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Part Two: Creating Brands for the Future
Last week we asked KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, creator of Sustainable Brandsthe question, “Why sustainable brands, why now?” In part two here, we ask KoAnn about her success with community building and market transformation.
KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz is the creator of Sustainable Brands, a media empire and a safe gathering place for a large community of corporate professionals who are committed to finding new ways for business to succeed by leading the way to a better future.
Three Tips for Driving Market Transformation
Over the course of her career, KoAnn has worked in many industries, including paper, timber, mining, electronics, computer game development and the internet among others. With Sustainable Brands, she has used the same strategies she has used many times before for coalescing new communities and supporting market transformation. In 2004, she heard Barb Waugh, former head of E-inclusion at Hewlett Packard and author of Soul of the Computer: The Story of a Corporate Revolutionary, give a talk about market transformation that resonated. Barb’s advice, which KoAnn says reflects how she has catalyzed a sustainable brands movement and turned it into a global brand can be summarized in three steps: 1) aggregate to the minority, 2) amplify the positive, and 3) look like who you want to sell.
1) Aggregate to the Minority
“Part of the art of identifying and coalescing new communities is to habitually keep your ear to the ground for similar notes that start to rise from the fringes of a variety of different disciplines” Koann notes. She acknowledges that much of her success has likely come from a naturally insatiable curiosity about everything from philosophy to physics, psychology to technology, business & leadership to international culture and communications. “I find that when you start to hear similar topics being touched on in seemingly unconnected fields, you have the potential makings of a new community of interest. If you pull these folks from the fringe into conversation, at times their conversations erupt into new fields of business innovation.” This is certainly true of Sustainable Brands, which draws on expertise in the fields of everything from chemistry, biology and ecology, to energy, supply chain management and distribution, to consumer psychology, communications and engagement technologies, to economics, innovation strategies and techniques and organizational redesign – all which is coming together to inform a new discipline that is also100% critical to our future success as a species, AND is already creating new forms of competitive advantage for smart, forward looking businesses.
2) Amplify the Positive
When Sustainable Life Media was launched and the first Sustainable Brands Conference was held in New Orleans in 2007, there was a pent up need for these fringes to come together in a conversation that had as of yet not been convened. One of the fundamental reasons the conversation hadn’t happened at any scale was because of the commonly held belief that business and the environment or business and society were inherently at odds. KoAnn believes, however that there are as many people motivated by having positive, meaningful impact working inside the world’s largest brands, as there are working outside them – maybe more. They simply have design constraints that need to be acknowledged and respected.
With this in mind, she and a hardworking team of change agents with a shared vision set out to create a safe place for business leaders who wanted to find ways to make a difference through their brands, to talk about how to do so within the context of their constraints. From the beginning, one of the company’s guiding principles has been to ‘amply the positive where ever it is found’. They hoped that by celebrating the wins being realized by even some of the most traditionally unsustainable businesses, more people would recognize that any business can contribute to creating a better future by innovating for sustainability, and more would get on the bandwagon. “And it has worked!” Koann notes. “At first we were simply helping people recognize they were not alone, helping them think about how to turn environmental, social and economic issues into opportunities for innovation that could succeed despite their constraints. Now, we’re actually talking about ways we can collaborate to redesign systems so that some, if not all of those constraints disappear.”
This year Sustainable Brands will touch over 300,000 professionals around the world via it’s website, newsletters, social media communities on Linked-in, Faceboook, Twitter and events. Business leaders come to Sustainable Brands either because they care, or because they are curious. They come back because at Sustainablebrands.com, at SB events, and in the member network they find inspiration, ideas, collaborators — and hope.
3) Look Like Who You Want to Sell
In her 2004 talk, Barb pointed out the importance of ‘looking like who you want to sell’ when trying to drive change of any sort. While this hadn’t initially occurred to KoAnn as one of the core aspects of her community building practice, she realized immediately that this habit had likely been another contributor to past success. Most of us, she points out, instinctively put up subconscious protective barriers when engaging with those who “look or sound” different. We tend to justify our perspective first, rather than naturally remain curious about the ways in which those who are different from. Creating a space that looks familiar to those people who need to be part of the change effort helps more people feel safe engaging in difficult conversations that may not otherwise take place. “Change is hard for everyone. We try to be respectful of this by making it as safe and easy as possible. Using the language that is common to the people we want to engage, acknowledging the real constraints they face, designing conversations in a way that feels familiar while also stretches people forward, is part of the art of what we do. I always like to say our goal is to grow the circle without breaking it,” Koann notes.
And thus, KoAnn created Sustainable Brands
Bringing thought leaders from various circles together, and creating a bridge between their insight and the language of business opportunity, brand value, and return on investment is part of the key to success. “It is certainly true that it will take a good deal of disruption of ‘business as usual’ to achieve our mission to shift the world to a sustainable economy,” says KoAnn. “That’s a scary thing, which is why we keep our conversations grounded in the connection between the change we want to accomplish, and the business goals our community members are responsible to deliver.”