What does it say about our society and business culture that the worth of a company is measured almost exclusively by financial value? If a company invests a meaningful percentage of its profits into cause related initiatives that improve the state of mankind, unless there is a clear economic reward, there is negligible enhancement of the company's value, other than sociological and spiritual.
If a company invests to reduce carbon emissions but gains no economic advantage, there is no economic value - just environmental. How can a company commit to environmentally friendly investments when those investments do not deliver the economic returns demanded by investors? How can fast food companies commit to reducing obesity when a fat America feeds corporate coffers? How do public companies invest in their local communities, in improved benefits for employees, educational programs, child care facilities? Even Google recently increased child care costs to its employees, citing the need to tighten its corporate belt as a result of reduced stock price. Companies stress brand equity and invest millions - even billions – in advertising to communicate brand messages. But which companies can we look to today as having clearly defined brand relevance in their communities and among their customers?
J.D. Power service medals are valued by auto and travel companies. But if good service does not directly translate into increased profitability and investor value, it quickly goes out the window.
Identify ten companies that you feel closest to. Your phone company, TV provider, favorite TV network, website, magazine, retailer, restaurant, hotel, fast food chain, beverage, financial services company, fashion manufacturer. Now tell me what these companies' brands represent. General Electric once said the company stood for "Bringing Good Things to Life." What was the last good thing that GE brought to life for you? Celebrity Apprentice? It certainly hasn't helped bring the Hudson River back to life. The Walt Disney Company stands for something – and appears to be committed to sustaining and extending its unique brand assets devoted to children. But beyond sports, what does ESPN really stand for? What does Pixar stand for beyond great animation and story-telling? The Disney brand stands for nurturing children through quality content and environments. But Wall Street investors are so numbed to true value in an overly commoditized marketplace, it is incapable of defining the value of the Disney brand equity and unwilling to even try. Four Seasons Hotels, Lord & Taylor, Harley Davidson, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon. They stand for quality and commitment to service, but can you identify the core values of these companies… beyond profits? Perhaps Whole Foods and a handful of others combine positive values with profits, but exceptions among publicly and investor-funded companies are rare.
What are our core human values that transcend money? Children? Education? Health and eradication of disease? Peace? Democracy and Freedom? Most of us contribute to charities and corporations commit billions to causes. Corporate foundations are sources of support for untold causes. But most of these contributions go unheralded and are irrelevant in investor valuation models. The only direct value they might have is when a company purchases a table at a charity event honoring the CEO of one of the leading investment firms, or makes a contribution to his/her favorite charity. Bill and Melinda Gates stand for something. Their charitable foundation is helping hundreds of thousands in Africa. But what does Microsoft stand for? Maybe it is making equivalent contributions to core human values, but I'm not aware of them and investors would not support or reward such contributions no matter how much good they might do. Wal-Mart is trying to convince me they help people survive in a tough economy. I'm not convinced and their own employee relations serve as counter-point to their marketing message.
As media and advertising business leaders gathered at the Allen & Company Sun Valley retreat a couple weeks ago, were there discussions about how these corporate leaders and their companies could support and contribute to the improvement of the human condition? I'm not aware of any and if they did take place, they were certainly not included in the press accounts of the event.
Why aren't corporate leaders fighting a Wall Street and investor mentality that requires them to care ONLY about wealth creation? Why can't investment funds be created that reward reductions in greenhouse gasses, improvements in global working conditions, support for improved health care and benefits, enhanced educational initiatives, improved global understanding, enhanced pay for police, fire, hospital and other service providers?
To the credit of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, the Silicon Valley investment firm that has backed many of the leading technology companies, they have created a fund to support environmentally friendly technology advances. Of course, the fund is designed to generate financial rewards, but they should be applauded for defining their own corporate culture and brand. Unfortunately, few causes like health and world peace are conducive to financial profits. How do we assess the economic gains that can be generated when Aids is eradicated, or when the classroom performance of inner city children improves?
Organizations like TED and New York City's Pencil program aggregate corporate contributions to support relevant and important causes. But the economic system, especially in a depressed economy, works against these initiatives instead of supporting them. The solution, I believe, is for companies and executives to define their fundamental brand relevance – what differentiates them from their competitors beyond price, service, people and technology. How are they using their success to contribute to the greater good of mankind? When companies begin differentiating and actively promoting their brand equity, successfully motivating consumers/customers to do business with them because of their brands, then Wall Street will need to pay attention. Perhaps it's only a prayer that such a shift might actually happen in our jaded money-driven world, but we can hope, and as individuals, we can define our own efforts and causes.
Effective in September, ten percent of all advertising revenues generated by JackMyers.com and MediaVillage.com will be contributed to a charitable pool to support media literacy programs and to better prepare students for entering the media and advertising industry. What is your company's core brand equity and what can you do to contribute to a new model for social health and well being?
In 2008, JackMyers.com provided pro-bono advertising in the amount of $720,000 to the following organizations: ACI - Commercializing New Media Conference, Leader to Leader - AG Lafley Event, BaderTV - Ice Hockey in Harlem, City Meals on Wheels - Battle of the Bands, David Houle - The Shift Age, Tom Deierlein Foundation, EG Conference, FreeWheel, JEG Search, NY Television Festival, Pangea Day, John A Reisenbach Foundation, Ripe Events, Show Initiative - Virtual Worlds Conference, Syracuse University - Mirror Awards, The Torch Program, Tremor Media, and WorldWide Biggies.