Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Spiritual Power of Corporate Brands

By Patricia Aburdene

Job Vacancies, Employment Jobs, Employment

If values are the hallmark of enlightened capitalism, how do the companies that espouse them broadcast their virtues and beckon discriminating consumers to the cash register? Often, it is through the power of brand—that precious, yet intangible asset that symbolizes what a corporation stands for.

More than a name, logo or “iconic” CEO, a brand is a place in the heart where employees, investors, suppliers—and Conscious Consumers—meet to tell a company’s story, says brand guru Elsie Maio. “When a brand reveals authenticity, values and humanity’s drive toward consciousness, it’s a powerful strategic advantage.”

That said, let’s not underestimate the financial power of brands. The Coca Cola brand, for example, is worth $67 billion, says Interbrand Valuation (all figures for 2004), which puts the value of Mercedes at $21 billion; Dell, $11 billion; Harley-Davidson, $7 billion. Interbrand arrives at the valuation through an analysis of what the brand is likely to earn in the future, including projected sales and profit. Interbrand’s “Global Brand Scoreboard” is published annually in Business Week. In 2004, the company that showed the highest percentage increase over its 2003 brand value was Apple, surprising iPod fans not one bit.

When a brand is tarnished, the balance sheet suffers. Nike stock and sales tumbled after “sweat shop” exposés. But with those troubles behind it, Interbrand Valuations counted the Nike brand’s worth at more than $9 ¬billion.

Through brand, companies discover how values drive performance.

Branding 101

Elsie Maio, president of Maio and Company and designer of the SoulBranding (SM) technology, spent decades teaching corporate America how to position its identity—or brand—to consumers, investors and the public. Maio did stints on Wall Street, at McKinsey & Company and Institutional Investor. In 1983, she joined the firm that helped Walter Wriston craft the identity of nascent Citibank and later worked with Fortune 500 companies like Raytheon, Sun Life, International Harvester and IBM. But today Maio’s mission is unlocking the soul power in brands.

Elsie Maio talks my language, but before I can grasp SoulBranding, I have to ask, so what is “ordinary” branding? Elsie offers a classic definition: It is the process of “building preference for a unique set of characteristics associated with a unique set of identifying symbology.”


Why do you buy Coke versus Pepsi? Why choose this kind of brown sugar water over that? Because one or the other promises a certain lifestyle, fun, peer approval or a cool image. Brand is a promise that creates an expectation.

That’s true whether it’s traditional branding or Elsie’s more soulful alternative.

What Is SoulBranding?

Maio and Company offers clients a revolutionary service: It shows them how to position a brand to embody transcendent values. SoulBranding identifies 12 core values that consumers, employees and conscious investors expect companies to stand for: Compassion, Humility, Justice, Courage, Respect, Humanity, Empowerment, Integrity, Wholism, Broader Good, Responsibility, Excellence. “The values are there,” says Maio. “They live in people.”

But how do you draw them out?

SoulBranding employs a self-auditing tool that gives employees (and other stakeholders, depending on the client’s needs) the chance to rate how the corporation scores on these core values. Imagine evaluating your company on Compassion—or Justice, knowing that your opinion will reach the executive suite? The resulting scorecard benchmarks which values a company and its brand broadcast and how well it lives up to them.

But Soulbranding doesn’t stop there. It also calculates what companies must do to win credibility. “We ask, ‘What specific evidence would convince you that the company had changed—or improved?’” says Maio. In the end, clients get a detailed report card, a set of goals and a “snapshot of the milestones of credibility.”

How did brand, Spirit and values get so connected? Much of the answer lies in the Conscious Consumer trend—and the cataclysmic changes in today’s corporate landscape.

A New Day for Brand Managers

Time was, a brand manager could tell consumers just about anything and they’d pretty much “buy” it. PR and advertising mavens would concoct a top-down brand campaign, flood the marketplace with messages and successfully dictate the public’s impressions. But those days are over—and so is traditional brand management.

Today, thoughtful, conscious customers and media-savvy activists carefully analyze corporate behavior. Result? These days companies had better deliver on their promises—or face a possible backlash. That’s why Elsie Maio issues this stern warning to corporations: Invoke values and social responsibility authentically and honestly. Because your promise will be scrutinized.

When British Petroleum positioned itself as an “environmental” firm, says Maio, the company opened up lots of opportunity, but also grew more vulnerable. One slip and watchdogs—or competitors—will enthusiastically point out any inconsistency between a company action and its stated values.

“The promise of a brand, no matter how creatively scintillating,” says Elsie, “is a liability unless the company delivers to all stakeholders.”

Whose Brand Is It?

If experts no longer control a brand the way they once did, who does? I would argue, to a large extent, the answer is Conscious Consumers—and, Elsie tells me, I’m partly right. A brand is co-owned by a corporation and its stakeholders, she says, including, and perhaps especially, consumers.

Elsie cites the example of Monsanto in Europe. “Monsanto had a visionary CEO and great brand managers, but failed to recognize how strongly consumers felt about genetically modified organisms in the agricultural system,” says Elsie. “So, when Monsanto went into Europe, they were shouted down.”

Conscious Consumers hold corporations morally responsible.

How could Monsanto have prevented the debacle? A company can’t avoid people’s reactions, cautions Elsie. “But it can sit down with critics, find shared goals and establish milestones toward achieving them.”

In Elsie Maio’s vision, brand is a living, dynamic, energy fed by stake¬holders, especially Conscious Consumers.

Demand-Side Economics

For better or worse, Values-driven Customers are willing to pay more for products and services that reflect their values, as this chapter repeatedly illustrates:

  • The NAHB survey that showed 20 percent—the hard-core Conscious Consumers—would spend up to $5,000 for an energy-efficient, ¬environment-saving, healthy building.

  • We all know a hybrid lover who waited months to pay $3,000 more for a clean car.

  • Or a natural food advocate who regularly and enthusiastically shells out more bucks at the cash register for organic produce.

As Conscious Consumers compel more producers to satisfy their demand, supply will increase and prices should fall. Meanwhile, Values-driven Consumers remain an unserved market and the next great opportunity for business. But exploiting that opening requires vision—a commodity “business as usual” can’t seem to get its head around.

Listen to Fortune magazine: “Detroit snickered when Toyota first unveiled its Prius sedans, powered by hybrid gas-and-electric engines. But it’s Toyota that’s laughing now: Its hybrids are a runaway hit, outstripping Toyota’s ability to keep up with demand. Smart products and a sterling reputation for quality have lifted Toyota’s share of the U.S. market to 12.2% last year, from 6.4% in 1986.”

As I write this in March 2005, the debt of General Motors is growing. Sales are slumping and earnings may be 80 percent below expectations. One reason sales are off, say commentators, is because GM has no real hybrids to offer (GM’s “mild hybrids” do not compare in either environmental or energy standards to those set by Honda, Toyota and Ford).

Admittedly, Ford has its own financial issues to worry about, but Ford has taken a leadership role in the hybrid sector and that vision may help save the company. Furthermore, when Bill Ford needed to revitalize the River Rouge car plant, where Henry Ford started making Model Ts 90 years ago, he turned to Bill McDonough, the world’s leading green architect.

Result: a $2 billion grass-roofed showplace that cost no more than an ordinary factory and is cheaper to operate. The McDonough-designed natural water-drainage system has already saved Ford Motor $35 million—all the while purifying rainwater of manufacturing toxins so effectively that when the water hits the river, it is completely clean.

Bill Ford calls McDonough “one of the most profound environmental thinkers in the works.” But McDonough is not your typical, anti-growth environmentalist. He’s a green capitalist. His book Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)—printed on waterproof, recycled plastic—describes a world where free enterprise and ecology live in harmony.

“The argument in commerce about growth versus no growth is a stupid argument,” says McDonough. “Of course you have to grow; nature wants you to grow, and businesses want to grow.” How, in McDonough’s vision, do capitalism and the environment co-exist? Clearly it is through creativity and innovation, both of which are sourced in the Divine realm of consciousness.

Where did Bill Ford find the power and vision to enter the hybrid market and build one of the world’s greenest factories? Well, it turns out, Bill Ford meditates. How do I know that, you ask? I read it in Time magazine!

Go ahead, laugh, if you want to. But I was once a researcher at Forbes

magazine, where my primary responsibility was fact checking. My fellow researchers and I were frequently treated to hair-raising tales about what happened to fact checkers who got it wrong. Believe me, it was not a pretty picture. So I report to you with a high level of confidence that Bill Ford meditates—and with total confidence that Ford manufactures hybrids and builds green factories.

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