In his recent blog entry, Craig Lefebvre, who tweets as @chiefmaven, points to a blog by Rosabeth Moss Kanter at the Harvard business school (not to be confused with social media guru Beth Kanter), praising Procter & Gamble’s recently announced “values-based” business strategy. Kanter describes how P&G is using this strategy to create new growth opportunities both domestically and internationally. She quotes CEO Bob McDonald on P&G’s purpose: “We will provide branded products of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world's consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creations, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.”
I hope they truly mean it, because if they do, it’s an admirable framing of doing well by doing good. Just remember that even a soulless corporate behemoth like Walmart can give the appearance of caring. Its recession-motivated tagline “Save Money. Live Better” may not survive our eventual economic recovery, but it tapped into the zeitgeist -- this is why you buy your lawnmowers, toothpaste, milk and eggs from that store; because you're saving money so you can live better. Personally, however, I stay away from its farm-raised Chilean salmon.
Craig speaks admiringly of the sophistication of P&G’s operation, and rightly so. For many years, it has been justly feared by its competitors. Everyone sees them coming; they telegraph their every move, but in the end, it doesn't matter. When they enter your market, they will crush you. They will out-advertise you, they will out-incentivize you, they will out-distribute you, and it's all backed by their confidence in - in most cases - years of research on formulation, packaging, and pricing. Which is why I find it odd that Craig would recommend to public health practitioners in his blog that one way to become more innovative in public health is to not wait for evidence bases to develop. I hope what he meant by that was don’t fall into the earnest researcher’s trap of paralysis by analysis. (“It’s a significant correlation, but we don’t have all the evidence we need, let’s wait until we can do further research.”)
We don’t have the financial resources of P&G (estimated annual advertising budget: $8.2 billion), we don’t have the consolidated global reach, but we do have evidence on our side. While that’s certainly not enough, as any social marketer worth their salt (like Craig) will tell you, it’s the right place to start, because this is our strength; it's what we have that no one else does.
In our podcast interview with Bill Novelli*, he speaks passionately about social marketers’ need for sustainability in their programs. He points out that both basic human nature and the marketers on the other side of the fence (big tobacco, fast food, snack foods, etc.) mitigate against lasting healthy change.
The only remedies that under-funded, over-worked public health professionals can rely on for sure are evidence and sustainability.
*If you’re signed in to KTExchange, go to KT Tools, then Podcasts, and download Podcast #4 to hear Novelli.