I first met Simon Mainwaring in Boston in September, 2011 when we shared a keynote on best cause marketing practices (thank you, Katya). Ever since then, I have admired Simon’s unwavering commitment to change the world through cause marketing.
His bestselling book We First is a must read for anyone who believes that businesses play a role in their larger community. I wanted to check in with Simon, and see how the We First project was coming along. Here’s what he had to say…
GL: How has We First been embraced by the business community?
SM:Outright the business community has been very kind and open towards We First, welcoming both the book and its message. That said, the purpose of We First is to contribute towards substantive change through which the private sector tempers excesses that compromise the lives of others and does more to contribute towards positive social change.
In this light, there is still some inertia, reticence and obstacles to be overcome as business adjusts to disruptive trends that include social technologies, consumer activism and Big Data on top of a persistently stagnant global economy. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is a growing crop of internal champions within large companies that recognize the need for change and the powerful impact that storytelling around the a company’s purpose can have on its bottom line. It’s early days but at this risk of sounding naively optimistic I definitely feel that things are trending in the right direction.
GL: What’s the best example of environmental cause marketing that you’ve seen since the book came out?
SM:I have to say Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket‘ campaign both in isolation and in conjunction with its other sustainability efforts. The ad flew so starkly in the face of conventional marketing wisdom it challenged all brands to look at the intent of their companies and the role that social responsibility should play. Seen together with it’s work with the Footprint Chronicles and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, I greatly admire their appetite for risk in the service of purpose and leadership.
GL: In a nutshell, why must we put our community first as marketers and business owners?
SM:As counterintuitive as it may sound, the most selfish thing a marketer or corporate executive can do today is serve its community. That’s because marketing and communication dynamics with consumers have radically changed due to the arrival of the web, social media and smart phones.
These three elements have enabled an informed and real-time dialogue to go on between brands and consumers still smarting from the economic pain of the 2008 and very distrustful because of it. As a result, marketers and business owners that make a contribution to their community as a way to earn trust, loyalty and greater consumer engagement ultimately profit ahead of their competitors because they do a better job of meeting their customers’ expectations (clearly outlined in the Edelman’s 2012 Goodpurpose Report).
GL: What do you think it will take for the business community to get it, more hurricanes and disasters like Sandy?
SM: As disconcerting as this may sound, I put great faith in the human survival instinct. When weather patterns become consistently deadly, when the infrastructure of society becomes sufficiently compromised, when the lives of enough people around the world become so intolerable that it threatens the well-being of the majority and the lucky few, then substantive and difficult change will be unavoidable.
The onus also falls on consumers to reward brands that rise to this challenge and change the way they do business even if it involves short term pain. What’s required from everyone is a recognition that we now live in an intimately connected and mutually dependent global community that cannot survive unless we commit to long term, community-serving solutions.
GL: How can a marketer or business owner start?
SM: First, each marketer or company must identify the unique purpose it was created to serve, both to establish where it can make an authentic contribution and also to carve out a competitive advantage.
Second, they must communicate that mission to their employees so that there is integrity to this commitment. Only then can a company or marketer tell that story in a community-facing way confident that it will build their business and avoid accusations of cause-washing.
What do you think about Simon’s We First project?
Simon Mainwaring is the founder and CEO of the social branding firm We First, a bestselling author, influential blogger, and international speaker. His New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller, We First, was named Best Marketing Book of 2011 by global management magazine, strategy+business and has been translated into 5 languages. He also contributes to Fast Company, Forbes, Huffington Post, Mashable, and GOOD Magazine on branding and social technology.
Prior to We First, Simon won over 60 international creativity awards at the Cannes Advertising Festival, British Design & Art Direction and U.S. One Show among others, as a Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy and worldwide creative director on Motorola at Ogilvy.
Follow him via @SimonMainwaring, read his blog is SimonMainwaring.com and for your Social Branding Blueprint, visit: WeFirstBlueprint.com.