CSR Today: How Mission Is Driving CEOs to Act

Today, whether it’s because of social media or a very intense political climate, consumers are making purchasing decisions—and aligning with brands—based on how CEOs act, what they say they believe, and even with whom they associate.

In short, corporate leadership is under the microscope. Every comment that CEOs or other top brass make in an interview, every tweet they send, every cause they choose to support (or not) can have implications on the company’s bottom line. As illustrated by the #DeleteUber campaign that went viral within a few hours of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick maintaining a “business as usual” policy in response to President Trump’s attempted travel ban, consumers are making their expectations known through social media campaigns and boycotts.

And those expectations are high!

Let’s take a look at the effects of some CEO behaviors on brand perception, and why it’s so important to send purposeful messages that define your company’s mission:

Keep your head above political waters. When a CEO puts himself or herself in the public eye, they can become a celebrity spokesperson of sorts, and are therefore subject to scrutiny. This scrutiny, and the related pressure, often extends to their personal lives or political views and affiliations. That pressure was likely the cause of Uber’s Kalanick quitting President Trump’s economic advisory council a few days after his controversy erupted, for example.

What’s more, even when organizations want to stay out of politics, consumers still expect the clarification of brand values. And, the consumer will choose a side. A Weber Shandwick and KRC Research survey found that 46 percent of executives from large businesses prefer that companies speak out on issues such as climate change, gun control, immigration, and LGBT rights, while only 20 percent of global consumers said they were not in favor of companies speaking out on controversial issues.

There’s something to be said for standing one’s ground, as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has done thus far by remaining on the President’s Council. Musk recently tweeted, “Activists should be pushing for more moderates to advise the President, not fewer. How could having only extremists advise him possibly be good?” Similarly, UK brand John Lewis decided not to withdraw advertising from certain publications, citing that doing so would be inconsistent with their democratic principles of free speech and remaining apolitical.

The lesson: Accept the fact that people will draw conclusions about a company based on the actions (or inactions) of its leadership team. Be prepared to clarify your stance, and do so in a way that best represents your company values while addressing customer concerns.

Uphold your commitment to social responsibility. Marc Benioff, CEO of the cloud computing company Salesforce, is very vocal about his firm’s philanthropic model—it donates to charity 1 percent of its equity, 1 percent of its employee time, and 1 percent of products and services. No one would argue with that approach. However, Benioff has also been outspoken about LGBT and transgender rights, which risks alienating conservative partners, a risk he felt was worth taking.

Similarly, reports that Starbucks’ brand perception took a hit after CEO Howard Schulz announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees in response to Donald Trump’s executive order didn’t deter the coffee company. Starbucks has stood firm in its convictions, something many of its loyal customers admire.

The lesson: The causes you support should align with your company’s mission, and ideally, the values of your target market. Highlight the positive outcomes, and be transparent about why a cause is important to the company when publicizing your community outreach efforts

Join the right conversations. It makes sense that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, would issue a statement regarding the role that his platform (and other social media outlets) played in disseminating so-called “fake news” that might have influenced the election cycle. By announcing new initiatives to help fact-check news stories, as well as starting a journalism project, he accepted responsibility and has promised improvements to his enormous user base.

On the other hand, when GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney called out employees who voted for Trump and suggested they resign, the food delivery company faced backlash and a drop in stock price. He backtracked the next day in a company press release that stated: “GrubHub welcomes and accepts employees with all political beliefs, no matter who they voted for in this or any election. We do not discriminate on the basis of someone’s principles, or political or other beliefs.”

The lesson: Make sure that you’re clearly representing your organization, and not just trying to make waves or score publicity when entering into a controversial conversation,

As these examples have shown, the actions of a CEO can have consequences—both positive and negative—for a company. Making sure the right message gets through is more important than ever.

A version of this was first posted on

photo credit: Send me adrift. 181.365- The Earth Belongs To You via photopin (license)

Growing Your Brand Is A Process Not A Destination

Don’t rush towards something you know nothing about.

Finding your “groove” takes time and effort. Just like dating.

So you are in a relationship and you’ve finally reached the stage you’ve been dreaming of but just when things are great — it starts to become a routine, you forget what it took to get to this stage, you stop being cute and become irritated by every single thing that goes awry.

Your customers are no different.

If you stop being consistent and provide no value to their lives, they will go out looking for someone that will. Your job is to keep them satisfied and to be intuitive with their needs/wants/desires. You need to ask them how they are doing and if you’ve been satisfying their needs. You need to be a good friend and hangout with them. This includes going to the places where they like to hangout and sometimes giving them gifts on special occasions. Remembering anniversaries like the first time you met and first beach day.

Consumers have relationships with brands. Nowadays, it’s more personal than some are willing to admit to themselves. Is it okay? that’s subjective to the person.

From my experiences with building brands and working with consumers, I can see when brands can go too far or participate in events/partners they see no correlation for association. One of the popular reactions to such times is reducing thoughts to “Oh they are just doing it for the money!” and who is to say they aren’t or are? Sometimes it’s an inevitable necessity and other times it could be a stretch for both parties to make some easy cash.

Many others times I see a healthy mutual and beneficial relationship amongst great brands and consumers. It’s still rare but things have been looking up for brand experiences since i’ve started 7 years ago. The emphasis on events and in-person experiences has been exciting and intimidating. Now more than ever, you have steady access to live video entertainment and events across a range of categories. It’s about what you want. The competition is fierce but that’s where you can get lost in the mix.

Focusing on the competition alone (speaking only after you’ve achieved product-market fit) is a trap. Looking at what “everyone else” is doing and following their lead is the quickest way to stay in the shadows.

Finding your own groove is essential to growing a strong brand.

Here are a few examples of utilizing your competition to grow:

  1. Check out where all their site traffic comes from.Yeah —  I challenge you. Utilize that data to benefit from that traffic too. It’s research, lots of data cells, signing up for free trials, and then targeting.
  2. SetupArchie to target their followers or their hashtags
  3. Look at their engagers on social media and start hanging out with them — invite them to come hangout with you.
  4. Participate in their events/podcasts/tweet storms
  5. Using their own data you’ve found — target a demographic that differs from theirs (missing puzzle piece for the market)
  6. Grow brand presence/community — partner with competitor to re-allocate lost lead resources (lost customer lead because it wasn’t the right fit but better for your competitor — can get $$ from referral fee) See below for example:

What Do You Mean Lost Customer Lead

  • Leaving money on the table is foolish and can come in many different forms.
  • Giving money to other people at the table is desirable for all parties and should be considered in more ways than one.

Leaving money on the table

  1. Customer inquires about your service/product
  2. They have “x” need/want.
  3. You can’t provide what they want/need
  4. They leave. You lost a lead.
  5. Your competitor just got all the profits.

Giving money to other people at the table

  1. Customer inquires about your service/product
  2. They have “x” need/want.
  3. You know of a friend that can help.
  4. You provide the intro/referral link. (You’ve negotiated terms prior with your competitor)
  5. You + your competitor = growing together

Some growth strategies are more favorable than others.

I want to share a few steps I take to grow brands.

  1. Get to know everything I can about a market before growing
  2. Make sure I have an interest in the brand/product and it fits my own morals
  3. Look at my competitive landscape to make sure there is a product-market fit. If they haven’t determined their “place” in the market, I look at opportunities they can take advantage of to reach that piece of the market in an accelerated manner.
  4. You can start off with a simple “SWOT”.
  5. I like to focus on opportunities when I experiment. You can do it DIY here or you can apply for an invite with
  6. Another favorite of mine to create a competitive analysis
  7. I’ve always found Porter’s Five Forces analysis to be helpful when you need to think deeper across various avenues.
  8. Here’s another exercise to understand your target market in a broader scope.

Hope you enjoyed it! Feel free to drop a comment or donate your “heart” ;)

A version of this was first posted on


5 Ways To Grow Employee Brand Advocates

This is a time of synergy: Viral is the new normal, everyone is a brand (whether they know it or not), and smart organizations are turning to employee advocacy. They’re leveraging the selling power of their most valuable spokespeople: employees. This vibrant interconnection between employers and employees is enabled by the new order of social media, among other forces. A global study of some 2,300 employees (ages 18–65) found that 50% of employees shared something on social media about their employer.

In this prevailing social, mobile and transparency culture, we’re blessed with endless access to information and image, and just as endless opportunities to use it. There’s always something to share, be it positive or negative: it can go either way. Based on circumstances, the synergy between employer and employee as brand advocate is a nice juicy handout; not only do we get people to work for us, we get them to rep us, too. But it’s a marketing dream that’s only as dreamy as you are able to make it. It’s only going to thrive if organizations know how to maximize the potential.

Five things to consider:

Let them. Everyone wants to stand out, and in these mobile social times, we are what we post. Everyone is out there building a personal brand: blogging, tweeting, doing the Facebook thing, writing, commenting, posting, or reviewing. Or all of the above: it is rare indeed to find someone who is not weighing in, though certainly some of us are better at it than others. Companies that consider every employee a potential brand ambassador are playing to far better odds.

Be open. A year and change ago, this post by a millennial on how to build a personal brand was pretty much cutting edge; within a few months, not so much. Here’s another reality: social is constantly morphing, and employees tend to use their own preferred online assets, not yours. So just because a 40-year-old manager doesn’t understand the impact of Snapchat, that doesn’t mean the savviest 20-something employees don’t. The site’s got more visitors (23%) than both Twitter (21%) and LinkedIn (20%), and in the past year, awareness of it among people age 12 and older has gone up from 60% to 71%. Caveat: nothing against 40-year-old managers.

Be transparent. Here’s where your company’s policy of genuine transparency will really pay off. It’s all about trusting people to speak for you, trusting them with information, trusting their judgment and acumen. Employees have to feel empowered enough to want to speak up, which also means hearing what they want to say. They need to feel like they’re free to choose to represent the brand or not as well: you can’t, and don’t want to, require a plastered on smile. LinkedIn research also found that 61% of LinkedIn members who follow your organization are ready, willing, and able to act as your brand ambassadors. And we know that employees garner more trust than entities, so let them.

Share. Confidence is key with employee advocates; if they don’t feel like they know what the organization is doing, they can’t advocate with enough authority — or candor. Make sure your employees are truly privy to what’s happening, and activate them to be able to share that message as well. That same global survey (by Weber Shandwick) found that 39% of those employees have shared something positive and complimentary about their employer. What does it take to get that number higher? Give them more to say. If you want employees to invest their own personal brand in your brand, then build that bridge. They need to be privy, feel on the inside, in order to become engaged, not just with your brand, but with its success.

Measure. Is it working? There are countless ways to find out. You need to be looking for a range of key performance indicators (KPIs), including social leads, reach, mentions, and engagement. Use metrics that are powerful and agile to track the information you need to track, and also the trajectory of a campaign. Track who’s participating, who’s really taking the ball and running with it, and where. Then you can take the successes and focus on them, refining the program with meaningful data. Once again, it’s analytics that really crystallize the power of this synergy between employer and employee.

The power of employee advocates is unlimited, and it dovetails beautifully into the new perception of work as an investment not only in hours, but in engagement. But like anything in our business, we have no idea how long it’s going to last, and no metrics to predict that — yet. But I met someone who was thrilled about his company’s new program to measure KPI. And no, he wasn’t paid to tell me about it. Which is why, I think, he was so happy to – and I was certainly thrilled to listen.

A version of this was first posted on