Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Do Justice," a holiday calling from Micah

Over the past few years, I have typically shared a family recipe as part of my holiday blog essay. If you dig around in the December posts over the past five years (it’s hard to imagine that the blog is now more than five years old with over 120 posted essays, more than 30,000 page views, from over 25 countries!) you will find recipes for “Kuni’s Chocolate Cake,” and “MaMa’s Giblet gravy” to name just two. Well this year I will depart from that historic culinary tradition to share some thoughts on the weightier topic of “Justice,” a principal in short supply in our country and our world this holiday season.

Since I was a boy, I have been struck by a single passage from the Old Testament. Micah was a “prophet” who lived in the early part of the 8th century B.C. in a village 20+/- miles outside of Jerusalem. While a very small book of the bible (Micah is considered as one of the 12 “lesser prophets” of the Old Testament) I have continually found my way back to this one specific passage:

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God

This combination of “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your god” has struck a deep cord since I was young. I have seen this passage quoted on the front of Synagogues and Churches, in a wide range of texts and sermons, and while this passage is over 2700 years old, it seems a deeply important and a very current admonition for our society today!

Over the years, I have focused on the specific idea of “walk humbly with your god.” In my experience, the space of faith/religion/belief seems often lacking in this concept of “humility” broadly, and the concept of walking “humbly with your God” is applicable to so many faith traditions across the world. Over the past few weeks and months, while this idea still rings true to me deeply, my attention has turned to an earlier portion of the verse, that being the idea of “do justice.”

Clearly we are all living in a time when “justice” seems to be lacking in every corner. Turn your attention to Ferguson or Staten Island, Hong Kong or Kobani, to NW Pakistan or NE Nigeria, to countries, cities and villages all over our world and it seems unarguable that we are living in a time that lacks of justice broadly. Whether centered on race, economic, religious, sex , sexual orientation, or other sources of injustice, our worldwide community struggles with justice broadly, and seems to be making little or no headway or progress toward a more just tomorrow.

As I reconsidered Micah’s passage this holiday season, the call to “do justice” took on a singular prominence. In a moment of research that would have made my old testament professor (from New College, the divinity school at Edinburgh University where I spent some time during my undergraduate days) smile, I dug around through a variety of translations to understand this specific portion of the verse more deeply. While clearly not exhaustive, I looked into nine English translations of Micah 6:8 with the following results:

“Do Justice:” (NRSV, RSV,ESV,NAS)
“Do Justly:” (KJV,NKJV)
“Act Justly:” (NIV,WEB,CJB)

While the specific words do change slightly, one idea rings true; this call to “justice” is an active one, pushing all of us to “do” or “act” toward “justice!” Once again it is not enough to be satisfied with thoughts, beliefs or good intentions, we must take action!

Like many reading this essay, it often seems that this call to “do justice” is meant for more significant players on the world stage. What should our president or congress do? What is the UN doing? Etc. I am convinced that all of us can and need to take action in our sometimes “small” everyday lives, communities and neighborhoods. Injustice is broad and pervasive and we can only make progress if we all find ways to “do justice” where we live every day. In my neighborhood, just a few miles east of downtown Atlanta, there is tremendous wealth and poverty living side by side. Beside the large, beautiful historic homes are individuals and families living in the streets, the alleys and the bushes. My family and I are involved in a small religious community in our neighborhood where one Sunday a month we make sandwiches for a neighborhood shelter and one Wednesday night a month we gather and share a dinner with ALL in our neighborhood… whether coming from the street or the executive suite, all gather and share a common meal in a warm, safe, welcoming space.

Now will these actions eradicate the economic “injustice” in our neighborhood? Of course not! But rather than throwing our hands in the air, thinking that the problems are too big or maybe someone else’s responsibility, it is clearly the right move for us to take action where we can. Those sandwiches or that Wednesday night meal do make a difference, and while maybe small, they are actions working to make a difference in people’s lives. Injustice is not somewhere else or someone else’s problem. Remember the quote from Dr. King where he reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”! As you enter into this holiday season, look for ways in your towns, your neighborhoods, your communities to follow Micah’s call, to look for ways big or small, to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Building Brands, a daily regimen

At the center of my career are brands, brands that matter to consumers and shoppers, and brands that have grown over the decades. I have had the pleasure to work on a number of large, growing, expanding brands that have really stood the test of time, ranging from Kleenex, to Breyers Ice Cream, to Coca-Cola, and to Bolthouse Farms. Brands are precious and valuable, and like children, are also fragile and needing of care. Brands aren’t static, they are never in “pause mode” with the consumer or shopper; they are either gaining or losing relevancy in the lives of their consumer franchise.

Not only have I had a chance to work on and represent some amazing brands, I have also had the chance to work with a number of brands that I have watched crumble over time. In my customer management roles over the years, I worked closely with the executive teams at Blockbuster, Circuit City and Woolworth. All three WERE major brands and strong retailers in their respective spaces, and today not one of them exists in the consumer landscape.

At the center of my philosophy on building brands is the concept originated by A.G. Lafley, Chairman and CEO of P&G, where he described the “First and Second Moments of Truth for a Brand.” Now more than ten years ago, I saw Lafley give a keynote speech at the FMI convention where he introduced this idea that a brand must “First” win at the point of demand, at the retail shelf. The “Shopper” needs to see the brand as a winning option. Once that hurdle is accomplished, the brand must then win a “second” time when it is used or consumed by the consumer.

A 2003 Bloomberg Businessweek article describes it well:

As CEO, Lafley hasn't made grand pronouncements on the future of P&G. Instead, he has spent an inordinate amount of time patiently communicating how he wants P&G to change. In a company famed for requiring employees to describe every new course of action in a one-page memo, Lafley's preferred approach is the slogan. For example, he felt that P&G was letting technology rather than consumer needs dictate new products. Ergo: "The consumer is boss." P&G wasn't working closely enough with retailers, the place where consumers first see the product on the shelf: "The first moment of truth." P&G wasn't concerned enough with the consumer's experience at home: "The second moment of truth."
Lafley uses these phrases constantly, and they are echoed throughout the organization. At the end of a three-day leadership seminar, 30 young marketing managers from around the world present what they have learned to Lafley. First on the list: "We are the voice of the consumer
within P&G, and they are the heart of all we do." Lafley, dressed in a suit, sits on a stool in front of the group and beams. "I love the first one," he laughs as the room erupts in applause.

This idea that brands are precious, fragile, and ever changing, and that they are built on these two “moments of truth” is at the center of my beliefs and approach. I deeply believe that while brands matter deeply, brand loyalty is an outmoded and potentially dangerous idea (see previous blog essay) and that a consumer’s “brand preference” and hopefully “brand advocacy” has to be built, rebuilt and re-earned every day, truly a daily regimen!