions. That’s because it profoundly affects whether people, things or ideas are relevant. Relevance breeds action, which is important to marketers, leaders and causes.

Relevance often starts with the sensory: Think of the first time you touched a smart phone, fell in love with it and bought one for yourself. Or when a candidate’s warm handshake, as much as her policy, won your vote. Or when you hugged a sick friend, yearned to help, and found yourself donating more than you planned to find a cure.

Our research uncovers sensory keys to consumer decision-making. In hotels, for instance, water pressure in the shower drives more conversation than bed comfort by a ratio of 2 to 1. Room noise is a hot topic, and breakfast offerings matter a lot more than lunch or dinner.

Can senses affect business-to-business purchase decisions? We think so. If you’re a chief information officer looking at storage solutions for your company, hard return on investment is certainly important. But won’t you also gravitate toward a vendor who will keep your data center tidy, give you the sweetest-looking-and-feeling user interface, and convince you your head will hit the pillow at night without a worry-induced stomach ache? These are sensory concerns.

As we’ve mentioned before, logic is just a small part of what prompts meaningful behavior. Sensations, emotions, values and social impulses quite often trump it.

Today, we go to work for the planet

David Zucker · September 13th, 2013

Like you, we try to give back. Individually and collectively, our agency supports people doing a wide range of phenomenal work for inner-city students, children, young musicians, people with disabilities and others.

Today, in our most important pro bono project to date, we go to work for the planet.

We’re helping the world’s largest forum on climate change – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change– showcase tangible progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help people adapt to climate change. It’s an exciting opportunity to make a difference on an issue that literally touches everyone on earth.

Given the tenor of public discourse, we sometimes forget: Innovators in every corner of the world are finding new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help people adapt to climate change. Brodeur Partners is creating the strategy for bringing their stories out of those corners and onto the world stage.

From the women bringing solar-powered light to African villages to new mass transit systems in India and China, the world is quietly making remarkable progress. Brodeur will collaborate with the secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative to create a communications strategy and plan to drive greater visibility for innovative projects like these.

Who’s to say that Asian and South American women can’t replace their communities’ diesel and kerosene lighting with non-polluting solar like African women did? What did Chinese and Indian authorities learn about urban transit that Europe and North America can use to lure more commuters out of cars and onto environmentally friendly buses and trains?

Momentum for Change’s goal is to inform governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations about examples of positive change and, more importantly, to inspire them to follow suit.

This dovetails perfectly with our professional passion, which is designing communications programs that make organizations and ideas truly relevant. Relevance entails more than changing perceptions; it’s about changing behavior. And behavior is everything when it comes to climate change. As important as intelligent conversation is, hot air won’t cool the planet.

How to defeat the ignorance of the crowd

Steve McGrath · August 29th, 2013

The wisdom of the crowd turns out to be more of an oxymoron than we thought. Not only can vendors game online “star” ratings to deceptively promote their books, restaurants or hotels; positive ratings may be dramatically inflated even when consumers bestow them in good faith.

ignoranceofthecrowdSpecifically, positive ratings seem to trigger more positive ratings until the thing being rated is…well…wildly overrated.

So suggests new research by scholars from MIT, Hebrew University and New York University. They collaborated with an unidentified news website and focused on the reader comment sections associated with each article. Each reader comment receives a numerical rating based on up and down votes that other readers have given that comment. Over five months, the researchers arbitrarily gave newly posted comments initial up or down votes, or left the comment alone, then watched what happened:

The first [real] person reading the comment was 32 percent more likely to give it an up vote if it had been already given a fake positive score…. Over time, the comments with the artificial initial up vote ended with scores 25 percent higher than those in the control group. “That is a significant change,” [co-author] Dr. [Sinan K.] Aral said. “We saw how these very small signals of social influence snowballed into behaviors like herding.” (New York Times)

Remember this the next time you visit a restaurant that Yelp promises will be a five-star experience. And if you’re a vendor, don’t assume your online reputation is as pristine as your star ratings. You may be getting absolutely ravaged elsewhere on the Internet.

Look deeper

A far better way to understand your own brand and market is to look at what people are actually saying, and do it methodically. For example, we recently analyzed online conversation around the hotel industry and went far beyond the numbers.

With our partner MavenMagnet, we looked at more than 18,000 online hotel-related conversations between May 2012 and October 2012 across social networks, profiles, forums, news websites and blogs. We examined:

  • Buzz volume (how much conversation there was about each brand)
  • Positivity of that buzz (positive/negative ratio)
  • Impact of that buzz (e.g., the likes, links, mentions, retweets and conversation volume a comment attracted).

Then we dug deeper, separating conversations of leisure travelers from business travelers. Then we drilled even deeper into leisure travelers, separating the comments of those traveling with children from those without.

When we looked at all of these conversations, we analyzed not only practical considerations like cost and location but also guests’ comments around their senses, values and social needs, which are the other dimensions of Brodeur’s relevance model. (On the sensory side, for example, we discovered that that water pressure in the hotel shower actually eclipses even bed comfort in online attention.)

We ultimately discovered that Hilton, Marriott and Four Seasons rated the highest in what we call Conversational Relevance™.

You can’t game 18,000 online conversations. And when you work this hard and smart to understand where a brand stands, you don’t get fooled. Here’s our report.

Do you ever wonder what people really think of your business?

Are ‘MOOCs’ right for your higher ed brand?

John Brodeur · August 16th, 2013

Education is priceless, so it might seem surprising that universities around the planet are “giving away” instruction and talent in the form of MOOCs – massive open online courses. With MOOCs, the same course material from the same professors for whom traditional students pay dearly is now becoming free to anyone in the world with a Web browser – no degree, no application, no SATs required. Millions have enrolled, and the most popular courses can attract tens of thousands of “students.”

Online schoolWhile the ultimate effect of MOOCs remains to be experienced, the vision is positively utopian: If ignorance is responsible for human suffering, imagine how universal access to the most rarefied knowledge could advance human civilization.

And while MOOCs are sweeping across the higher education landscape, there is little awareness outside of academia of this form of online learning.

MOOCs as brand builders

Surprisingly, three out of four Americans still know little or nothing about MOOCs, according to our new Brodeur Partners research, the first public opinion survey in the United States on the subject. The research offers many rich insights as well for any campus leader with MOOCs on their agenda. Although institutions will make their own decisions about whether to offer MOOCs, here are three quick takeaways, based on the research, for managing MOOCs from a communications perspective:

  • The institution can define its position and market. With so many people still discovering what MOOCs are, it’s too early to worry about hardened positive or negative perceptions around your involvement in the experiment. Perceptions are still fluid. You, as a de facto MOOC pioneer, would be able to lead the conversation. Decide what you want the world to think about your MOOC involvement (or not) and tell your story.
  • The institution is not obligated to offer MOOCs. Although many institutions are on board, there’s still only modest overall favorability for MOOCs. Thirty-seven (37) percent of the Americans we surveyed think it’s a good idea for colleges to offer MOOCs, and 26 percent think it’s a bad idea. The rest have no opinion or are undecided even after hearing a neutral description of MOOCs.
  • Be straightforward about MOOC commitment. Why you do something is actually more important to people than what you do or how you do it. Are MOOCs philanthropy for you? Marketing? Potential revenue-generators? All of the above? Our number one research takeaway is this: communicate why you’re doing MOOCs or, if necessary, why you’re not. Addressing MOOCs head on will keep you relevant. And your story should always be more about the student than the institution, the experience more than the infrastructure, and the content more than the methodology.

Enjoy our data and let us know if you’d like to discuss this in depth. In the meantime, what do you think of MOOCs? Will the utopian vision prevail?

Short of the desired impact: Why are CSR communications failing to communicate?

David Zucker · August 8th, 2013


Too much CSR communications remains irrelevant or misses the mark because it fails to tell the story of who really benefits. Companies need to re-think how they talk about their CSR commitments so that what they say and how they say it is more meaningful to stakeholders.

csr-communicationCompanies that are committed to and engaged in corporate social responsibility invest significant resources in an attempt to increase awareness of their CSR commitments and leverage those to build positive corporate reputation. Consumers around the world express a desire to learn about a company’s CSR initiatives, a preference to do business with companies who are good corporate citizens and a willingness to stop doing business with companies whose practices have a negative impact on employees, communities or the environment. A 2012 survey of 47,000 consumers across 15 markets conducted by Forbes and Reputation Institute found that perceptions of a company’s social responsibility accounts for 42% of how consumers feel about that company. So, it certainly makes sense that companies would make shaping those perceptions a priority.

Are these CSR communications efforts having the desired impact? The evidence would indicate that, for the most part, the answer is clearly no. In a recent survey from Penn Schoen Berland, only 11% of US consumers said that they’d heard communications about CSR from any company. Only 13% say they have read about a CSR agenda on a company’s website. And who would? CSR information on those sites is usually filled with dry corporate language and CSR lingo that may connect with activists, regulators, procurement and policy makers but would leave most consumers scratching their heads.

So, if CSR communications are failing to communicate, how are perceptions about companies’ CSR efforts being formed? Based on the various surveys from a variety of countries that report perceptions of companies in terms of their CSR actions, it would appear that those perceptions are being formed relatively randomly. At the least, it is safe to say that there’s no clear link with actual CSR actions or with CSR communications efforts.

Fortune Magazine’s 2012 “Most Admired Companies” survey ranks Altria number 4 in social responsibility. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. Really? A tobacco company is a leader in CSR? GE, a company that has spent tens of millions of dollars on its ecomagination campaign doesn’t even make the top 10. And the Forbes survey has Microsoft in the number one spot from a CSR perspective. While Microsoft’s CSR actions may be laudable, are people confusing Microsoft’s CSR with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

What’s happening here? Are consumers paying attention to CSR communications? Are most of the communications efforts on the part of companies who are actually performing very well on CSR measures simply not connecting with consumers?

Understanding the shift

CSR appears to be the one area where many companies have failed to apply the important lessons we’re all learning about the shifting communications dynamic. Today, successful organizations understand that shift. The explosion in digital and social media channels has resulted in a highly networked, engaged and empowered set of stakeholders whose online conversations shape the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors that impact every brand.

The old model of a tightly controlled corporate or brand strategy and tightly protected brand expression has been replaced by a much more fluid and de-centralized dynamic where consumers, employees, bloggers and other stakeholders are weighing in on every aspect of business strategy from product design to pricing, distribution, marketing and, of course, CSR. A successful organization will track, listen and engage in their conversations and will understand how to shape these strategies accordingly.

Most CSR-related communications boil down to a company boasting about some particular initiative or other – a new solar-powered distribution center, for example. While that might indeed be a valid and important initiative, is communicating that fact going to connect effectively with consumers? Will it break through the noise and clutter that we’re all bombarded with? Will it change hearts and minds, and so build reputation, preference and behaviors? In other words, are companies communicating their CSR commitments and initiatives in ways that establish those CSR efforts as truly relevant to consumers?

Making it meaningful

Relevance is the key after all. It is about making any organization, product, service or social cause so meaningful to an individual that it becomes highly relevant and establishes a successful connection beyond superficial awareness. At Brodeur Partners, this is the point of view that we bring to every client assignment including CSR. Based on learnings from behavioral science, behavioral economics and social marketing, we have developed a framework and methodology that allow us to understand and shape the four most important factors that drive human beings’ perception of relevance:

• Thinking: It delivers solutions and makes life easier, better
• Social: I want to be associated with it
• Sensory: I like the feeling I get, it inspires me
• Values: It stands for the same things I do

The more an organization can deliver across all four of those factors, the more relevant they will become for their audiences. That same rule should be applied to establishing relevance for a company’s CSR platform.

Here are some tips to help establish relevance specific to CSR:

  1. Listen, listen, listen – We have unprecedented access to the conversations consumers are having about a company and about the social and environmental issues that concern them. Listen to those conversations on social media and let them inform what content and programs you deliver. Find the particular segments of your audience that are most inclined to engage around CSR and the individuals in those segments who are highly networked. Stay in the conversations and don’t stop listening. Ever.
  2. Align with the company’s core vision, mission and social assets – Keep it real and authentic in terms of who the company actually is. Align CSR communications so these assets drive credibility.
  3. Back it with solid commitment from top management – Management’s commitment is the ultimate litmus test. Communications will be most successful when a company’s values, management’s values and consumers’ values are all in sync.
  4. Deliver on that commitment with consistent behavior – Consumers have little patience for companies who don’t carry through on their stated commitments with consistent behavior. Witness the (appropriate) hits to CSR reputation as a result of the horrible factory tragedies in Bangladesh. Those lapses in stated commitments trump even the best communications efforts.
  5. Prove it with products or services with clear social and environmental benefits – These are the ultimate proof points since it is where the consumer actually experiences a company’s CSR agenda. Consumer perception of Toyota’s corporate citizenship is driven, to a great extent, by its early roll-out of the Prius hybrid. No communications effort can beat that for establishing relevance in CSR.
  6. Connect with employees and consumers on shared values – The real opportunity for CSR communications is to strengthen the connections with these audiences based on shared values. It is imperative that a company understand which values are shared with these audiences and then tie everything back to those values. Build values-based relevance.
  7. Ensure that employees are front and center – Establishing relevance for CSR activities among employees should be the top priority. Employee-focused communications should be organized around the key factors that drive relevance just as for consumer audiences.
  8. Offer easy ways for consumers to connect, engage and support – Relevance is established through the experience of a company’s CSR, not by merely reading or hearing about it. UK retailer Marks & Spencer gets this. They invite consumers to join with them to achieve CSR impact in meaningful ways through their “Plan A.”
  9. Contribute skills and product, not just money – When it comes to philanthropic and community-focused components of CSR, communicating how a company creates social value through the application of employee skills and through its products will strengthen relevance. It’s where function meets values.
  10. Demonstrate impact beyond numbers – Numbers are important of course. CSR data must be collected and reported. Go beyond the numbers and show impact through the voices of those who are benefiting from CSR efforts and those who are participating (management, employees, partners, consumers). Collect and share these individuals’ stories and make them the CSR heroes, not the corporation.

It is time to refresh our approach to CSR communications. It is time to stop wasting corporate resources on communications that miss the mark. Focusing on building relevance will result in higher awareness, enhanced reputation and, most importantly, truly engaged employees and consumers who participate alongside companies in tackling some of our most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Make this the Summer of Love 2.0

Steve McGrath · June 24th, 2013

Have you found your true love, your one and only, your match-made-in-heaven soul mate? Do you love unconditionally? Eternally? Is everyone in your loving family really loving one another right now? If you answered yes to any of this, congratulations. You might be the only one.

love_definitionLove is not what the movies say it is, argues “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become,” a new book by Barbara L. Frederickson, PhD. Love is intermittent, fleeting and biological. It’s a “micro-moment” of “positivity resonance” that can be experienced with a stranger as easily as with a spouse. It opens you to the world and makes you grow. What could this mean for communications, branding and PR?

“I need to ask you to disengage from some of your most cherished beliefs about love … the notions that love is exclusive, lasting and unconditional,” Frederickson writes. “These deeply held beliefs are often more wish than reality in people’s lives. They capture people’s daydreams about the love-of-their-life whom they’ve yet to meet. Love, as your body defines it, is not exclusive, not something to be reserved for your soul mate, your inner circle, your kin, or your so-called loved ones. Love’s reach turns out to be far wider than we’re typically coaxed to imagine. Even so, love’s timescale is far shorter than we typically think. Love, as you’ll see, is not lasting. It’s actually far more fleeting than most of us would care to acknowledge. On the upside, though, love is forever renewable.”

Love stories

Here are three true stories that fit the Love 2.0 pattern.

  • One of my colleagues was battling cancer a few years ago. She was going from specialist to specialist as she put together a treatment strategy. “What brings you here?” the doctors would inevitably ask as if reading from the same script. Apparently, it’s a standard question that elicits a lot of information about the patient’s understanding and attitude. It doesn’t comfort. One day, a particular doc flipped that script. “I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances,” he said, looking his new patient in the eyes. It was a small thing, certainly, but it made a lasting impact. “I still remember how that immediately put me at ease,” my colleague says. “It was kind and human and unclinical. He understood I was anxious and needed sympathy – not the handwringing kind of sympathy, but just some kind of assurance I was more than one more ‘case.’ It made a huge impact on me.”
  • Another colleague’s story goes back decades. “I was in college and visiting friends at their campus,” she recalls. “I wanted to leave a bar, but none of my friends did. A guy I’d never met, the roommate of one of my friends, kindly walked me home with no amorous intent at all. He tucked me into a safe bed and made sure I was okay. I’ve never seen him again, but I always remembered his kindness. Actually, I decided that night that if I ever had a son, I would name him Sam because of that experience. I did have a son. And his name is Sam.”
  • I was riding my bike to work one day and spotted an elderly woman using a walker and dragging her empty trash can across her front lawn. Since then, I’ve stopped by on garbage day and toted the empty can across the yard for her. I was doing this the other day and heard a knocking sound from her house. For the first time, she’d spotted me in the act. She was in the window waving and smiling. I smiled and waved back. A nice moment for both of us.

Love 2.0 is relevant

Best friends self portraitMicro-moments of positivity resonance (“Love 2.0 affairs?”) like these have tremendous implications for communications. This new love model affirms the bedrock premise of our strategic relevance platform, that humans yearn to connect with people, brands, ideas and causes. Love 2.0 also dovetails with our recent findings that more Americans label themselves as compassionate than any of the nine other adjectives we offered them. Compassionate isn’t something you can be alone. It implies a connection.

A fleeting connection can be a powerful one indeed and may even – at that particular micro-moment of positivity resonance – transcend all of the more important loves in a person’s life. That’s not to say it will be more profound or enduring or monumental than a family or marriage tie – just that it will matter a lot when it occurs. And it may leave a lasting impact.

familyThe owner of my local wine store asks customers to tell him about the best wine they ever drank. They rarely tell him the grape variety, vintage or origin. They talk about the moment. “I was vacationing in France with my fiancée and the sun was setting over the Alps on our second-to-last night, and a local farmer walked up the porch and handed us a bottle without a label….”

Be a love machine

So how do you trigger Love 2.0? Storytelling is one way. You assemble random ideas in a way that enables brain patterns between storyteller and listener to converge, as the author says, in “a single act, performed by two brains.

We’d also suggest making sure your communications mine all four quadrants in our relevance model: not only logic (overrated), but senses, social impulses and values – all of which can help spark a Love 2.0 experience.

Meanwhile, the Love 2.0 paradigm helps explain some things we already know: that people are more interesting than things, that shaking hands and slapping backs works for politicians, that a hug can undermine decades of estrangement, that pictures are more powerful than words, that free samples work, and that for many, cat videos are like crack.

So, are you ready to have a Love 2.0 affair with your customers, followers or constituents? Can you deliver?