BSR 2014: Five Quotes to Make You Think

I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 BSR Conference last week, and was blown away by the number of interesting, thought-provoking speakers the event featured. There were many inspirational moments during the three days of convening, and so I thought I’d share my top 5 quotes from the conference. These comments not only sum up some of the key themes that ran through the entire event, but are also great food for thought for the GlobeScan nexus of brand, reputation, engagement, and sustainability.

1. “Good enough is harder to fix than failure.” – Ethan Zuckerman, Director, Center for Civic Media, MIT

Several speakers including Zuckerman as well as Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo talked about short-term thinking as a big barrier to sustainable businesses, and cautioned that short-term fixes shouldn’t be seen as long-term solutions. Instead, there’s a need to continuously question if our systems are achieving what they set out to do, and if not, to have the courage to change them. While sometimes in our line of work, “quick wins” and “low-hanging fruit” might be the immediate targets, these messages were a good reminder to not lose sight of the more striking, long-term shifts that need to happen in business models themselves. According to Nooyi, we need to question how the marketplace evaluates the performance of business and create a new paradigm for evaluation. This theme also came up in GlobeScan’s recent stakeholder collaboration forum we conducted for HP.

2. “The idea that a business model which was designed for the 500 or 600 million people living in developed Western Europe and developed United States should necessarily work for the rest of the world [over 6.5 billion people] as it comes online is unlikely to be true. ” – Andrew Witty, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline

According to Witty there’s a real need to rethink the developed versus developing countries conversation now, and question the application of western business models to the rest of the world. It’s a cultural dynamism we need, as well as a critical eye on the way the developed world frames the challenges of the developing world. Jeffrey Write from the Ebola Survival Fund also touched on this idea, and asked us to question the U.S. media’s response to the Ebola outbreak and realize that the outbreak is largely a result of larger systemic challenges such as the absence of viable healthcare delivery systems. GlobeScan regularly encounters differing perspectives from stakeholders depending on whether they are in developed or developing countries, a consistent reminder for global companies to also listen globally.

3. “With research…no one cares unless you story-tell effectively.” – Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Walker talked about finding his unique, authentic voice as the face of the Ford Foundation and also about the need to create a narrative for the work we’re doing in order to gain critical support. We talk about this imperative a lot within GlobeScan—that to be good researchers we have to be good communicators. I’ve seen companies that typically do great marketing and advertising roll out CSR and sustainability strategies that lack the market research rigor and the storytelling creativity that would be applied to their normal lines of business. It’s a missed opportunity to connect customers to the human side of company and build trust. In fact, BSR/GlobeScan’s annual State of Sustainable Business Survey again showed this year that perceptions of the public’s trust in business have not improved since 2010, with less than one-fifth of respondents in 2014 believing that the public has anything more than a moderate level of trust in business. One way to build this trust is to more effectively tell authentic stories.

4. “We absolutely need to communicate about the threat and the opportunity.” – Jeff Nesbit, Executive Director, Climate Nexus

I’ve personally experienced a lot of conflicting research on whether we should be communicating climate change in a negative or positive tone. Some argue that only a dire circumstance will capture people’s attention, while others claim that overly negative messages make people feel paralyzed with hopelessness. My sense has been that non-profits and governments tend to use scare tactics, while corporations tend to be overly optimistic and sometimes “fluffy.” The ultimate lesson, however, is that neither extreme is helpful. Like any other marketing message, how we frame climate change needs to be tailored to the audience, and we need to touch on the threat and opportunity, rather than one or the other. Also, Nesbit stressed that it’s not necessary to convince everyone (in fact often if 25% of people take action, the other 75% will acquiesce), but we do need to make sure that the critical 25% take action, not just believe climate change is happening without doing anything about it.

5. “We need to celebrate success, make sure to communicate what’s going on, and affirm action.” – Christian McGuigan, Vice President, Client Services, Participant Media

It’s important to measure progress internally, but I think even more important are consistent feedback loops that ask customers, consumers, and other (especially external) audiences if certain tactics made them take action or change their mind about a certain issue in some way. We often don’t take the time to stop and celebrate progress and recognize people for incorporating action into their daily lives. To my point above, maybe the way to get the 25% to take action is to make this population feel like heroes. GlobeScan’s work on the “Aspirationals” shows that there is definite interest in sustainability from global consumers, we’ve just been speaking to them in the wrong way.
Ultimately, the BSR Conference was time well-spent celebrating success as well as talking about new strategies to further our collective work. What were some of your favorite quotes from the BSR Conference?
Download the BSR/GlobeScan 2014 State of Sustainable Business Survey for more insights from the BSR audience.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Senior Project Manager, Caroline Teng.