July 27, 2008

The Best Global Design of 2008

The 2008 International Design Excellence Awards (IDEAs) is an outstanding showcase of the world's best design.  This year, I was particularly happy to see Brazil ranked third with 12 awards, with the U.S. leading with 114 awards and South Korea in second with 19.  Click here to see the slide show featuring all the winners at Business Week, which sponsors the awards.

Making urban areas a little greener

Walking through Lausanne last week-end I saw a building with a green roof.  I didn't have my camera with me but I did find this photo of the building posted on Flickr by MisterMeta.  

It made me think of how metropolitan areas could do a better job creating incentives for those who create green roofs.  Researching the subject online I found out that in Germany it is a legal requirement to include green roofs on new flat-roofed buildings in order to compensate for plant life destroyed by construction.  More than the aesthetically-beautiful appeal, roofs with grass, bushes and trees can absorb up to 50% of storm water, reduce CO2 emissions, improve insulation and enhance biodiversity. 

One of the world's most amazing green roof buildings is the Acros Fukuoka located in Fukuoka City, Japan. Stunning garden terraces up to 60m from the ground with 35,000 plants representing 76 species.

In the same spirit, New York has a fantastic project of re-greening the High Line.  The High Line is an elevated railway that snakes around Manhattan's west side built during the Depression and has been abandoned for a few decades.  It is slowly being transformed into an urban walkway full of grassy paths, gardens and trees.  I read that the first section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, is scheduled to open at the end of the year.  
Click here to read more on www.thehighline.org.  

With the expansion of urbanization, I hoping green roofs will eventually become a global movement.

July 26, 2008

Helping the environment one envelope at a time

Everyone is looking for eco-friendly ways to save the planet.  So, it's wonderful when you see a good example of someone who not only had a great idea but actually created a business around it. I enjoyed reading the story of Ann DeLaVergne, who looking at a stack of used envelopes in her recycling bin thought that she could make a difference. She founded ecoEnvelopes, a company that is creating a reusable envelope movement.

It's worth reading the story on their website...

“People find a purpose in their life and they pursue it, because it makes sense. That’s how inventi
on happens,” recalls Ann DeLaVergne, founder of ecoEnvelopes. It was 2002 and while sorting the mail, she noticed an envelope with a request to, “Reuse this envelope.” Unfortunately, there was no easy way to do that.

As a former organic farmer and bee keeper who cared about the environmental, Ann already saved large envelopes to send out again—despite the complex camouflage they needed to be mailed a second time. “There should be an easier way to reuse envelopes,” she thought. “Why not one envelope instead of two?”

Combining her design experience and background in fine arts, Ann started making prototypes by hand at her kitchen table. The new eco friendly envelopes she came up with were functional, practical, and most importantly, helped the

Ann used her sewing machine to speed up the process of making perforations in paper to make it easy to open her ecoEnvelopes. Her first mailing was ten envelopes she sent to friends across the country. Every one of them came back and she says with nostalgia, “I thought I was done. I mailed them, they came back….I was done,” she recalls. “No. That was the start. I made envelopes from scratch with my sewing machine for the next two years!”

In the next couple years, Ann devoted herself to perfecting ecoEnvelopes. She received grants from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance and the Eileen Fisher Foundation and won supporter after supporter, including the former CEO of one of the largest envelope manufacturers in the U.S. Soon, Ann was in Washington meeting with the US Postal Service and key people in the industry. “It became a community whose goal was to help the environment, we were working on something that could make a significant difference,” she recalls.

Her timing was perfect. With consumers driving demand for environmentally friendly products, corporations greening their operations and the USPS supporting green initiatives, it was clear that ecoEnvelopes was an idea whose time had come.

A Very Special Week

Just landed after one week at IMD - International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne.  I just can't say how much I enjoyed the experience of taking time out from the office, immersing in self-awareness, spending quality time with professionals from around the world, and learning from outstanding professors. The tough part is coming back and jumping into the hectic day-to-day, without stepping back to reflect on how so many new concepts can effectively generate a conscious improvement in leadership skills.  I went through a powerful learning and emotional journey this week.  I will be working hard to keep this special feeling alive.

July 20, 2008

Bank helping people buy their dream house

For a year now, my wife and I have been looking for a house to buy in Sao Paulo. In a vertical city like the one we live in, the task has been extremely frustrating. I think I've seen every available piece of real estate in the neighborhood we've selected, spoken to several agents, made offers that weren't successful.... and so far, no luck.

So, you can imagine how envious I was when I read an article on how Dutch ING Bank, in partnership with online real estate company iBlue, is trying to solve the problem. The initiative is called "WoonWaarUWilt " ("LiveWhereYouWant") and it the lets clients make an offer on houses that aren't on the market, but that they'd love to own. Potential buyers fill in an online form including their dream home's address and the initial offer they're willing to make. A mortgage consultant also determines whether the buyers would be able to finance the purchase. The bank and iBlue put together a preliminary offer that is sent to the property's current owners enquiring as to whether they'd consider selling. Making an offer is free for clients, but if the owners are interested in pursuing the offer, iBlue acts as the buyer's agent and charges a commission once the deal is done.

Finally, an innovative idea (in the sometimes painful process) of closing the deal on the ideal house.

July 19, 2008

A Conversation with Chris Nunes from Cornerstone Strategic Branding (NY)

A few weeks ago, Chris Nunes, CEO of Cornerstone Strategic Branding based in New York visited us and spoke to my team on Eco-Branding. I have known Chris for many years and his company is currently working on a packaging graphic project for one of our snack brands. I asked him to write about the theme for the blog. Here is what he sent me...

Small is Good Again - The Emergence of Eco-Brands

I have been on the road traveling to different markets reporting on the state of environmental branding and packaging, and espousing its benefits. As CEO of Cornerstone Strategic Branding in New York and Sao Paulo, Brazil, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of package goods brands competing in international markets such as the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, South Africa, United Kingdom, South Korea, Pakistan, and many, many others. My company has been in business for 18 years and during that time I have secured and worked with clients in over 23 countries including those in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

A topic of continuing interest to me and to an increasing number of my clients are the trends to increased use of environmentally friendly packaging and the introduction of a new class of brands which I call “Eco-Brands”. With the help of some of my colleagues at CSB, I have researched these trends extensively and the result is a comprehensive presentation on the subject with a global perspective.

I discovered that there is a lot more activity going on in the use of environmentally friendly packaging than what we see here in the U.S. What was even more striking is the emergence of this new class of brands called Eco Brands.

These are brands which from the moment of origin are created with a mission, a brand positioning and “value set” that clearly focus the brand on behaving in a way that is protective of the planet. There are many ways that Eco Brands achieve this with their packaging, in addition to how they also reflect this in their product and everything that they do.

Some of these brands only use recycled materials in their packaging such as recycled/post consumer paperboard, recycled PET plastic resin (RPET), recycled glass, etc. Some of these brands use these materials in combination with new materials called bio- resins made from sustainable plant materials such as corn and cane sugar starches that replace traditional petroleum based resins, made from a non- renewable resource.

Some reduce their use of these materials altogether and eliminate complete “layers” of packaging to become more environmentally friendly, while reducing costs. Others do all this and also print their packaging using water and/or vegetable based inks with very low VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). These inks can replace traditional inks formulated with environmentally dangerous solvents high in VOC content.

The most interesting thing I learned about these Eco Brands is that some of these brands have been around for a while and how, in a very short period of time, have grown in sales significantly. Take for example the brand Burt’s Bees. Their website defines the brand ‘s mission as follows: “We create natural earth- friendly personal care products formulated to help you maximize your well being and that of the world around you”. The intriguing thing about this brand is that it has been around since 1984 and as recently as 2003 had only $8 million in sales. Just 5 years later, what do you think their sales are? Try $250 million.

Another example is the Eco Brand Seventh Generation. Seventh Generation is a household cleaning products brand with a line that includes dishwashing detergents, surface cleaners, paper towels, toilet tissue, disposable diapers, etc. The company and brand was established by Jeffrey Hollander who was once president of the Rainforest Foundation and on the Board of Directors for Greenpeace.

Seventh Generation was founded in 1988 and generated $1million is sales in 1989. Ten years later sales volume grew somewhat modestly and incrementally to reach $11 million in 1999 and grew to $25 million in 2004. What do you think their sales are now? Try approaching $100 million.

These examples illustrate the power of the Eco Branding concept, even if you start small. Consumers are not only now buying products that deliver demonstrable benefits equal to or superior to traditional, non –eco products, they are also buying into a value set that is aspirational to them.

The Eco Branding concept says that you can, in fact, start small, do good, build an environmentally positive track record and succeed. This approach is beginning to debunk the myth that many packaged goods companies have ascribed to for years that says new products have to be tested to validate wide scale share and volume potential in order to be commercially viable.

The most compelling news of late on this subject is that the continuing escalation of the price of oil, and it’s effect on rising costs of packaging materials and a host of product ingredients and materials, has now made the cost of goods for Eco Brands, which have historically been a bit more expensive than traditional brands, much more competitive now in many categories.

This was underscored by a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Green Products Gain From New Price Equation”. One example given is a line of compostable dinnerware made by a Colorado company called Eco-Products. Eco Products manufactures their dinnerware using a bio resin made from corn starch and does not use a petroleum based resin. Therefore, their cost of goods has remained stable while the costs of petroleum based resins have continued to escalate, thereby now making Eco-Products dinnerware prices competitive to traditional dinnerware brands made out of petroleum based plastics.

The message to the marketing community is to take note of this phenomenon. Re-orient your thinking. Think small, do good, build a positive environmental track record and ride the Eco Branding wave.

With the continued escalation of oil prices into the foreseeable future, and the rising consumer demand for products that are friendly to the environment, the future of Eco Brands has never been brighter.

Christopher Nunes
Cornerstone Strategic Branding, Inc

July 18, 2008

An Inspiring Book on my way to Lausanne...

I'm at the BA Lounge at the Heathrow Airport on my way to Lausanne where I'll be staying for a 1-week leadership program at IMD. I'm very excited.

On my flight, I had fun reading a book called "How to Have Kick-Ass Ideas". The author, Chris Baréz-Brown, is the head of training at the innovation company ?WhatIf! London. The book provides ideas on how to think and act in more creative ways at work and in everyday life. The book not only talks about innovation but is also written in a very cool graphically-creative style full of thought-provoking questions, new concepts and ideas on how to ignite a creative mind. A theme I absolutely love. I thought it was the perfect reading material for a long flight. Chris visited us in our São Paulo office last week.

July 13, 2008

A Cultural Movement Celebrating Brazilian Bar Food

Saturday night I had dinner with Eduardo Maya and Eulália Araujo, the visionary founders of an annual culinary contest to find the very best Brazilian bar food, called Comida di Buteco.  What started off as a culinary contest 9 years ago is now an amazing cultural movement celebrating Brazil's botequims - the popular name for the authentic Brazilian pub - and the colorful food served with beer or cachaça. If Spain has the tapas, Brazil has the petiscos or tira-gostos as they are called.  It all started in Belo Horizonte, a city known as the bar capital of the country and is now spreading to other cities.

Eduardo Maya is a charismatic guy and an enthusiastic advocate for elevating Brazilian bar gastronomy - often considered low cuisine - to the respectful place it deserves in the country's food culture.  He also talks passionately about how this movement has exponentially improved the lives of dozens of families who own these bars and given them a sense of affiliation beyond what he had initially envisioned.

To give of an idea of how popular this movement is becoming, in the 2007 edition, 130,000 people voted for their favorite petiscos in 40 selected bars and the final event, which closes off the month-long Comida di Buteco, gathered over 500,000 people in a week-end of music and the best Brazilian bar food.  It ends with an awards ceremony.

Click here to read an article that ran on The New York Times on the Comida di Buteco movement.

Another great example of how certain cultural movements have the powerful force of mobilizing people behind a cause. 

July 11, 2008

Why do bars charge for water but give peanuts for free?

Last night I bought a book at Heathrow Airport on my way back to Brazil. It's called The Economic Naturalist - Why Economics Explain Almost Everything, by Robert H Frank. Half way through the book and I immediately got hooked on how the author presents basic economic principles using fun day-to-day situations. The book takes the reader on an interesting journey on why many strange things we find in everyday life actually make perfect economic sense.

The narrative is carried out through intriguing questions. One particular question presented was very useful for me: "Why do many bars charge customers for water but give them peanuts for free?" One of the product categories we have in our portfolio in Brazil is snacks. Over the years we haven't had the same success in bars like we have in other channels. So, I was obviously intrigued by the question. This is how the author answers it...

"The key to understanding this practice is to recognize that the terms on which bars offer water and nuts are dictated by the effect of these commodities on demand for bars' core product, alcoholic beverages. Nuts and alcoholic beverages are compliments. Someone who eats more nuts will demand more beer or spirits. Since nuts are relatively cheap and each alcoholic drink generates a relatively high profit margin, making nuts free available tends to increase bars' profits. By contrast, water and alcoholic beverages are substitutes. The more water bar customer drink, the fewer alcoholic beverages they will order So even though water is relatively inexpensive, bars have an incentive to set a high price for it, thereby discouraging its consumption."

It seems obvious, but I believe marketers (including myself) do not always work so intensely on trying to find channel insights as much as we do when it comes to consumer insights.

The book is fascinating to understand how almost everything that happens around us can be explained through economics.  Cool stuff.

Cultural Movement vs. Advertising Campaign

I have to confess that a few months back when I saw Argentina's Doritos TV Campaign 'Que Vuelvan Los Lentos' (Bring back slow dancing) I didn't quite get it.  In a terrible brand manager attitude I kept asking myself what was the product link between slow dancing and our famous tortilla chip brand.  

This week in London, I had the opportunity to watch Carlos Menendez, PepsiCo Snacks' Marketing Director for Argentina/Chile, present the strategy and I realized how wrong I was and how powerful the campaign really is.  Well, let me step back.  It's not really a campaign.  The Doritos Team in Argentina launched a cultural movement.  In his own words a 'crusade'.  A crusade to bring back slow dancing to a generation that is all about electronic music.

The new agency we are working with in Brazil, Strawberry Frog, talks a lot about the need to evolve the traditional advertising campaign and create cultural movements where brands embrace a cause... and hopefully inspire others to follow, interact, express themselves, take part in.  A powerful concept.

And that's exactly what happened in Argentina, Doritos did launch a TV movement to bring back slow dancing but the movement created a life of its own.  Thousands of communities were formed in social networks, dozens of radio stations and clubs altered their music programming and a slow-dancing flash mob (probably the world's first) took place at the Buenos Aires planetarium, bringing thousands of teens together.

Thanks Carlos Menendez in showing me the power of a true cultural movement, where the brand plays a strategically important role as an enabaler in bringing a memorable experience to consumers.  And how the message is just a spark that can transform in something very big. Great story.

July 6, 2008

Internet Blackout!

Last Thursday Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest metropolitan area suffered an Internet blackout.  The result was total chaos for banking, e-commerce, stock trading... affecting pretty much every aspect of business.  

A few weeks ago, I went into one of my friend's blogs and was surprised to see a message saying it was deleted.  A few days later I spoke to him and found out that his blog had simply vanished and even after contacting Google, since he uses Blogger, they didn't restore his content.  He was obviously devastated. 

Two incidents to remind us how dependent we all are of technology and communication.  

July 5, 2008

An organization helping Brazilian companies go organic

Yesterday I met with Ming Liu, from OrganicsBrasil - an organization that is dedicated to promoting Brazilian organic products in the International market, an ambitious project of bringing together organic growers, manufacturers and accredited certifiers.  I had already noticed a strong presence of Brazilian organic producers at some of the food trade shows I've visited lately (which made me particularly happy since my wife has been an organic fan for years).  Brazil, which is already an agricultural superpower with it's amazingly rich biodiversity and vast natural resources, has all the elements to become a major player in the growing market for organic products.  The companies participating in the OrganicsBrasil initiative cover a wide range of categories from the açaí superfruit, to coffee beans, cosmetics, sugarcane products, to whole grains.   

So, next time you shop at Whole Foods, expect to see more organic products Made in Brazil.

July 3, 2008

A little frog that is helping us re-think our communication strategy

We just concluded a pitch to find a new advertising agency for some of our accounts.  It was an extremely rewarding experience since we had the opportunity to see creative work through the lens of some of Brazil's most amazing Brazilian agencies.  At the end, we rewarded four brands to a small creative boutique that has been operating in São Paulo for less than a year: PeraltaStrawberryFrog. The agency which was founded in Amsterdam in 1999, is headed in Brazil by one of the country's most talented creatives Alexandre Peralta. They have a fascinating more collaborative approach to the entire brief and creative process, bringing revived energy, fresh ideas and a different approach to just about everything, a spirit that has captivated my marketing team. In the few weeks we have been working together, I can already feel that this little frog will inspire us to re-think our communication in a beautiful way.

This is how the agency defines Froguism - their guiding principles:
Being results focused, smart, and agile
Believing you CAN outwit the dinosaurs
Effortlessly hopping from one part of your world to another
Using your ingenuity to solve problems not your size
Making the most of your strengths with efficiency and control
Creating perpetual motion, one step at a time
Engaging the world from a shared perspective from the ground up
In a world of dinosaurs, it's good to be a frog