Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Exclusive! The M+G Blog-erview w/Saatchi S’ Director of Brand Planning, pt. 1 of 2

Here’s a cool thing. I got to talk with Cari Jacobs, Group Director of Brand Planning and Activation at Saatchi S and ask her a few questions. For those who don’t know, Saatchi S is their sustainability office, with huge clients like WalMart, Frito-Lay, P&G, Dell, General Mills, etc. You can read Cari’s bio HERE, under “Who’s In Charge.” She’s a very enlightened, insightful marketer, so if there’s anything here that doesn’t make sense, it’s probably because I couldn’t type fast enough. Enjoy.

M+G: Hey Cari. How are things at Saatchi S?

Cari Jacobs: Things are good. Like all companies we are trying to adjust to the new marketplace. Luckily we’re in sustainability, so we’re trying to do that with the least amount of human impact, but the most financial impact.

M+G: What are you working on today?

CJ: Well, we’re largely a consulting firm, so a lot of it’s confidential, but … the work we do helps clients understand their “north star” sustainability goals. North stars that have concrete sustainability numbers in them, but also emotional, aspirational aspects. We work down through 3 separate channels, and find the nexus – Operations (like water, energy, waste, life-cycle), Brand Activation (like brand planning, that’s my group) cultural/anthropological studies to find how consumers will be activated – there’s no real reason to call it that other than the other names were taken at Saatchi. (And Outreach.)
For example, for General Mills’ Green Giant, the first year we were digging in deep with them, getting operations to sit in the room with marketing and PR to look at the whole picture, from packaging to farming – across their supply chain, and identify areas that might be blind spots. Like GMO – if they were to put a position out into the marketplace that was controversial, how they should do that.

Our goal is not to unseat the brand’s current position. We put the lens of sustainability over it. In the case of Green Giant – their vegetables are “as nutritious as fresh,” with flash freezing to preserve them like our grandparents used to do. It’s a misunderstood process in frozen vegetables. The Green valley is an actual, real place, and the brand comes from a farming background.

Often times you open yourself up to a massive debate – online and offline. Shoppers are talking about what they’re seeing on the shelf. So we’re facilitating the story of “stewardship of the valley” and involving the customer.
We call it “Community-built brands.” The building of a sustainable brand needs to involve the consumer, let them build that story with you. It’s similar to “brand activism” – standing for something larger than the brand itself. It needs to be blossomed out by giving the marketplace something – like little “chew toys.” We create magical chew toys that the customers can either play with or not – and that feeds into the brand.

M+G: Are you guys mainly a “green” agency? Or do you push for other causes too?

CJ: We’re 100% sustainability driven. We define it in 4 streams. Cultural, social, environmental, and economic. Of those, the two hardest to define are social and cultural.

Social is things like fair trade, fair employment, social justice issues. Cultural is more about as we globalize, how do we retain the inherent magic of individual cultures. A brand can globalize while still staying true to local cultures. How can we help a culture live on for hundreds of years?

M+G: How do you determine what is a truly “good” brand? Vs. not?

CJ: We work on huge brands. WalMart, Frito-Lay … we tell our clients that it’s not a destination we’ll arrive at, this is a journey. We look for brands that are willing to do that.

(With our Outreach group) we ask, how do you activate sustainability inside pre-set cultures? WalMart really did that. The person that’s a blackberry person is the same person that has a family at home. So the approach is based on more than traditional ROI models. The clients we work with has a handle on their own goals here. Ingredient safety, in skin care, and others – what might be “safe” today might actually be causing cancer. So we’re looking to see what companies are open to these kinds of conversations – at the “C” level. We look for a visionary, a hero in the space.

M+G: How do you connect being “good/green” with sales and profits?

CJ: We don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, and they shouldn’t be. We don’t think money is bad. We connect it through the fact that every choice is relevant. Those micro-choices, the very small sustainable choices – laundry detergent or toothpaste – are the choices that either contribute or don’t. They add up to large scale sustainability to save the planet, and also to build sales. Both factors are equally important in today’s economy. Clients come to us because they get that.
Where it gets tricky is when it’s about commercializing sustainability vs. DOING sustainability. And we’re pretty hard core about sniffing that out. We know that every client isn’t doing all they should be, but we’re willing to work with them and make that connection.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the blog-erview, with more great stuff from Cari and Saatchi S. I'm reading: Exclusive! The M+G Blog-erview w/Saatchi S’ Director of Brand Planning, pt. 1 of 2Tweet this!

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