Archive for the 'communication' Category

Companies vote too in Denmark

I am just coming across a quite interesting, bold and original case of on-line corporate communication. This for 2 reasons: the way I heard about that campaign and its actual content.

I found out about it through a Facebook group recently joined by a friend of mine which triggered a notification on my news feed. While parliament elections are planned for next weekend in Denmark, the group claims (in danish) that “I don’t care who is candidate, I am voting for saxo bank”. Saxo Bank is a Denmark-based fast growing on-line bank specialized in trading and investment for both private and corporate clients.

The group links to a specific page on Saxo Bank’s website where one discovers a direct message from the 2 co-CEOs to the voters arguing for lower marginal income tax in Denmark. The argument builds on the current shortage of qualified workers (a burning issue for many employers in the country) and concludes in a Lafferian fashion that the current marginal tax results in… lower overall tax income for the state and lower welfare level. The claim is supported by various studies from danish and international organizations like the OECD and the Danish Minister of Economy (for the serious part) and a small animated movie (for the fun part). But the website goes even further as, even though it does not support any specific candidate or party, it enjoin people to take action by providing a map of all voting regions with, for each of them, the list of all candidates supporting a tax reform for lower income tax. This includes candidate from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the newly formed Center-Right Alliance.

This website seems to be part of a broader lobbying campaign orchestrated by Saxo as I was just reading an article on daily newspaper Berlingske reporting on a Saxo survey that shows how Denmark misses millions of DDK in tax (7,58 dkk = 1€) for every single worker choosing to live abroad.

Obviously both threads aim at convincing the voters that high income tax = lower welfare (an important benefit for most voters in DK, even economically conservative ones). Even though the argumentation is fundamentally biaised for me (the figures put forth never balance the influx of of immigrants coming to DK whose mobility contribute to tax revenues), I find it interesting to see a company publicly taking a clear position and willing to get involved into political debate through direct communication to the voters rather than resorting to behind-the-scene lobbying or dubious friendships between politicians and business leaders (ask Sarkozy for details…). As far as I can remember, I have never seen a major company that is not a press company getting so much involved and taking a clear stance through the voice of its management team. (Patagonia did it during the 2004 US presidential elections but the public exposure in the national context aren’t comparable and there was no such tool developed to evangelize the publics and media)

Moreover the role that social platforms such as facebook can already play in promoting (or criticizing) such initiative will definitely make them a center of attention, not only to marketeer and advertisers but to political candidates. Thus, depending on their preferences, Danish voters can already be “facebook-friends” (sic) with economically liberal prime-minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (2,613 friends) or Social-democrat opponent, Helle Thorning-Schimdt. (2,583 friends).

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Meaningful businesses

“I’ve have been a businessman for almost 50 years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to being an alcoholic or a lawyer.”

Yvon Chouinard, founder & owner, Patagonia.

yvon_chouinard.jpg

While browsing Patagonia’s website I noticed that Yvon Chouinard had published a book outlining the philosophy behind the acclaimed company he founded and, beyond that, his personal ethic. As concerns regarding the environment increasingly find their way in the media, I have for long been fascinated by the story of this French Canadian immigrant whose family moved to South California and who managed to combine harmoniously and successfully entrepreneurship and social & environmental priorities by securing employees as well as consumers’ respect.

patagonia_logo.jpg

I believe that such mindset will be increasingly important in business life as corporate brands become true political organizations relying on complex moral premises inspired by religious morality or atheist ethic. In other word organizational identity itself become of strategic importance to business strategy and decision making. (e.g: Schultz et al. 2000) For example, it is here worth noting that Danone has identified corporate culture as the main driver of its managers’ commitment to the company’s ambitions (source : annual report 2005, p.55 – French Version) and Patagonia receives 900 applications for every single job opening. According to Chouinard this is largely due to the value system of his company.

Among other examples related to Patagonia’s approach that I can remember of right now, I would like to mention 2 here:

– Danone, whose founder, Antoine Riboud expressed, as soon as in 1972, in front of skeptical top French business leaders, his visionary “dual project”, economic performance and social progress:

“Corporate responsibility does not end at the factory gate or at office doors. The jobs a business creates are central to the lives of employees, and the energy and raw materials we consume change the shape of our planet. Public opinion is there to remind us of our responsibility in the industrial world of today.”

logo-danone.jpeg

Today Riboud’s aim is defended by his son and Danone’s current CEO, Antoine Riboud, and has been formalized in “The Danone Way” in 2001, a set of regulatory documents, charters regarding internal and external corporate social responsibility, notably concerning childhood.

New Belgium Brewery, an American brewery founded by a beer-loving couple which I first heard of last November from Douglas Holt, from Oxford’s Saïd Business School. New Belgium Brewery started as a tribute to authentic belgium brewing traditionwhich from the origin included principles of environmental sustainability along with an employee ownership structure or open-book management. The bike – favoured transportation mode of our couple when they cruised from one brewery to another in their original Tour de Belgique – has taken a symbolic role in the company’s culture and illustrate a way of life (“bike to work, work to live, live to bike)” as each employee receives one after a year.

These examples and a myriad of others, often anonymous, prove that the notion of success and performance in business life is always socially and historically constructed : as we imaginatively learn to account for immaterial and human capital because we have become aware of their contribution to pots-industrial growth (see the pioneering research of Leif Edvisson in that field), we should too reflect on the premises upon which traditional notions of performance are erected, what they include and what they let aside, legitimately or not. Therefore developing systems of accountability regarding the social and environmental impacts of organization’s activities should receive a higher priority than today.


Lastly, the current emphasis on CSR and like-minded initiatives promoting fair-trade or environmentally friendly consumption practices can easily be mistaken for “mere” marketing and communication hypocrisy devoted to make the most of emerging sociological trends. I believe this is missing the actual sense-making aspects of brands to all relevant stakeholders through any communication forms, far beyond basics marketing/communication tool boxes. In that respect the very accounting system, just like management practices or HR policies can become a symbol of the deeper values/mening a corporate brand intend to promote more or less explicitly. I think Andre Semprini’s work on the semiotic brand and its project-manifestation model is helpful in overcoming the current limitedness of brand as we conceptualize them, thereby limiting our understanding of their social relevance and reach, as well as the trouble they may cause.

I am by no mean an enthusiastic reader of business leaders bibliographies but Chouinard’s book it going right away on my amazon wish list !

References:

– Semprini, A. (2005), La marque puissance fragile– Vuibert: Paris

– Shultz M., Hatch, M. J., Larsen M. H., (2000), The Expressive Organization, Linking Identity, Reputation and the Corporate Brand. Oxford University Press.

Médiocritaire ou le manque d’inspiration publicitaire

J’ai reçu récemment de ce cher H., auditeur dévoué mais un peu sarcastique, toujours prêt à rire de la communication pas forcément inspirée de son employeur, ceci :

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A la suite du billet de Versac il y a quelques jours, j’apporte donc ici ma modeste contribution pour dénoncer cette tendance malsaine qui voit certains publicitaires scier la branche sur laquelle ils sont assis.

Tout d’abord, le rapport d’analogie implicite entre le sexe et les qualités (et donc valeurs) mentionnées en dit long sur celui qui a osé proposer ceci à son client, lequel a osé l’accepter : on remarque qu’il semble normal d’attendre des hommes qu’ils soient visionnaires et/ou passionnés quand les femmes, elles, se devraient d’être rigoureuses et/ou épanouies car l’existence d’une publicité pour chaque sexe impose le rapprochement et le rapprochement entre elles (cf. principe relationnel du sens en sémiotique Saussurienne). Vive le poncif genre les filles sont faites pour les études de lettres sans débouché et les garcons pour celles de sciences avec lesquelles on trouve toujours du travail à la sortie !
Pour aller vite on dira que l’imaginaire empreinte dans un cas à la fois, par exemple, à un Kennedy et à un Laporte et dans l’autre à l’institutrice réfléchie et à la maternité. Évidemment, on ne se demande pas si le postulant au statut d’associé chez iandwhy doit plutôt être visionnaire ou épanoui(e) (sic).

Lá dessus, l’agence qui a fait ça, submergée par sa créativité ou engluée dans un structuralisme au rabais, s’est sentie obligée de mettre du bleu pour les hommes et du rose pour les femmes. Mazette ! Probablement en hommage aux séries (B) familiales américaines où, par un paisible après-midi ensoleillé, les jeunes parents décorent la chambre de l’une des deux couleurs sitôt le sexe du nouveau-né connu. Le rose qui d’ailleurs, en ces temps de campagne électorale, peut vite connoter le Parti Socialiste. Le tailleur de notre jeune auditrice épanouie pouvant alors rappeler un de ceux de la candidate dudit parti. De là à faire de notre jeune recrue, l´émanation symbolique de Marie Séguolène… Après tout les désirs (d’avenir) des femmes les épanouissent, c’est bien connu (sic). Rapprochement qui, il faut l’admettre, justifierait le non-emploi des adjectifs destinés aux hommes, tant la cheftaine du Poitou et VRP du délicieux Chabichou ne semble pas particulièrement verser dans le sens de l’histoire ni la passion en ce qu’elle requiert quelques convictions (Pardon je m’égare, désolé pour cette brève parenthèse de dénigrement politique un peu facile)

Enfin, quelques mots sur la novlangue qui, après la bravitude de Mme Royal justement, accouche laborieusement de cette merveille de “réganouie” (!) On se dit que ce concept novateur ne ferait décidemment pas changer l’avis de Deleuze sur le marketing (a). Les innovations sémantiques de E&Y sont en ceci pathétiques qu’elles empreintent assez maladroitement au courant du marketing postmoderne de manière scolaire tout en manquant les enjeux et les mécanismes que celui-ci met en avant. Par exemple, le marketing paradoxal du truculent Stephen Brown (Brown 2005) remarque que les marques s’épanouissent de plus en plus sur un registre de communication ambivalent ou le paradoxe est omniprésent, notamment du fait de la réflexivité du consommateur… et de la réflexivité des marketeurs, quant à celle-ci. Dans un de ses contre-pieds hilarants au marketing à la Kotler qu’il affectionne tant, Brown appelle ces stratégies discursives “paradessence”, où la marque prétend combiner 2 états apparemment mutuellement exclusifs et les satisfaire simultanément , manière de dire qu’elles n’ont justement pas d’essence au sens simpliste où l’on résume ce concept complexe dans la liturgie marketing populiste des brand kernel, brand identity, brand DNA et j’en passe et des moins inspirés encore. Avec l’ère de la paradessence, un produit simple comme le café devient un champ pluriel à la fois source de “stimulation” et moment de “relaxation”. De manière similaire, lors d’un précédent passage en France, j’avais remarqué une brochure remarquable de Mc Donald’s dont les restaurants étaient présentés à la fois comme le moyen de “prendre son temps” et de “gagner du temps”. Ce qui de mon point de vue fait la toute la finesse et la justesse du rapport au temps paradoxal chez Mc Do et la médiocrité de ce que nous propose E&Y, c’est qu’il n’y a pas a priori de paradoxe ni de contrariété apparente dans les termes mis en avant : en quoi ne pouvons nous pas être rigoureuse et épanouie, visionnaire et passionné sans travailler pour E&Y ? Bref là où le café de Brown et Mc Do réalisent une prouesse programmatique jusque là inconcevable en associant les différences, E&Y prétend apporter une solution à un problème qui n’existe pas (ou plus, mais c’est là un autre débat) dans les yeux de sa cible.

En conclusion, H., je crois qu’il est temps de demander á ton N+10 d’arrêter les économies sur le budget communication. Mais au fait, un auditeur dévoué et sarcastique, voilà bien qui relève de la paradessence en question, non ?! H. dans une pub E&Y, ca serait culotté ! ;)

Références:

Brown, S. Ambi-brand culture, On a wing and swear with Ryanair in, Brand Culture (2005) Jonathan Schroeder, Miriam Salzer-Morling (ed.)

(a) ” Le sercice de vente est devenu le centre ou “l’âme” de l’entreprise. On nous apprend que les entreprises ont une âme, ce qui est bien la nouvelle la plus terrifiante du monde. Le marketing est maintenant l’instrument du contrôle social, et forme la race impudente de nos maîtres.” Gilles Deleuze – Postscriptum sur les sociétés de contrôle.

“Reality’s principle is to be found in others” (Bruno Latour)

Tonight, I was listening to the lectures given by Michel Callon and Bruno Latour at a seminar organized at EHESS by Cyril Lemieux who, I found, gave sharp and relevant introduction to their ideas. The texts that were under scrutiny, and which outlined in the 80’s the basis of ANT that would made both of them famous, bear the weight of their age, which Latour very honestly recognized. I have to say that reading his Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory before listening to this seminar has proved helpful in overcoming some theoretical pitfalls. However I have been surprised to hear about new directions in Latour’s work which seem, as far as I have understood, slightly antagonistic with most of what he has written during the last 2 decades. Go, listen and make your mind (oups, in French, again…)

Echoing ethnomethodology and ANT, I will be attending a lecture at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) tomorrow (well, later today) on “users as innovators”. Eric von Hippel from MIT will be the keynote speaker… like last year. I remember letting him perplex when asking about the future of the consumption/production dichotomy and a possible recasting of those categories (hmm, very Latourian, indeed) As the issue still matter a big deal to me, I may ask again this year but in a bit more subtle fashion and less in abstract terms. I will aslo try liveblogging to share his views otherwise you will get a summary later on.

The field of user-centered innovation has received top priority in Denmark for a couple of years now and partners ranging from public authorities, higher education, design and innovation consultancies as well as big companies like Coloplast or B&O have join forces in order to establish a leading cluster in the field. User-centered economy is a strategic area of excellence for the international ambition of the CBS as well as a potential source of national high added value competitive advantage for the country according to many national politicians. Lastly, in the wake of that interest some original and exciting consultancies have emerged bringing together ethnographers and consultants in the name of user’s untapped creativity.

My personal opinion is that the problematic behind this can very much be framed in terms of ANT but should not be limited to product development, design or innovation : if we pretend to follow the “associations” and the “actors” (people & objects) without defining a priori categories in terms of which we ought to explain usage of products and services (e.g. social classes; gender; product objective features and qualities) , this philosophy should not only apply to product design and the preliminary market research it requires. The consequences in terms of communication mix and more generally of relations of brands and products with the surrounding “social context” (aka all relevant actors whose status/role in relation to those and toward each other is unknown beforehand : prescriptors, brand communities, distributors, media, etc) should be investigated both from theoretical and managerial perspectives. In other words if the product is relational and emerging (Semprini, 1995) and the context within which its significance appears too, thereby mutually defining each other, at a given moment, what does that implies for marketing ?

References:
Semprini A. (1995) L’Objet comme procès et comme action. De la nature et de l’usage des objets dans la vie quotidienne. L’Harmathan.

About Baudrillard’s death

On tuesday night, back from a highly disappointing Champion’s League evening that saw Olympique Lyonnais being kicked out from the competition, I learnt that Jean Baudrillard had passed away a few hours ago.
I recall my encounter with his thoughts a few years ago, when, as I started to get interest by consumption, I read “The Consumer Society”. Amazingly enough this book, just like many others he wrote, remains remarkably relevant to today’s society, almost 40 years after it first publication in French (1970). Indeed, I would argue that societies have moved closer to the Consumer Society than they were back in the 70´s.
It had been quite amazing for me to encounter the writings of someone so far ahead of traditional mainstream marketing literature to which I grew accustomed to in my business school years in Lyon. Most of contemporary’s post-industrial society “extra-marketing marketing literature” as Stephen Brown (1995, p.136) calls it, is heavily indebted, though sometimes critically, to ideas first developed by Baudrillard.

Baudrillard Nov 1996 - Nevada

Rather than writing here something which would not pay the tribute his intellectual achievements deserve, I have elected an excerpt to be remembered among many many others (in French, as I cannot get hold of the English text right now) :

“On se rend mal compte combien le dressage actuel à la consommation systématique et organisée est l’équivalent et le prolongement au XXe siècle, du grand dressage, tout au long du XIXe siècle, des populations rurales au travail industriel. Le même processus de rationalisation des forces productives qui a eu lieu au XIXe dans le secteur de la production trouve sons aboutissement au XXe dans le secteur de la consommation (…). Toute l’idéologie de la consommation veut nous faire croire que nous sommes entrés dans une aire nouvelle, et qu’une “Révolution” humaine décisive sépare l’Âge douloureux et héroïque de la Production de l’Âge euphorique de la Consommation, où il est enfin rendu droit à l’Homme et à ses désirs. Il n’en est rien. Production et Consommation – il s’agit là d’un seul et même grand processus logique de reproduction élargie des forces productives et de leur contrôle. Cet impératif qui est celui du système, passe dans la mentalité, dans l’éthique et l’idéologie quotidiennes – c’est là l’immense astuce – sous sa forme inverse: sous forme de libération des besoins, d’épanouissement de l’individu, de jouissance, d’abondance, etc. Les thèmes de la Dépense, de la Jouissance, du Non-Calcul (“Acheter maintenant, vous paierez plus tard”) ont pris la relève des thèmes puritains de l’Épargne, du Travail, du Patrimoine. Mais il ne s’agit là qu’en apparence d’une Révolution Humaine: en fait, c’est la substitution à usage interne, dans le cadre d’un processus général et d’un système inchangé pour l’essentiel, d’un système de valeur à un autre devenu (relativement) inefficace. Ce qui pouvait être finalité nouvelle est devenu, vidé de son contenu réel, médiation forcée de la reproduction du système.
Les besoins et les satisfactions des consommateurs sont des forces productives, aujourd’hui contraintes et rationalisées comme les autres (force de travail, etc.). De toute part nous l’avons (à peine) explorée, la consommation nous est donc apparue à l’inverse de l’idéologie vécue, comme une dimension de contrainte:
1/ Dominée par la contrainte de signification, au niveau de l’analyse structurale.
2/ Domniée par la contrainte de production et du cycle de production dans l’analyse stratégique (socio-economico-politique)”

in Jean Baudrillard, La société de consommation, folio essais, 2003, p.115-6

Notoriously, Baudrillard wrote about “the liquidation of all references” which got replaced by a real without origin nor reality. What he described as “hyperreality”. Based on this view of life as simulated experiences, he provocatively claimed, that the Golf War I did not happen. Ironically, one may ask today whether his death really happened. What he has become along the years has made him something of a simulation perpetrated throughout his books, articles, conferences, photos etc that, in the eyes of us readers, largely dissolved his corporeal subjectivity. Somehow his death is hyperreal.

France Culture radio station has gathered links, audio documents and organized a few special programs which you can be found here

References:
Brown, S. (1995) Postmodern Marketing, London: Routledge.


Let this diversity of opinions be propounded to, and laid before him; he will himself choose, if he be able; if not, he will remain in doubt. "Che non men che saver, dubbiar m' aggrata." ["I love to doubt, as well as to know."-- Dante, Inferno, xi. 93] for, if he embraces the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who follows another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay, is inquisitive after nothing. "Non sumus sub rege; sibi quisque se vindicet." ["We are under no king; let each vindicate himself." --Seneca, Ep.,33]"
Montaigne - Essais I, XXVI, Of The Education of Children
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