Tag Archives: harvard

Staying pure after selling out

This week’s HBS Working Knowledge newsletter starts off with an interesting proposition: what happens when a well-known socially responsible business is acquired by a multinational?  Professors James E. Austin and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard discuss their recent research, which examines such acquisitions as Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever, Tom’s of Maine by Colgate and Stonyfield Farms by Dannon.  Their work suggests that it is possible for a company to stay true to its social mission after acquisition, presented in a working paper asking “Can the Virtuous Mouse and the Wealthy Elephant Live Happily Ever After?”  

The discussion touches on some great questions, including why the elephants would want to acquire mice with a conscience and why it could be a good deal for the mouse (they’re not selling out – they’re scaling up).

An excerpt is below, but it’s totally worth your time to read the entire (brief) HBS interview with Austin and Leonard:

Q: How can elephants protect the mouse’s social value and brand integrity?

A: The more effective large companies have recognized that preserving the social icon’s distinctive culture and business approach is essential to preserving its key success factors. Consequently, they retain a large degree of organizational independence so as to prevent “contamination” of the social technology.

This stands in contrast to the common approach in acquisitions to integrate and rationalize the assets into the new owner’s systems, structure, and culture. Some of the specific mechanisms used in successful mouse-elephant agreements include governance structures and processes that give the “mice” review and even veto power over actions by the “elephants” that might jeopardize those elements that are deemed essential to the social values underlying the brand’s integrity.

Retaining the social entrepreneur in the joint venture is highly desirable

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“Deep Metaphors” connect with people

Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman of HBS (yep, it’s HBS catchup day) wrote a book on marketing using deep metaphors: Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal about the Minds of Consumers. You can read an interview with them here, to get a better idea of what the book covers, and what they mean by “deep metaphors”:

Deep metaphors are basic frames or orientations we have toward the world around us. They are “deep” because they are largely unconscious and universal. They are “metaphors” because they recast everything we think about, hear, say, and do.

One example that they discuss is Coke’s highly successful “I’d like to teach the world to sing” campaign, which didn’t say much about Coke, but tapped into the deep metaphors of connection and social balance. The book apparently details 7 of the most commonly used deep metaphors across a variety of products.

If consumer goods are able to tap into these deep metaphors to improve sales, this information ought to be extremely useful to social sector organizations actually working to improve things like social balance. Perhaps the trick is to keep the message metaphorical, since “most thinking occurs without awareness”? Are we hurting ourselves by talking about literal benefits to society rather than speaking in metaphors? Is speaking to the unconscious more powerful than trying to raise consciousness?