In this series, Christophe Fauconnier & Benoit Beaufils, respectively CEO & founding partner of brand consultancy Innate Motion, present the tools that the company uses to develop purposeful, mission-driven brands with their clients. Benoit & Christophe view their tools as a free “thoughtware” suite, and propose that readers borrow and reapply. Read part one in the toolbox: people immersions.
Tool #2: the Shared Value Landscape.
Anita* is puzzled. “We want to be a nutrition company,” she says. “Yet our reputation is not good. Activists trash our business, the government puts red tape for every initiative we take, and inside the company, employees do not feel proud about our work. Yet people really need our products! It is frustrating.”
Anita heads a large subsidiary, in a rapid-growth developing country, of one of the world leaders in child nutrition — category that too often appears in media stories about abusive marketing practices and is subject to intense scrutiny. In many countries, there are more barriers to the launch of a toddler milk product than to that of an alcohol mixer.
She pulls out a vision statement, developed by the management team, which outlines objectives such as being a ‘recognized provider of world class nutrition:’ “It doesn’t work,” she says, “it feels empty. We need to make it something that really changes our ways.”
New avenues in brand transparency
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Three months later, the new vision document she unveils at an employee conference earns her an ovation. Today, it is the base of a new innovation strategy and guides product formulation, marketing work and activities with a flurry of external partners.
It took one move: a change of scope.
When Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, he was finally in a position to change the lives of the people who had chosen him: the black population of South Africa. Yet the story he chose to tell them was not a celebration of how the Black were liberated from bondage. Early on, he defined South Africa as “the Rainbow Nation,” a nation that would demonstrate that people who had hated each other could live in reconciliation and harmony.
He understood, of course, that to serve the black community, he needed to perform in a much broader context: an ecosystem were the black and white populations were dependent on each other, and where the country’s ailing economy needed support from the international community and financial markets. Rather than speaking to the Black as his main constituency, and separately reassuring the White and the international community, he broadened the scope of his story. The “Brand” he created — the Rainbow Nation — was designed to serve the entire ecosystem, rather than just those who voted for him.
Anita’s challenge was similar, and the approach we designed with her borrowed a lot from Mandela’s work.
The idea of a “Shared Value Landscape” indeed departs from a simple thought. Businesses do not perform in a vacuum — an ideal world where the brand and the consumers construct a strictly one-on-one relationship. Businesses perform in a broad ecosystem, where governments, NGOs, bloggers, commercial partners, raw material suppliers and many more play a role. In that complex ecosystem, the relationship the brand has with the press, activists or the governments impact the relationship it has with consumers. Today, most companies deal with the different constituencies in a disconnected way. Consumers are told a brand story, and other stakeholders are given a CSR story that often has little to do with it. But in a connected world, where activists are consumers and consumers are “netizens,” this does not work. The idea of “shared value” assumes that the ecosystem that the brand operates in can be united into a “Shared Value Landscape”: a group of stakeholders bound by a shared aspiration — which the brand can serve though everything it does.
Mandela could have served the Black, and designed separate strategies to reassure the White. He chose to consider them as a single ecosystem, united by a common aspiration to harmony. A shared aspiration that the “Rainbow Nation” idea could serve.
Designing the Shared Value Landscape in which a brand can position itself is a strategic process. The shared value landscape does not pre-exist: there are many ways for a brand to envisage its universe. The company needs to shape the landscape it can best perform in, before it can define the way it will help create value in that landscape. This can be done in a four-step process:
Step 1. Scoping.
Who are the stakeholders of the brand — those who have an impact, positive or negative, on its perception? Consumers, governments, workers, activists …? For Anita, they included breast-feeding activists, nutritionists, child-care government agencies and GPs.
The list sometimes appears obvious, but sometimes is not: For Starbucks, for example, it includes sustainable farming activists, coffee growers and local communities, but also milk producers — after all, Starbucks spends more money buying milk than buying coffee!
The scoping exercise consists in mapping out the stakeholders, but also in building hypotheses as to the aspirations that could unite them. For Anita, it could be the aspiration to fight nutritional deficiencies with low-income children in her region, as much as it could be the desire to pre-empt the risk of future diseases by creating good food habits in early life.
Step 2. Diving in.
It took Mandela a huge amount of empathy to understand the aspirations and struggles of those for whom he had learned to fight. Marketers similarly struggle to grasp the genuine aspirations of consumers, of the activists that loathe their brands, or of the government agencies that curtail their activities. An immersive research process helps deepen the understanding of the various stakeholders by exploring their beliefs and struggles beyond the view they have on the category.
With Anita, we conducted an in-depth exploration program, talking to representatives of all stakeholders, grasping their tensions, the perceptions they had of their roles and of others’, and their beliefs and knowledge around the possible ecosystem themes that we had mapped out.
For her team, it was eye-opening. They uncovered nutrition practices that were far worse than expected. Their region sits on a time bomb of unhealthy overeating, starting almost at birth and continuing through childhood to shape habits that are impossible to break in adulthood — realization that would deeply impact their work.
Landscape crafting is choosing. The exercise consists of giving shape and depth to the ecosystem into which the company choses to perform, because it is where its history and its strengths allow it to perform best.
The Landscape into which Starbucks performs is that of “human communities” — because it positions its brand as a business that serves small communities around coffee . But by extending the idea of communities to those of coffee growers, it creates a context into which it will be able to tell “community stories” much more powerfully.
Anita’s team defined their Landscape as that of people seeking to build a healthy future to their nation, an aspiration shared by most of their constituencies, and to which they could all subscribe and contribute. They could also map out the tensions of each stakeholder into the ecosystem, so as to define clearly the rules of engagement that their brand could play with towards each stakeholder, to engage their contribution.
Step 4. Shared value strategy.
For Mandela, the Landscape to perform in was clear: It united the White and the Black into an aspiration to peace. The value he could offer was, in the first years of his mandate, reconciliation. By defining this clearly, he shaped the principle of the actions he would build towards every South African.
To continue with the Starbucks example, the company serves the development of communities — so that the education programs that they rollout in coffee-growing villages serve the same purpose as the community activation programs they deliver in their downtown stores. The community development value they create is consistent — so the work that they conduct in African communities can be advertised in stores — and reinforces Starbucks’ story to its consumers.
Anita’s team defined their shared value strategy as contributing to building a healthier generation of children. Today, they do it through their products but also through training programs, or through the sharing of scientific knowledge with external public and private partners. Marketing, innovation and CSR are consistent, because they are focused on a single strategy that is relevant for all stakeholders.
Defining a shared value strategy, for any brand, helps bring consistency between marketing and CSR, between purpose and business. But just as we realized with Anita, it takes a broader scope — the acceptance that brands do not perform in a category or in the aisles of a supermarket, but in a broad, connected, human landscape, where participants, beyond what separates them, are bound by a shared aspiration.
Changing the scope of thinking also changes the way we define value — beyond monetary terms. When Anita’s company decided to measure fundamental knowledge on the nutrition status of children in their region and share the learnings with government agencies and NGOs, it allowed the ecosystem to create value in many ways: Key private and public actors could build better nutrition policies; children and mothers could receive better products, help and education programs; and the company could build both a better reputation and better-selling products.
The value was not created by the company and shared it with stakeholders. It was created outside of the boardroom, between the partners of the ecosystem.
Building a Shared Value Landscape is the base for that work.
* Anita’s story is inspired by a real case – but the names and details have been modified for reasons of confidentiality.