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Food news!

One of the best things about living in London is the food. I know Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to food but the reality is that London is a beehive of interesting restaurants, supper clubs, underground food events, and adventurous street food. image

Eat Stis a great organization representing street food vendors in London. You can find a pretty good list of street food options as well as information on hiring street food vendors for private events. There’s also a roundup in The Guardian today of some of London’s best street food.

To their credit, the organizing committee for the 2012 Olympic Games in London has committed to serving local, seasonal, and ethically-sourced food as much as possible. I wonder how McDonalds’ plan to open its biggest location in the world just for the games fits with that vision?image

If you’re interested in a dining experience diametrically opposed to McDonald’s, check out Noma. Voted best restaurant in the world for the last two years, the Copenhagen-based team is opening a London outpost just in time for the Olympics.

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Daily chart from The Economist - disturbing.

Daily chart from The Economist - disturbing.

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Social media marketing in 2012

Of the many studies on social media released in the last few weeks, this one from consulting giant McKinsey and the Wave report from advertising giant Universal McCann are the most insightful. Here my key takeaways on how brands should be using social media for marketing.

1.    Give people a real reason to engage. Marketers need to understand the fundamentally self-serving motivations for consumers to visit a website or check out a brand’s social media presence and create real incentives for them to engage. For example, a way to save time or money, some new information, or something to inspire them. Social media can no longer be simply another advertising channel, and it’s also time to get past the notion that we need to create a “conversation.” When it comes to B2C marketing, it’s about more than conversation.

2.    Be smart. One of the social media imperatives is being in the know. For example, people use twitter because of its ability to keep them engaged in a global, multi-dimensional conversation about whatever they might be interested in. When brands use social media to ask rhetorical questions or simply promote the latest news about their product, they are missing an opportunity to contribute something truly relevant. Be part of the broader conversation in your industry, tweet about interesting content on the web, and offer insightful commentary.

3.    Find influencers and make them insiders. Amassing fans and followers generates little in the way of tangible ROI. Whereas the old marketing game was about persuasion, the new marketing game is about how consumers influence each other. Brands need to identify and hug the bloggers and social media mavens that lead in their respective spaces.

4.    Embrace customization and personalization. Use social media and digital marketing to channel customer suggestions. Bring your customers into the product development process, share behind the scenes information, and consider ways of producing custom products that people can design or influence online.

5.    Be nimble. Large corporate bureaucracies are notoriously slow at approving new approaches to digital marketing. Above all, let young, talented staff dive in head first and don’t shy away from some measured risk. When something new (e.g. Pinterest) comes along, sign up immediately alongside the lengthy process of developing best practices and rules of engagement.

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Teach yourself and your friends to recognize logical fallacies. Be a better argumentarian. Download this awesome-looking and very clever poster.

Teach yourself and your friends to recognize logical fallacies. Be a better argumentarian. Download this awesome-looking and very clever poster.

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Gardens (walled or otherwise)

A good series in the Guardian about open standards on the web the last few days. I tend to agree with Sergey Brin that the tightly controlled ecosystems created by Facebook and Apple (and others) do not bode well for openness online. Comments today from the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, strengthen the argument. The data portability project and the semantic web are nothing more than flowery academic pipe dreams in the face of ever-expanding closed systems that we depend on daily. And over and above the need for content to be indexed, searchable, and portable, there is the concern over how closed systems make state censorship easier.

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, [Brin] claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.  The Guardian, 15 April 2012

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Exploring the concept of social enterprise

Given my interest in both business and social issues, I have been exploring the varying definitions of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.

Antonio Meloto, the founder of Philippines-based NGO Gawad Kalinga, recently spoke to a group of students at London Business School and discussed some social enterprise success stories his organization has helped create. For Gawad Kalinga, social enterprise means fostering businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible, as well as profitable. Meloto spoke about how companies should seek optimal profit as opposed to maximum profit. He put forward a vision of business where the primary purpose is the common good. No doubt this vision will be compelling for many people, and it’s great that Meloto and his team have been able to recruit and train a large number of young entrepreneurs that share such a vision; the impact on the Philippines has clearly been very positive.

But I’m left questioning whether this vision of a more caring form of capitalism – one that aims for broad societal welfare as much as it does shareholder profits – is realistic. Is this approach really sustainable in the big, bad world of business? Is it scalable beyond a micro level? I worry that social enterprise is being heralded as a panacea for economic, social and environmental problems when in reality it only works in some very specific cases. These sorts of questions have also been floated in a core MBA class I’m taking this term called Business, Government, and Society. As we examine topics such as competition, regulation, and corporate responsibility, we are struggling to square the circle that results when you combine unbridled capitalism with a genuine desire to do good.

There is another meaning of social enterprise that I find a bit more troubling. Much of the commentary that lauds social entrepreneurship seems resigned to the fact that governments can no longer afford to administer programs. Social enterprise is presented as an alternative way to deliver programs and solve societal challenges such as homelessness, a lack of healthcare, or environmental disaster. This approach posits that private-sector entities can use their entrepreneurial spirit to do more good than government can. I worry about social enterprise, sustainable business, and corporate philanthropy supplanting the role of the state. In my opinion, this is a dangerous path for two reasons.

First, this approach ignores the democratic benefits of governments and civil society. I’m the first to admit the public sector and civil society could benefit form a little private sector thinking. Many government bureaucracies and most NGOs are bloated, inefficient, and have failed to adopt some of the improvements in management practice that the private sector has benefited from over the last 50 years. But injecting a little business efficiency into government is not the same as replacing government with business when it comes to administering services. Governments are elected and accountable to the public and civil society organisations are governed by their membership; both are open to all but the same cannot be said about corporations.

Second, and more importantly, resolutely concluding that governments can no longer afford to administer the services we expect of them means accepting that existing taxation policy cannot be changed and that the unbelievable disparity between rich and poor is here to stay. The truth is that the state’s ability to build affordable housing, fund healthcare services, take care of an ageing population, or regulate environmental law relies on public policy decisions we make collectively. Rather than throw our hands up and turn to business to solve the problems we’ve created, why not sit down and see if it still might be possible to do it ourselves, together?

 

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Politics, Branding and Live Events

At the end of last month I traveled to Canada to help produce the NDP Leadership Convention - a very exciting event where Montrealer Thomas Mulcair was chosen as the party’s new leader. It was the first major NDP event where I as not in charge, and that was a welcome feeling! I was however given responsibility for calling most of the technical cues and working hand-in-hand with the national pool broadcaster to ensure the event went smoothly. I love that kind of work as it combines technical know-how with political and marketing instincts.

You can click here to see a page I’ve put together with some more information on my work in politics prior to starting the MBA.

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Scaling Sustainably

I am sometimes skeptical when CEOs claim to be pursuing a just cause. I think companies often portend to be progressive simply for publicity’s sake, and because they know it is what their customers want to hear. But I recently learned about efforts by two corporations to put a social and environmental twist on their operations that seemed to go beyond lip service to corporate social responsibility. The companies are UK retail giant Marks & Spencer, and Unilever, the British-Dutch multinational that makes consumer goods such as Hellmans mayonnaise, Dove soap, and dozens of other well-known brands.

M&S CEO Marc Bolland gave a talk at London Business School and (among many other topics) relayed his experience of chairing a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos for the CEOs of major consumer goods companies. Coke, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé… they were all there. Rather than debate the best way to cut costs, or prophesize about the next big trend in shampoos or snack foods, the CEOs spent the session talking about sustainability.

This was Bolland’s pitch to the CEOs: He said the old way of doing things, in which the goal was simply to sell as much as possible with no regard for the scarcity of resources, wasn’t going to work anymore. He said it was particularly problematic given the birth of a massive middle class in China, estimated by some to be as large as 1.4 billion people within 10 years. He said the western tendency to accumulate possessions as a mark of success was unsustainable, and he said that our children had become fixated on role models who had “stuff” rather than who had accomplished anything. Coming from the CEO of a company that exists to sell “stuff,” it was striking.

The solution to this conundrum, said Boland, was manufacturing goods in more sustainable ways and also getting customers to consume in smarter ways. For their own part, M&S has one of the most respected sustainability plans on the books, called Plan A.

Unilever’s ambitious goal is to double its sales while at the same time cutting its environmental impact in half. What’s so interesting about both Bolland’s comments and Unilever’s commitment is that they go well beyond the environmental footprint of these firms’ own products: both companies are actually trying to change the behavior of their customers when it comes to energy use, water use, waste disposal, and more. With more than 2 billion customers, Unilever recognizes both its vast reach into people’s homes and that its products are inextricably tied to a wide range of environmental issues. For example, Unilever makes shampoo and washing detergent, products that are linked to water consumption. What has long been the purview of government and civil society, namely shaping how individuals use resources, is now central to the corporate agenda.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living plan received a lot of attention when it was first announced. Since then, the company has been working to follow up the hype with concrete action. Key to its success will be a fresh approach to marketing, one that recognizes increasing sales isn’t the sole imperative. Last week Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed spoke about this new paradigm for marketing at the Advertising Association Lead 2012 Summit. Here is a video from Unilever outlining how it might go about convincing customers to change their behavior.

There is no doubt that both M&S and Unilever’s efforts are small compared to the scale of the challenges posed by pollution, climate change, and over-consumption, and  compared to the important work being done by numerous civil society organisations. But at the same time, it is important to recognize that it is only when the biggest players step up to take action that we will see any real progress. Companies like M&S and Unilever are big enough (and have deep enough pockets) that if they follow through on their commitments, it will create a domino effect across the industry and the end result could benefit us all.


Cross posted to the LBS student blog.

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Check out this cool video, part of The Guardian’s open journalism campaign.

"This advert for the Guardian’s open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper’s front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion."

(Source: Guardian)

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The stats on unemployed youth are bad in Canada and worse in Europe. The recovery has been virtually non-existent for young people.

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(Below is the full text of a guest blog post I did for PLMR, a London-based public relations and public affairs firm. You can click the title above to see it on their site.)


These days it seems everyone is talking about ‘going mobile.’ But sometimes it’s unclear exactly what that means or why it’s so important. Consider this: close to 50% of all consumers in the UK now own a smartphone and the stats in North America are slightly higher. But it’s not just the number of people using smartphones, it’s how people are using them. People are spending more time using their smartphones every day and the result is a huge number of opportunities for businesses and organisations to reach people in new ways.


Mobile World Congress (MWC) took Barcelona by storm over the weekend. Founded several years ago by the Global Association of Mobile Operators and Manufacturers (GSMA), MWC has grown to a massive event that welcomed more than 60,000 attendees this year. There were a number of interesting developments that signalled an even greater importance of the mobile sector.


1. Old school tech giants make their move
Intel – known the world over for creating the chips inside our computers – was out in full force. The world’s leading manufacturer of processors has seen the writing on the wall and is making a play for its chips to be the preferred choice in mobile devices. If you opened up your phone right now, you would likely see chips made by Qualcomm or Samsung but not Intel. With PC sales down, Intel knows its future growth must be hitched to mobile. Remember the “Intel Inside” marketing campaign that raised awareness about the powerful chips inside the computer you might buy from Dell or HP? Expect to see a similar campaign for smartphones and tablets.


2. Mobile advertising gets smarter
Mobile advertising is growing in importance every day but 2012 is the year it will really come into its own. For years, online advertising has been getting more and more sophisticated with complex algorithms used to auction space to advertisers based on the type of traffic viewing the ad. The opportunity to show you ads for the latest vacation package to Morocco or Barbour bag is being sold in real-time to the highest bidder. Soon that technology will come to mobile with the added benefit for the advertiser of knowing exactly where you are.


3. Privacy and regulation
If you get anxious thinking about the level of advertising appearing on your smartphone’s screen, rest assured that privacy was front and centre at MWC. There’s been much written about recent changes to Google’s privacy policy, which will allow it to collect reams of data on its users and enhance its targeted advertising offering. Google was both on the defensive and offensive over the last few days walking the fine line between sounding scary and innovative. For many, it comes down to a generational thing. Those that have grown up with technology are less inclined to be put off by their every online move being used to target ads, whereas the older generation find it disconcerting. Wherever you stand, the government is now involved and it remains to be seen if Google’s plans will stand up to EU legal scrutiny.

Beyond privacy, several major players in the mobile space also took shots at EU governments for burying them in regulation that they claim stifles innovation and holds back growth. Both Vodafone and Google called for more lax regulations on pricing but it’s hard to see how many consumers will be sympathetic.


4. Hardware
When it comes to hardware, the big trend was “superpower.” There were phones with processors faster than a PC, phones with built in projectors, phones you can submerge in water, and giant phones with up to 5” screens.

Whether you work in communications, marketing or technology, it’s clear that mobile will be a dominant force in the coming years, with seemingly endless opportunities.

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How can we reinvigorate businesses, our societies and ourselves? Is it time to start over – to go back to basics? As our leaders struggle to tame an ongoing financial crisis, as political change provides both inspiration and instability, and as everyone goes mobile, TEDxLondonBusinessSchool will provide a fresh perspective on what it means to renew, react, and regenerate.

I’m excited to be part of the organizing committee for this fantastic event . Check it out and join us on Friday 27 April at the Bloomberg Auditorium in London.