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Being Cause-Centric is More than Branding

USA Today reports that three years ago, Sony launched the Qualia line of luxury gadgets that included a tiny $3,300 digital camera and a $13,000 audio console that automatically centered a compact disc regardless of how carelessly it was tossed into the player.

Problem was, Sony engineers seemed more enamored with the extravagantly priced technology than consumers were, and the products meant to highlight Sony's fine-tuned prowess received little interest beyond the initial gee-whiz factor.

The gadgets were a sign of a growing gap between Sony creations and consumer sensibilities at the company that brought the world the Walkman portable music player. The company, which turned 60 this year, appeared to be losing touch with its customers.

"Sony used to be a company that had superior technology and cool design and created products that other companies didn't have," said Akihiko Jojima, author of "Sony's Sickness." "Sony has become merely a brand for brand's sake."

This observation reminds me of when I first meet potential clients and they ask me what I really mean when I use the term "cause-centric market development." Then I usually have to explain that today's purposeful marketing strategy shouldn't be thought of as the mere 'branding' of products and services.

I often must then demonstrate -- by specific storytelling examples -- how the definition of a typical 21st Century enterprise is that while many apparently stand-up for nothing, they therefore give the impression that they'll lay-down for just about anything.

Translation: the corporate culture, the essential character or belief system, is the foundational root of an organization's ability to clearly articulate their sense of purpose. In other words, an essential 'cause' that has intrinsic meaning (collectively and individually).

Sometimes I read one of the dictionary definitions -- cause: "a goal or principle served with dedication and zeal." I then ask people for a candid assessment of the percentage of their employees that are routinely acting with dedication and zeal. As I'm sure you can imagine, the inherent notion sinks-in at this point in the dialogue. This dude clearly isn't just describing "our branding process."

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