15 May 2013

iCrisis, version 2.0

Three years ago I predicted the coming armageddon for brands by discussing databases and  highlighting the Good Guide mobile app.  If you haven't heard of it, that's the app where you scan the barcode of a box of cereal in a store with your smartphone and the app tells you that the cereal manufacturer "violated the Clean Water Act" or has some controversial ingredient in it. It also offers any number of "higher rated" substitute products that more closely meet the app founder's standards.  Back then I tried it and then I wrote:
And then I realized it's just a matter of time before I'm going to learn if a company discriminates against gay people, or is a union buster, or has a CEO that denies climate change, or has a political action committee that gives only to Republicans, or has a slew of OSHA violations, or doesn't pay any taxes, or has another product that's being recalled - ALL AT THE POINT OF SALE.
The good news about Good Guide is the database is responsibly curated - while the owners of the database are of the west-coast, granola-crunchy variety, they are at least open to discussion with people from other points of view or agendas.

That's all changed.  Welcome to Buycott, the new wild west of social activism.

This is the app brands should have spent the past three years preparing to address.  It's the app that has the best chance to politicize purchasing decisions more than we've ever seen.   It's deep enough to offer tools that sophisticated activists want, like a corporate "family tree" that lets you identify corporate partners and parent companies. It's open enough to let users crowd-source the database and it's social enough to let people start or join causes and specific boycotts.  And it's audacious enough to get good press.

So now when mom walks into a store, she has an entire social movement or two on her phone.  And she has so much more data at her fingertips than just three years ago.  The advice I gave three years ago, however, still applies:
So there are a few things companies should be doing YESTERDAY to protect their reputations and their brands:
  • Upgrade your social media monitoring efforts to see what's written about you in all these mobile-accessed databases. Good Guide is a start. Make sure the info is accurate. Contact them if it's not. 
  • Build relationships with the folks who make these databases and these apps. Understand their motivation, work with them to make sure you're presented in the best possible light. 
  • Partner with credible organizations to build your own databases and applications. Support some of these groups by underwriting some of the cost, providing technical support, and letting them know they can work with you. 
  •  Promote responsible efforts to give consumers all the information they want and need to make smart decisions. Consumers reward the companies that advocate for them. 
Or, sit back and wonder why people stopped buying your stuff.
Now it's a bit harder to build those relationships, but at least we know where to look.

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