Citi Bike Boom!

ed skyler citi bike

Citi Bike is about making connections, not transactions, says Citi EVP Edward Skyler. The profound change in New York City’s daily culture came into stark relief during an early January polar-vortex that encrusted Gotham in snow and sent wind chills plummeting into the subzero range.It wasn’t just that New Yorkers braved the elements; it was that the Big City’s denizens simply dug out bicycles and rode them around town as if it were hotter than July.

Indeed, some 6,669 people were tooling around on bicycles on the coldest day on record in about 100 years, according to tracking data courtesy of New York’s new Citi Bike program. Hey: If you’ve got a choice between a long walk in the freezing cold or short bike ride, it really is a no brainer. Even a year ago, such behavior would have been unthinkable simply because it wasn’t an option. It is only since bike sharing arrived in New York City last May that a two-wheeled alternative was a possibility. The program was part of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s grand plan to improve city life by providing new ways to get from one point to the next.

The program was not without its controversies, but its success has wildly exceeded expectations (see sidebar). Even more stunning is the program’s positive effect on the reputation of its sponsor: Citi. Just six years ago, the financial giant was widely pilloried for accepting bailout money while simultaneously shelling out big bucks for naming rights to the new Mets baseball stadium. This time, it is receiving praise even from its biggest critics.

Edward Skyler, a former deputy mayor under Bloomberg and now a top Citi executive, is at the center of this remarkable return on corporate responsibility. As Ed observes, the accountability in question is not necessarily tied to opening more checking accounts or selling more insurance. It has little to do with advertising or promotions. It’s about finding a fresh point of relevance that makes a difference for everyday people ­— whether they are Citi customers or not. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Ties That Bind

brand responsibility roundtable

Understanding the customer is a brand’s ultimate accountability. A roundtable discussion featuring Leontyne Green Sykes of Ikea, Steve Shannon of Hyundai, John Frascotti of Hasbro, Chris Brull of Kawasaki, and Mike Sweeney of Integer.

Leontyne Green Sykes: A brand’s responsibility comes down to trust. You need to be the type of organization that your customers can trust not only in terms of the quality of the product or service you are providing, but also when things are not going the way the customer or the organization had planned. We have to be very forthcoming in our role when it comes to communicating to our customers.

Part of our concept at Ikea is to provide the best prices to our customers at all times. We don’t mark up the price just so we can reduce it. This leads to increased trust in our pricing policy. We also have a generous return policy if customers find that the product doesn’t live up to their expectations. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Renewing NASCAR

steve phelps nascarCMO Steve Phelps explains how NASCAR is reinventing its brand experience and attracting next-generation fans. At the end of 2009 and in 2010, marketing budgets were going down. From a sponsorship perspective, revenue pressures hit our ecosystem of the sanctioning body (where I work), the tracks and the teams. We took a step back and realized that the problems ran deeper than the economic headwinds of the recession. So, we commissioned a number of studies to get insights into the situation.

The first study was about our communications, which were very strong on the competition side, but was poor everywhere else. The sanctioning body, the PR reps who represent our drivers, our teams’ communications group, and our track’s communications group were all relatively weak. We had also licensed all of our digital and social-media rights to Turner. We collected a nice, big, fat check for doing so. But we gave up our opportunity to speak to our customers, and that was a mistake. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Halo Effect

stanton kawerDeeds speak louder than words. By Stanton Kawer. Deep down we are all good people who try to do good things. We strive to be good neighbors, good friends, good spouses and parents. We teach our children that when someone is in need we try to offer both compassion and actual assistance. It not only is the right thing to do, but it feels good to do good. That feeling is real, deep, emotional and tangible.    

Many of us are asked fairly consistently to support a variety of charities. Typically, our response to these requests plays out as one of the following: a) Not interested; b) Interested because of the ‘social aspect’ of giving, but not very passionate about the cause; c) Interested in writing a check but nothing more; or d) Interested in helping both financially and by actually ‘getting involved.’

In our best projection of our self, we all aspire to ‘d.’ We do good deeds, we put our money where our mouth is and we meet new and like-minded individuals who are all happy to be a part of the greater good. It’s inspiring, uplifting and fulfilling.  If brands were people (we do try to market them as such), do we have the same expectations of them as we do of ourselves?  continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Beyond Responsibility

kerri williamsBrands need innovative social initiatives grounded in solid business practices. By Kerri Williams. In a time when competition, greed, and malevolence were too easily associated with business, the notion of corporate social responsibility emerged like a breath of fresh air to reveal the integrity, conscience, and soul of a company. Corporate social responsibility caught fire across industries and the term "CSR" became the widely adopted symbol of good brand behavior.

Today, the original intent of CSR remains as relevant as ever and business is uniquely positioned to tackle its challenges with talent, scale, and resources. The question is whether the time has come to bring traditional CSR to the next level. All signs point to yes. Traditional corporate social responsibility, which became widespread in the 1970s, is no longer visionary but essential to avoid negative brand perceptions. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

El Mercado Total

roberto siewczynskiA ‘Total Market’ approach brings accountability to Hispanic shopper marketing. By Roberto Siewczynski. By now, marketers are well aware of the explosive growth of the Hispanic population across America. Latinos currently number some 53 million, or approximately 17 percent of the total US population. According to the US Census, those figures could jump to 127 million and 30 percent, respectively, by 2050. Already in California, Hispanics this month are set to become the state’s "single largest race or ethnic group," surpassing the white population, according to a recent government report.

To this day, however, the Hispanic target audience remains largely an afterthought for the majority of shopper marketers. Too often the complex task of reaching this multifaceted ethnic group boils down to a glorified shell game of shifting budgets and marketing dollars. To paraphrase an old saying, it’s a matter of borrowing from Peter to give to Pedro. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Brand New Metrics

beth ann kaminkowFocus measurement on discovery and curiosity, not just dollars and cents. By Beth Ann Kaminkow. There is not a single brand, company or marketer today that does not need to innovate continuously — unless sustaining and growing the business is not the goal. Like good design, innovation is no longer just about the product; it encompasses every element of the brand experience, including the marketing.

There’s a growing tug-of-war between two forces; left unresolved, companies will yield lowest-common-denominator results. On one end, there is the pressure for quick, lean, real-time innovation and experimentation; on the other, there’s the need for accountability, measurement, return-on-investment and sustainability. Unfortunately for most companies, these are indeed opposing forces: the need for innovation — which demands some calculated risk, and the need for planned, methodical action with a more predictable return-on-investment, So, how to reconcile these internal tensions without compromising the potential for growth? continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Hornet’s Nest

spencer hapoienuWe now live in a world where your refrigerator might be spamming you. By Spencer L. Hapoienu. Recently, Google announced it has agreed to purchase cloud-based home-device maker Nest for $3.2 billion. As a result, there has been considerable speculation about whether Google can be trusted with our home data.

Nest is in the business of designing thermostats and smoke detectors loaded with sensors and deploying algorithms that learn your preferences and program themselves. Nest CEO Tony Fadell told The Wall Street Journal that his company essentially reinvents "products that have been unloved, that are basically the same as when we were growing up."

Through "a mix of intelligent software, cool hardware and network power," they "transform the frustration into an experience that is close to exhilarating." It sounds fantastic, but when Google announced its plans to acquire Nest, it stirred up a maelstrom of articles about its reasons for buying a relatively small home-appliance company. The reason for the controversy is clear: Google wants access to the data these devices provide. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

The New Black

sharon loveAccountability must be in the mission as well as the marketing. By Sharon Love. When we consider the ways in which businesses must be accountable, we usually go first to shareholders and investors. However, while fiscal accountability remains at the top of a virtuous circle of business success, it is no longer enough. Without a strong grip on social, moral and ethical accountability — an ecosystem of employees, customers, consumers, shoppers, communities, the environment and the world in which we live — it will be increasingly difficult for businesses to deliver the dollars.

We have technology both to thank and to blame for how our world looks today. Technology and social media have enabled consumers a much closer and real-time look into how companies run their businesses and the ability to weigh in, en masse. If a factory in a remote part of China mistreats its workers, a plant in Detroit pollutes a river, or a toy manufacturer in Taiwan uses toxic paint, we will all know about it very quickly, thanks to any number of social-sharing networks. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Reputable Capital

reputation instituteA company’s reputation is its most meaningful metric. By Anthony Johndrow and John Patterson. The world has changed since the 2008-09 financial crisis. A 2013 Reputation Institute/Forbes study found almost 60 percent of US consumer support for a company (recommend, say something positive, benefit of the doubt in a crisis) comes from what the company stands for (ideas around governance, workplace, leadership, citizenship and performance) compared to roughly 40 percent stemming from what it sells (product and innovation perceptions).

In the business-to-business world, a 2013 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study reported the four top value-drivers of customer loyalty are 53 percent sales experience, 19 percent company/brand impact, 19 percent product/service capability & delivery and nine percent value-to-price ratio. At the same time, ‘corporate social responsibility’ has become passé. Gone are the intellectual debates between Milton Friedman disciples ("the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits") and the triple bottom line ("people, planet, profits") crowd. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Creativity Quantified

david schwarzDesign seeks a truth that cuts to the center of the heart and mind. By David Schwarz. The word ‘responsibility’ is laden with meaning. On the one hand, it triggers notions of environmentalism, sustainability, do-gooder-ness, recycling and hybrid cars, or the twinge of guilt when you throw out a plastic bottle. Then there’s the idea of corporate responsibility — related, perhaps, to the ‘green’ version of the term — but conjuring images of dimly lit, greed-infested boardrooms. Then there’s personal responsibility — that weighty thud you hear the minute you become a parent, a business owner, an advocate or a defender.

What I’m writing about, however, is the broad idea of creative responsibility, which is certainly a less-discussed topic, but one that’s important to brands and marketers. We’re all engaged in a daily wrestling match with creativity. In this struggle — often quite outwardly visible — the pitfalls are many and the slippery slopes multi-faceted. Creative responsibility results in that intangible metric. It is much harder to measure than the quantity of Warby Parker one-for-one donations, or miles-per-gallon of the newest hybrid car. However, brands owe creativity to their audience because it establishes authenticity, and in today’s world, authenticity is the only road to longevity. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Act Naturally

joe dobrowFinding accountability at the nexus of corporate goals and organic yogurt. By Joe Dobrow. In 2010, after years of experimentation, the organic bottled-tea company Honest Tea rolled out an innovation that was sure to please its millions of kitchen-scrap-composting, Prius-driving, Real Goods-shopping fans: a lighter-weight bottle.

The original Honest Tea PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle had been 38 grams; the new one would be about 30 grams, or 22 percent lighter. Both would still accommodate 16.9 ounces of tea. The lighter bottles would mean the elimination of about one million pounds of PET resin each year, and significant savings on the fossil fuels used to ship the bottles. To accomplish this feat, Honest Tea worked with its supplier, Graham Packaging, to design an entirely new bottle that featured a little plastic dome at the base to provide structural integrity once the bottles were filled with a hot liquid. Not everyone was thrilled. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Pivot Point: Today’s Question

pivot pointHow does one measure the brand experience? I know I’m slow, but I’ve only recently come to realize that the endless discussion of ‘marketing accountability’ is quite beside the point. In fact, it’s almost entirely irrelevant because accountability is about more than just marketing. It touches everything a brand does. Accountability is a responsibility that stretches across the brand experience in total. The accountability in question is not only to the marketing or even to the brand; as we all know, it’s the accountability to the customer on every conceivable level that matters.

Exactly what that means varies by brand experience. Coca-Cola’s accountability is different from Apple’s is different from Amazon’s is different from Citibank’s. Accountability to customers could involve any and all combinations of not only marketing, but also sales, research & development, insights, human resources, legal, finance, information technology, just for starters.

Oh, and then there’s that thing called ‘corporate social responsibility.’ Like the other accountabilities, it is irrevocably intertwined with the brand experience. And let’s not forget the new magilla gorilla on the block, Big Data, and its evil twin, Privacy. Now, there’s an opportunity to be responsible for both good and evil all in one shot. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Good Vibes

survey good vibesHow much does a brand’s reputation for responsibility affect the chances consumers will buy it? An executive summary of a Hub reader survey. How much does a brand’s reputation for responsibility affect the chances consumers will buy it? Are there any brands consumers buy or don’t buy purely because of their reputation?

We put forward a list of 12 brand names across a range of categories, some of which make more of an effort to publicize their ‘responsibility’ than others. By ‘responsibility,’ we mean the brand’s business practices. The question to respondents was not whether they buy the brand on a regular basis, or at all; the question was whether the brand’s reputation makes them more or less likely to do so.

Of the 12 brands, only three attracted a thumbs-up from more than 50 percent of respondents: Starbucks, Dove Soap and Apple. It’s worth noting that both Starbucks and Dove have made ‘responsibility’ a central feature of their marketing. As for Apple, well, it seems that regardless of the question, the answer is Apple. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Cool News

cool news lip labBite Beauty, a lipstick maker, is making "creation part of the purchase process." Bite Beauty makes "all-natural lipsticks," and last summer, tried a pop-up shop where shoppers could "concoct their desired shade." It had "women lining up around the corner and sitting on the pavement" to get in. Bite Beauty’s first permanent store, located on Prince Street in NYC, is called Lip Lab.

It allows shoppers "to mix and muddle to create a personalized lipstick (down to color, finish and scent) for about $28." Decorated to suggest "a candy store," Lib Lab "features three ‘play’ stations where customers choose from pods of primary colors and deep reds and then finger paint to get the desired result."

All materials "are food-grade quality and made with organic and gluten-free ingredients." Each shopper receives expert assistance from a "lipstick technician" dressed in lab whites and wearing latex gloves. Chosen shades are put "into a centrifuge" and then "the molten hue is poured into a metal bullet mold." It then sits "on a freezing plate for five minutes" before being encased. "Women are always searching for the perfect lipstick shade," says Bite Beauty founder Susanne Langmuir. "It’s also an excellent lab experience for us."’ continue

March 1, 2014   Comments

Cool Books

cool booksThe new economy "trades in social outcomes; its currencies include public data, reputation and social impact," write William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan in The Solution Revolution, as reviewed by Trevor Butterworth in The Wall Street Journal (1/9/14). The future of solving problems, the authors say, lives on the internet, within social networks. It is sometimes played like a game, on sites like Kaggle, a public exchange with some 85,000 members who relish the chance to mix-and-match their eclectic expertise to solve important riddles.

One such puzzle is to design an algorithm that can "grade a student essay as accurately as a teacher." This is important, because essays are better than multiple-choice in terms "of assessing a student’s critical thinking." It’s a cost/benefit problem because schools default to multiple-choice as the cheaper option. The winning algorithm was written collaboratively by a National Weather Service project manager from the US, "a particle physicist from Britain and a graduate student in computer science from Germany." Their algorithm wasn’t perfect, but it "came close" to a human result. continue

March 1, 2014   Comments