Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Leveraging universal themes to build loyalists

By Sandy Skees on February 27, 2009

“I belong.”
“What I do matters.”
“In spite of it all, I am hopeful.”

As our massive institutions stumble and crumble before our very eyes, we are seeing the emergence of new themes that permeate discussions online, in line at Starbucks, on the airwaves and inside our heads. These themes can be guides for product designers and communicators when solidifying plans for the next 12-18 months.

According to, there is an increasing requirement that generosity become a dominant driver in both business and social interactions and institutions. Every media outlet reports on massive citizen uproar and consumer rejection of the greed that has pervaded previously trusted companies. Everyone is looking for institutions that are truthful, that give back, that will be part of the solution. Mix that with the fast-growing online community of individuals who collaborate, donate, spread the word and raise the alarm and you have a powerful new market force. They know their power and they are wielding it, at the voting booth, in online causes, through viral video and even in winning Super Bowl ads.

Tom Watson’s new book, CauseWired, does a great job of delineating the movement of the hyper-engaged. He concentrates on the explosive growth of deeply connected activists who are changing how non-profits and grass root movements work. There are implications for businesses and products here as well. According to Watson, “there is simply no separation between real and virtual…. This new sector relies on open access to information … and an insistence on transparency.”

There are three basic steps for businesses seeking to make authentic connections between their companies and products and their target customers.

Step one: Go back to the beginning and re-commit to the company or product’s initial purpose. Not its market promise or best feature but the highest customer benefit. Therein is the key to how to connect authentically. Is your product designed to support individual health? Make life easier? Save time or energy? Dig below the surface to get at the underlying value – compassion, justice, courage, respect, humanity, empowerment, integrity, holism, broader good, responsibility, excellence.

Step two: Look out into the broader world context and seek organizations, groups, causes, or programs that are targeting the same core value. There are bound to be ways that your product or company can participate in these efforts. I am not necessarily talking about donating a portion of the proceeds, although that might be helpful. Rather, I suggest that you position your company or product in the context of a greater purpose. Recently, I spoke with a company that is designing an in–home water filtration system. They have also designed a backpack version for third world countries that they will donate, one for one, for every home system they sell. Same product design, two very different environments, but they’re gaining greater leverage by serving a greater good.

Step three: Get the word out online. Bloggers, online news sites, cause groups, Twitter, Flickr, and the proliferation of new social media sites are key to building community for your effort. You’ll find that a great deal of positive altruistic energy is focused online today.

Bear this in mind: products, marketing campaigns, company announcements must authentically reflect the principles, meaning, and purpose inside companies. Those that have neither a core ethos, nor the courage to claim it, will fail in the new world that is rapidly being created out of the shambles of this one. Align with your customers in co-creating a world that is built on belonging, doing and hope.