Commerce vs Conscience_Blog_Image

How Today’s Businesses Merge Commerce and Conscience

Commerce or Conscience?

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is not only one of the richest men in the world, but he is also at the forefront of a new shift in business culture. Where once upon a time, business leaders only concerned themselves with profit margins and shareholders, nowadays, there is increased pressure to run businesses with social values. Apparently it is not enough for businesses to make money, they also need to have a conscience. This is why Zuckerberg suggests Facebook’s real purpose is not to make money, but to make the world a better place.


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Brand Sustainability and Innovation: The Unilever Case Study

What a Top Brand is Doing Differently

I watched as the Lifebuoy hand washing campaign advert played. I couldn’t but admire the innovative way that Unilever had chosen to push their Lifebuoy soap. Until then, I had no idea of the soap’s existence. The campaign had managed to show me the need to keep my hands clean as well as earn my trust for Lifebuoy, one of the brands owned by Unilever. (more…)

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Brand Narratives and Social Media Imperatives

StarbucksHoward Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks, (the largest coffee making company in the world). He’s also a social activist who believes corporations have an obligation to society beyond commercial activities that impact their bottom lines. According to Schultz, the role of a corporate leader is evolving and leaders now have the capacity to spark conversations on social issues. The initiative, “Race Together”, emerged from this belief.

The objective of Race Together was to spark a national dialogue about race equality in America, in response to the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown (two unarmed black men) in 2014. Because of these events and many others, racial tensions were high across America and Schultz felt Race Together would help dialogue and subsequently, solutions. As part of the initiative, Schultz wrote a memo to his employees asking them to inscribe “Race Together” on every cup of coffee purchased in Starbucks stores. Customers were also to be engaged in conversations about race. But there was a serious backlash on social media.

Race TogetherRace Together received 2.5 billion impressions in less than 48 hours mostly driven by negative tweets targeted at Howard Schultz. This was not Schultz’s first attempt at addressing social issues as a CEO, so why the backlash?

In 1988, motivated by an employee dying of AIDS, Schultz persuaded the Starbucks Board to extend full health benefits to part-time workers. In 2000, Starbucks started selling fair-trade certified coffee in the U.S and Canada to ensure that farmers were ethically compensated and educated in sustainable practices. In 2009, Starbucks partnered with Bono’s Red campaign to help provide anti-retroviral medication to people in Africa living with HIV and AIDS. So what went wrong with Race Together?

A significant contributor to the negative backlash was the failure of Starbucks to recognise how new media (particularly social media) worked and its role in shaping corporate narratives. The spread of information on social media is swift, decisive and many times out of the control of the initiator. Social media users “own” conversations which they can spin out of control and in directions not intended by the initiators. This can happen in minutes.

Access ad2An example of this was Access Bank Nigeria’s W Awards Campaign. The corporate communication which preceded the awards was meant to demonstrate the bank’s focus on women empowerment. However, the ad copy played to female stereotypes, negating the purpose of the campaign. This caused an uproar within the female online community, who thought the adverts were sexist. The bank was forced to discontinue the adverts, rescript and then reintroduce them. It also apologised.

These scenarios at Starbucks and Access Bank emphasise the need for better control of information dissemination online and institution of crisis management systems on social media.

The following pointers can help an organisation shape and control its social media narrative:

  1. Do not import offline campaigns to social media without first contextualizing them for a social media audience.
  2. Tell your story clearly using links to longer blog posts and articles which frame a complete picture of your message.
  3. Moderate your narrative and be ready to respond swiftly and dynamically to objections or requests for clarity.
  4. Cultivate strong supporters. Do not let social media trolls hijack your message.
  5. When things go wrong, promptly apologise and correct your course. Do not insist on a narrative simply because you’ve invested heavily in it.
  6. Social media users may spin your message in different ways but your official handles should stay on message and provide a coherent narrative for anyone to follow.

In conclusion, we believe social media use is important for organisations in the digital age. However, organisations must match the scale of their marketing spend with the sophistication of their digital strategies and the capabilities of those who implement those strategies.

© Alder Consulting 2015. All Rights Reserved.

AlderU is inspired by a monthly interactive session where Alder employees discuss insights on business and life.

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Alder University | From Start-Up to Top Selling Brand with Limited Financing

In the competition to get the market’s attention for a product or service, fledgling entrepreneurs tend to get pushed to the side walk. Dealing with the cost of production, brand positioning, marketing and other aspects of business growth are difficult tasks that are often shouldered by the entrepreneur (or a small inexperienced team).

Is it really possible to scale up a business without relying on equity investors or hiring (and paying) experienced managers?  Are there other ways to minimise business growth costs?

Leveraging on partnerships

As a start-up business, you will benefit from forging alliances with partners, suppliers and staff. It all depends on your negotiating ability. Putting in place a payment instalment plan with suppliers is a great way to leverage partnerships.  For example, American Greek yoghurt company Chobani negotiated with large supermarkets to pay off slotting fees using sales proceeds during the initial launch.






You may also negotiate with staff to defer huge salaries for future stock options or the chance to do something innovative and industry defining.

[Lesson: Forging partnerships with your suppliers and staff reduces the cost of business growth]

Brand design aids brand positioning

Design may help you gain the attention of your market and leapfrog competitors. Detailed packaging and appealing content come into play here. An historic example is the innovative move by Apple to create brand distinction in its stores with just a few products on display. According to Tim Kobe, co-founder of Eight Incorporation, an architecture firm that worked on the design of the Apple stores, “Steve Jobs’ perfectionist attention to aesthetics, his decision to lease extremely expensive real estate and his focus on selling just a few consumer Macs resulted in Apple averaging roughly $6,000 in sales per square foot per year”.





[Lesson: Design differentiation helps you gain attention and leapfrog competitors]

Outsource non-core functions

You may consider outsourcing non-core functions to avoid the cost of specialist skills. An example is the outsourcing of business functions by Daimler AG, owner of Mercedes Benz to Mercedes-AMG GmbH, originally an independent engineering firm specialising in performance improvements for Mercedes vehicles. Both parties maintain their brand identity.






[Lesson: Maintain your brand essence in the event of outsourcing]

Seek legal protection for your brand

In a business environment where ideas are easily copied, protecting your brand from infringement saves you the cost of a protracted legal battle. In 2000, Dyson Vacuums sued Hoover Company in civil court for patent infringement. Hoover had just released their Triple Vortex bag-less vacuum, which prompted Dyson to sue for patent infringement citing their Dual Cyclone vacuum. Hoover was forced to pull the Triple Vortex from the market.

Hoovers2005_logoversus      dyson logo

[Lesson: An entrepreneur should seek legal protection to safeguard brand assets]


Your ability to grow a start-up without over reliance on external investors (in the form of venture capitalists or strategic investors) gives you space to grow your business at your own pace and without undue influence over your brand. It also reduces the pressure to repay debt from loans.

However, to succeed with this model, you must be disciplined and plough back earnings or profits into your business to facilitate organic growth. As an entrepreneur, you must also be willing to sacrifice personal profit and pay-outs in the short term.

Copyright Alder Consulting 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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AlderU | New Approaches for Creating Consumer Products of the Future

An important characteristic of a futuristic company is its ability to speedily churn out business innovations for consumer benefit. Companies realise that to guarantee consistent custom, they need to give customers what they want (or supply a latent need). This realisation drives businesses to create new income streams from customisation rather than generalisation.

Research is Golden

To create new income streams in business, ask fundamental questions: What do consumers want? What do they need it for? In-depth research helps a company narrow in on previously unidentified needs & wants. But research must be executed with an eye on creating new products from the insights gleaned.

Sometimes collaborations provide fresh perspectives. Case in point is the strategic collaboration between legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan and Nike in 1984 to create the Air Jordan. The Air Jordan has since witnessed several spin-offs generating over $1b in sales for Nike. Air Jordans were a product of simple observation – sports shoes were increasingly becoming fashion items. By wearing high-end shoes endorsed by a sporting great, consumers were buying into a lifestyle of achievement, performance and celebrity status.

Lesson: Outsource non-critical functions so you can focus on core competencies. Embrace collaboration to gain fresh perspectives.

air jordan

Another sporting example is the attempt by Adidas to bring fans even closer to their icon, Leo Messi by launching a new signature adizero f50 Messi boot. The adizero f50 which scored the most goals in the 2010 World Cup represents fearlessness, agility and lightning quickness, synonymous with Messi. The innovation behind the adizero f50 Messi boot was the result of Adidas’ partnership with RED, a consultancy in Cophenhagen.

Adidas lightest football boot

Form & Function = Premium Value

Product innovation must bear in mind the way consumers interact with products. With the rise in smart phones, consumers now take pictures in stores and seek opinions from friends who are not present. Comparative pricing is readily available online. Brand loyalty is heavily influenced by design and celebrity or peer endorsement.

Apple took full advantage of design differentiation to set the trend in mobile phone aesthetics. Thus, a new trend in consumer desire was born with the first iPhone which combined form & function and sold at a premium. The iPhone served as a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communicator.


Speed and Structure Matter

In product innovation, speed and structure matter. The ability to source data, use it to create new products, manufacture, put in place payment & delivery systems and gain consumer feedback – all these must be done nimbly and purposefully to ward off competition. Consistency of this sequence is also required. Hopefully, with speed, structure, premium value and research you will able to develop desirable products for the future.

AlderU is inspired by a monthly interactive session where Alder employees discuss insights on branding and life.


Copyright Alder Consulting 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Alder University | Taking Branding a Step Further Through Process Design

The 21st century has witnessed significant metamorphoses in the branding space vis-a-vis design thinking. Formerly reserved for the end of a branding process – an expressive capstone of sorts – companies like Apple have now placed design front and centre, integrating it with every aspect of the branding process. In simpler terms, design (particularly product design) is now a Designer to Engineer dynamic and not the way round.

In a service company, the constant yearning to valuable intangibles raises design stakes. Process or service design becomes a competitive tool that addresses the following issues: How do we evolve user-friendly processes that create efficiency for customers? How do we reduce customer waiting time? How do we make something as mundane as filling forms a delight (or at least not a chore)?

One of the world’s most successful design consultancies, IDEO recently helped Oxfam redesign the process of donating goods to its charity shop. Instead of a donor filling in cumbersome tax forms when dropping off items, IDEO introduced “Tag your bag” in which donors register just once and are given tags so that they can make subsequent donations without any stress. This process design by IDEO produced an additional £2.8m a year of revenue for Oxfam. Another example is IBM’s advanced analysis of the factors that make up traffic flow in New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and Bucheon, a Korean city. The company introduced IBM Traffic Prediction Tool using historical and real-time traffic data to anticipate future trends for planners, traffic controllers and responders. This helped traffic controllers anticipate congestion and institute better control methods.

At Alder Consulting, our Brand Experience practice adopts the same model. For example, advising Union Bank to eliminate glass barriers and cubicles was focused on better customer interaction and relationships. Mapping service delivery at GTBank branches led to innovative customer segmentation and enhanced service delivery to tackle clogged banking halls during month-end salary payment periods.

Today, the demands of branding go beyond simple design aesthetics to process based solutions that integrate the back end of companies. Another name for it would be customer-focused service innovation. It goes beyond business re-engineering in the following ways: Rather than a clinical overhaul of process, process design is driven by the brand personality of the organisation and a realistic assessment of employees’ capacity to innovate and take risks. It involves on-the-ground consumer research, idea collaboration and detailed execution that courts buy-in from service providers to eliminate bottlenecks and simplify services.

Although the revolution of process design may be slowly evolving, process based thinking in branding has an incredible capacity to help individuals & institutions break down complexities for the benefit of customers. It also improves the response time for corporate approvals for marketing initiatives. Case in point is Oreo’s viral social media stunt tagged “YOU CAN STILL DUNK IN THE DARK” released during the Super Bowl XVII black-out.


As with all innovations around the world, public sector bodies are also slowly embracing process design. Adoption by public agencies will transform service delivery of public utilities, thus affecting the day-to-day lives of citizens.

AlderU is inspired by a monthly interactive session where Alder employees discuss insights on branding and life. 


Copyright Alder Consulting 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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