Blog  Elektroniker

Bridging the Values Gap

The current economic crisis presents an opportunity to realign our collective moral compass. First, by understanding the values that underlie our economies. Second, by reconciling the agendas of business with the true needs of individuals.

Clearly, the bond between society and business is broken, and the legitimacy of companies is at a new low point. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street express a growing indignation over the disconnect between the perks for a few and the rights of many. When Harvard undergraduate students stage a walkout of an Economics 101 class in sympathy with the Occupy movement to protest the ‘corporatization’ of education, it might indeed indicate the beginning of a “New Progressive Movement.” It is not just the redistribution of wealth that’s being scrutinized, however. What citizens, in the U.S. and elsewhere, demand are new, more collaborative and inclusive models of value creation that produce meaning as much as profits.

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The Opposite House

Otherness and other pillars of a new moral economy

“So, what is the reason for your existence?” the German professor at a Chinese business school reception in Shanghai asked me, to start a conversation. I felt like ad man Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men when his false identity is unveiled. Who are you really? Caught off guard, I answered: “I’m a marketer.” The conversation moved on, others had wittier sound bites to contribute, and my unease continued. It had been weighing on me since I had put my foot on Chinese soil a few days earlier, and here in this beautiful mansion, confiscated by the government from the corrupt former mayor of Shanghai, it was a steady companion.

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(Good) Movies and The Three Dimensions of Meaning

I haven’t seen The Social Network yet. But the recent debate about the movie that, characteristical of a successful product, quickly transcended the original artifact and evolved into a broader cultural discourse (a “third meaning”), made me think about how dramatically my own movie experience has changed over the past 30 years. I’ve been fascinated with movies ever since I was a young boy. At the age of 10, I completely immersed myself into films such as Jungle Book, watched them again and again, learned the dialogues by heart, and accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters. A couple of years later, I became obsessed with the Bond series (I still know the entire filmography in and out). Films were my reality, and my life took place in a parallel universe for the most part.

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The Soft Power of Social

Over the course of the past twelve months, I wrote several blog posts and articles about the Chief Meaning Officer, a role which I envision as an innovative leader who employs the new social power of marketing – provisioned by Social as a governing principle of all business interactions – to transform his/her organization (Charlene Li also elaborates on this theme in her new book Open Leadership). I presented this concept at some conferences including next in Hamburg, mostly to fellow marketers or representatives from digital agencies, and you can also hear me riff on it in this podcast produced by Dutch brand agency Energize. I received a ton of feedback: encouragement, endorsements, and consent, but also skepticism suggesting that this model might just be another marketing fad. Invited by BIDC, the Beijing Industrial Design Center, I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to introduce the idea to a group of Chinese designers at a workshop in Beijing a few weeks ago. It was the first time I shared the Chief Meaning Officer framework in a different cultural and professional context, and it was a welcome reality check.

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On the Eve of Marketing 2.0, the Dawn of Marketing 3.0?

I’m en route to the Marketing 2.0 conference in Paris, one of the most respected gatherings of marketing executives presenting and discussing the latest trends in their field. In a way, the story of the conference is the story of marketing itself. The somewhat yesteryear name indicates that a few years ago, when Marketing 2.0 premiered, it was conceived as a forum for pioneers who were early on embracing digital marketing and social media. Times have changed. What used to be at the fringes of the profession has moved into the mainstream, and both program and attendees of Marketing 2.0 reflect that. That’s not a bad thing. Digital marketing IS marketing, social media IS media. You would think...

Blog  Elektroniker

The Customer Isn’t A Human Being

I just read a remarkable essay by Venkatesh Rao on “marketing, innovation, and the creation of customers.” It nails the complex relationship between the two functions, examining both similarities and polarities.

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A Movement for Meaning-Driven Business?

Our promised series on “Meaning-Driven Business” is taking shape. After introducing the concept of “Chief Meaning Officer” in the “Power” issue of design mind, we are going to formally launch this new forum in our upcoming special TEDGlobal issue (to be released on September 21) as well as on a special micro-site to be launched in a couple of weeks.

For the first round of essays, we are delighted to have received contributions from three industry and thought leaders: Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer of GE and one of the world's most influential Fortune 50 marketing executives, will take the economic crisis as an opportunity to make the case for marketing-driven innovation. Werner Bauer, Nestle's chief technology officer and head of innovation, will describe his company’s concept of “Shared Value” and how it enables a more socially responsible business. And Dev Patnaik, founder and chief executive of innovation consultancy Jump Associates and author of the book Wired to Care, will illustrate how “high-empathy organizations” of all kinds prosper when they tap into a power each of us already has: the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people. Stay tuned!

The conversation is continuing in other outlets, too, and some pundits want “meaning” to not only be an abstract concept, but a movement. Economist Umair Haque is one of them. His "Generation M (as in “meaning”) Manifesto" stirred some controversial reactions (just read the comments on his blog) – from unconditional endorsement to accusations of arrogance and naiveté. It is one out of many manifestos that have recently been published on the new “new economy” – this, too, is a sign of the times. Manifestos indicate an increased need for ideological alternatives – and meaning.

Blog  Elektroniker

Father’s Day Special: Baby Care and Meaningful Marketing

The $10 billion market for baby and young children’s furnishings (cribs, other case goods, layette, nursery decor, and the like) and accessories (car seats, strollers, baby monitors, diaper bags, etc.) is a lucrative market, and the baby stroller is one of its most competitive sectors. Hundreds of models vie for the attention of parents-to-be, and the level of detailed research, due diligence, and individual preferences may come close to the decision making process by an airline for the purchase of a Boeing 787. There are only few things – at least that’s what the industry makes you believe – that are as personal and intimately important to consumers as a baby stroller. The stroller embodies the commitment, care, and love that a couple chooses to devote to their newborn. It is the most visible representation of good parenthood. And in the US, the baby stroller market combines three quintessential American traits into a mind-boggling mix of over-commercialism: an abundance of choices, an obsession about mobility, driving, and vehicles, and a profoundly whacked out paranoia about deficient baby care. All that turns the stroller into a status symbol, especially after the chic Bugaboo arrived on the scene (thanks to Sex and the City) and became the must-have stroller for every DINK (double income-no kids), oops, with kids now – from Los Angeles to New York.

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The Business Leader 2009: Chief Meaning Officer


2009 will be a year of major uncertainty. The doom and gloom of the economic downturn, the deterioration of mass markets, the pervasiveness of the digital lifestyle, a host of explosive political conflicts, and the fragmentation of traditional societal institutions are causing anxiety and propel a new search for simplicity and non-economic value systems.