Articles by This Author
Reign of Terroir
The Gort Cloud, A Must Read For Wineries
May 18th, 2009
The Gort Cloud, written by Richard Seireeni, a “30-year veteran in brand consulting and marketing”, is the most important internet savvy 2.0 ‘how to’ business book I’ve yet encountered. And every winery should read it. It offers a compelling strategy for brand positioning based entirely on ‘Green’ credentials. The book, subtitled The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands, provides a significant deepening of our understanding of how exactly a business, for our purposes, a winery, might successfully use the internet to secure and extend brand recognition. All that is required is a computer, a story, and commitment to environmentally-friendly practices.
So what is the Gort Cloud? From the book’s blurb:
“[It is] a vast and largely invisible network of NGOs, trendspotters, advocacy groups, social networks, business alliances, certifying organizations, and other members of the green community that in its entirety has the power to make or break new green brands.”
The book documents a series of case studies, successful companies, from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, TerraCycle, to Ben and Jerry’s Homemade, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Stonyfield Farm, all of whom have participated, in varying degrees, in the Gort Cloud.
And of its discovery, Mr. Seireeni writes,
“As I was busy sourcing information on these companies and their markets, I continually came across families of similar organizations, all sharing some aspect of sustainability. They included individual green businesses and green business alliances; advocacy groups; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government, and education Web sites; bloggers; trendspotters; social networks; certifying groups, technical libraries; news organizations; green guides and shopping sites; authors’ sites; and so many others.”
“Despite the fuzzy nature of the beast, I realized that this vast network is connected. People know one another. They share information…. They form alliances and cross-discipline exchanges…. [T]he network is not limited by the internet but facilitated by it. The internet provides convenient glue, but the contents spill out into the real world.”
The book’s endpapers provide a helpful visual aid of the Gort Cloud. It is reproduced on Seventh Generation’s web site.
So how does this book’s approach to brand promotion and marketing differ from others? After all, we have a multitude of titles to choose from, some of the best listed by the author himself: Cradle to Cradle, Eco-economy, Harvard Business Review on Business and the Environment, The Sustainability Revolution, The Ecology of Commerce, Green to Gold, and Natural Capitalism.
As Mr. Seireeni writes, “This book is more focused. It’s written for anyone interested in exactly how others have built green brands and how they developed a following.”
With specific reference to the wine industry, to wineries in particular, I’d like to contrast the Gort Cloud’s understanding of the commercial world with that of a recent Social Media Report written by a consulting firm whose principle focus is the wine industry, VinTank.
Of themselves they write,
“We create innovative, strategic online solutions for selling and marketing wine in the digital age by threading together business strategy, the realities of global wine commerce, the latest technology, and a strong network of relationships.”
And their Social Media Report broadly reflects this approach. But a striking departure from the Gort Cloud approach is the complete absence in VinTank’s report of any ‘green’ marketing references, the narrowing of recommended social networking platforms, a traditional insistence on control of the message, and the valorization of the comparative isolation of the winery. I’ll explain.
It is often said the proof is in the glass, that how a wine tastes is the principle, distinguishing consumer driver of any wine purchase. Here the consumer is understood as only interested in a single dimension. This would seem to be borne out not only by the success of established trade mags, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, for example, but more to the point, by the proliferation of internet-based wine review sites, a few of which are profiled in the report. The participation in social networks, and they strongly recommend three they call the “Big Boys”, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, a winery’s participation therefore becomes important because, in the words of the report:
“First, wineries have fans — like musicians and bands. To be more specific, winery customers follow a sales/brand acceptance funnel, from lead to prospect to customer to regular customer to evangelist. The psychology of a wine consumer lends them to want to have a direct relationship with the winery. Social media sites are direct enablers of this type of interaction.”
If a winery is not happy with playing with ‘acceptance funnels’ then The Gort Cloud concept, by contrast, suggests that a winery’s strength may not be limited to the vagaries of the tasting fan or his/her evangelical tendencies. Wineries have many other possible messaging avenues available to them beyond the 140 character ‘tweet’ or Facebook happy talk.
Here are a few of the promotional angles a winery might productively explore according to, as I read it, The Gort Cloud:
The use of solar power and other energy saving technologies;
Whether grapes are grown sustainably, organically, or biodynamically;
The use of a recycled waste-water system;
Enlightened farmworker contracts or protections, including health care;
The use of electric or biodiesel power for their machinery;
The character and depth of their community participation.
These are but a few of the possibilities. So how is this information to get out beyond a winery’s website? And I should add that VinTank strongly discourages winery blogs. They write:
“[W]e have been a loud opponent of winery blogs for some time. [W]e have heard consistently about the blog readers complaining about infomercials and conversations about terroir, the weather, or a picnic that they had.”
It is not clear where else but on a winery blog that all of the green and social justice achievements they might have realized, those listed above, might be read about. And it would seem ‘conversations about terroir, the weather’ are rather close to the heart of winegrowers. The ones I know are dying to tell folks about what they do, about their labor. Be that as it may…
And so it is that the author of The Gort Cloud would advocate that a business, a winery, also reach out beyond the limits of consumer preference sites (to the degree they are based on wine tasting alone), and make contact with diverse elements within The Gort Cloud. These would include advocacy groups, special interest authorities, green search engines, educational institutions, trendspotters, bloggers and podcasters, as well as social networks.
The Gort Cloud provides numerous compelling examples of how brand buzz may be generated through the promotion of green accomplishments, not to mention those bearing on social justice, by entering into a larger conversation, not simply that of impressionable millennials. Of course, a winery must have the goods, they must walk the walk. And in a world where 250 thousand wines are produced each year, a winery can ill afford not to use every marketing advantage at its disposal.
The age of what Seth Godin has called “shouting at strangers” is over. Green practices are a good place to start a real conversation.
For my subsequent interview with the gentleman please see this.
Don't Talk About Green
By Richard Seireeni, May 14, 2009
Don't talk about green.
And while we're at it, let's not talk about climate change, environmentalism or being socially responsible. Instead, let's talk about efficiency and reflecting the true cost of our lifestyle choices in our product prices. This is the surest way to move our society toward a sustainable future.
We are approaching the eye of the needle when smarter companies realize that we are running out of cheap resources and the cost of raw materials will only go higher. The recent run-up and subsequent decline in gasoline prices is indicative of a worldwide trend in higher raw material costs. Given increased population, increased demand from developing countries and a finite planet, this should come as no surprise to anyone -- even climate change deniers.
At the same time, budget-starved governments are increasingly reluctant to subsidize the inefficiencies, waste and toxic byproducts of business, like carbon that will inevitably become a cost of production and will ultimately be reflected in higher consumer prices. In fact, wherever we see huge corporations, we are likely to see huge subsidies and deferred costs.
Why is it that government foots most of the bill to clean up rivers, estuaries and Superfund sites, problems caused by business? Why should government subsidize the oil industry -- or the nuclear industry? Why doesn't the price of a nuclear-generated kilowatt-hour reflect the 100-plus years needed to decommission a plant, or to bury the spent fuel, or to properly insure lives and property in the event of accident? Why don't we see the health costs of burning coal reflected in that industry's energy prices? Why isn't the cost of recycling plastic bottles or pulling them out of the ocean built into the price of a Coke? Why should giant agribusiness receive farm subsidies designed for smaller family farms while evading the medical costs associated with modern eating habits they promote?
Conservatives and some pro-business groups howl when any change to promote green business practices gets floated, but why should elected officials support corporate socialism when they won't support civic socialism? Why should taxpayers support dinosaur industries when those subsidies could be used to seed new, more efficient and healthier ones? Why should a kilowatt-hour of clean wind energy cost more than one that comes from dirty coal, when the difference is hidden in deferred cost and subsidies?
Environmentalism and climate change is a convenient whipping boy for those intent on protecting vested interests. However, if the subject is changed to address efficiency and the elimination of subsidies to inefficient businesses, we have a new dialog based on price.
In this environment, companies that rapidly move toward more efficient models (call it greening if you like) will survive. Those that don't won't.
Richard Seireeni is president of The Brand Architect Group, Los Angeles, a strategic brand consultancy with affiliated offices in Tokyo and Shanghai. Richard Seireeni is the author of The Gort Cloud, a new book that describes the invisible network that is powering today's most successful green brands, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.
Is Japan Catching The Green Wave?
I'm in Tokyo this week having given a presentation on my newly published book, The Gort Cloud. As presentation's title is "Building Brands For The Age of Sustainability", I decided to do a quick audit to see if Japanese business is catching the green wave.
The first indication is on TV. NHK, the national broadcaster here, has been hosting a series of shows on the environment under the theme NHK Eco 2009. Eco, by the way, is the catchall word for things green, natural, organic, environmental or sustainable over here. NHK has been pushing this theme because Japan is currently in the "First Promise Period" of the Kyoto Protocol during which the nation has committed to reducing emissions to 6 percent lower than they were in 1990. Many economic planners also believe that sustainable technology presents one of the few opportunities for Japan's business and manufacturing future, a point NHK makes clear in their interviews.
However, when I visit the local grocery store, I'm amazed to see that clerks are still individually wrapping things that are already in packaging. When I get back to my room, I end up with more bags and boxes than product. Happily, I noticed that the local Muji store and the McDonalds have signs by the cash register begging customers to forgive them for not triple wrapping purchases. This appears to be part of the Team Minus 6 percent government program to reduce CO2 emissions by 1 kg per person per day.
I noticed that Panasonic had a large display at the fashionable Tokyo Midtown shopping center showcasing its Eco Ideas initiative. They are demonstrating super energy efficient household appliances that contribute to an ambitious plan to produce an Eco Ideas House that uses "advanced technologies for saving, creating, and storing energy, and utilizes natural elements of wind, light, water and heat… with virtually zero CO2 emissions...". I had an opportunity to visit one of their model homes today, and it is impressive. They are prefabricated in a factory and assembled on site complete with solar panels, electrical systems, appliances and even high efficiency lighting all manufactured by Panasonic.
On a similar note, there is the newly launched "Fukuoka Hydrogen Town" project that is using two model communities to demonstrate state-of-the-art hydrogen fuel cell technology to generate both electricity and hot water for individual residences. "This system can cover about 60 percent of the power consumption and about 80 percent of the hot water supply of typical households," according to Japan for Sustainability. The number of companies involved in these CGC or cogeneration projects reads like a who's who of Japanese business.
In addition to the speaking engagement, I'm also here to work with a Japanese vertical apparel maker. My client is known for their dedication to environmental stewardship, which leads me to the example of Teijin, the best-known maker of sustainably sourced textiles. Teijin recently announced the addition of the 100th participant to their closed-loop polyester reclamation program called Eco Circle. Teijin receives used polyester clothes from its partners, like Patagonia, to make new polyester at the molecular level. The original source of Teijin's polyester is plastic bottles so it is both sustainably sourced and reclaimed. GreenBiz.com wrote that Teijin will be supplying some of their blended polyester fabric to Sears to make eco-friendly men's suits.
Of course, word of GM's impending bankruptcy has everyone debating the future of cars over here. Will hybrids, with sagging sales, win out against EVs or hydrogen-powered vehicles? Who will come up with the most desired battery: the Koreans, the Japanese or the Chinese? And then there is news from Treehugger that Mitsubishi will be ramping up production of their i MiEV compact electric city car. The vehicle is available in Europe and Japan, but not yet in the U.S. In a case of assault and batteries, AutoblogGreen reports the i MiEV is being used in the Kanagawa Prefecture as a stealth police car. Like most EVs, the i MiEV uses lithium ion technology, like in laptops. Meanwhile Japanese and American automakers have been working to establish battery standards that could give them an edge over other countries in the quest to corner the auto battery market, according to Greentech Media.
Evidence of other changes in Japanese transportation can be seen in the number of hybrid buses and delivery trucks that are already on the road. The Japanese postal service has announced plans to move toward fuel-efficient vehicles, and I even saw a three-wheel motorcycle taxi today.
Japan has been the world's largest producer of solar cells and modules for some time. The big players are Sharp, Kyocera, Sanyo and Misubishi. The largest buyer, however, has been Germany. This may be changing as the Japanese government applies more pressure to use renewable energy. I'm seeing evidence all over: A solar powered rail station just opened in Osaka prefecture. Daido Steel is planning to install a sun-tracking solar system that will focus energy onto highly efficient power cells. While Kyushu University is planning solar collectors that will float on the ocean like water lilies. Yes, there is a lot going on.
It's beautiful this time of year in Japan. We're at the height of Sakura, the annual budding of the cherry blossoms. It's a time when Japanese are especially conscious of nature, and nowhere is nature more revered than in Kyoto, a city that has become a center for environmental action and a source for local, handmade and organic products. It's a bit like Burlington, Vermont or Portland, Oregon in that sense. The center of this ancient town is full of little craft shops and restaurants touting something they call, Slow Eco. Crafts, slow food, regional style – these are all things embedded in Japanese culture, so it's nice to see how these traditions are connecting to global environmental awareness.
To wrap this up with some finality, I can report that Tri-Wall K.K., a Japanese maker of packaging materials, has come up with an eco-friendly coffin, called, as you might guess, "Ecoffin". "The main material of the product is triple-layer board, while the fabric for the inner and outer packaging is 100-percent-rayon or 100-percent-cotton, which is a natural material. Furthermore, natural adhesives are used. In addition, the company plants 10 trees for each coffin used. For one funeral, about 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted, but this tree planting offsets these CO2 emissions."
I should point out that my book, The Gort Cloud, reveals how the green community is powering the development of new green brands and products in America. Is there a similar network at work here in Japan? The answer is yes. There are a number of green news organizations, government agencies, advocacy groups and green lifestyle promoters that contribute to a kind of Japanese gort cloud. Japan For Sustainability is one of my favorites with lots of short, up-to-date news items. Alterna is another green news source as is Sotokoto. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment is the ultimate source for all national environmental programs. Greenz.jp is a bit like Treehugger, while JapanGreen.tv channels information including videos to viewer's computer screens. A group called the Japan Environment Association sponsors a Green Purchasing Network, promoting eco-friendly goods and services. My Japanese partner and myself through our company, The Brand Architect Group, are also at work promoting green brand and marketing programs in Japan.
There is little doubt: Japan is building brands for the age of sustainability. They may have been a little late getting started, like the U.S., but Japanese business has heeded the call and is ramping up.
This article was originally posted on GreenBiz.com.
February 17, 2009
Visualizing A Green Network
The Brand Architect Group
There’s a vast and growing network that supplies partners, support and a market for aspiring green brands. I discovered this network in the process of interviewing America’s top green business leaders for my new book, The Gort Cloud. Very few of these companies were using traditional media. Instead, they were using direct outreach to the green community to develop awareness and sales. Because I have this terrible habit of giving my clients’ projects odd but memorable names, I couldn’t help doing the same here. I named this network the gort cloud, but more on that later.
The gort cloud consists of publications, like Environmental Leader. It also includes green academics, business organizations, NGOs, certifying agencies, special interest groups, green tech, trendspotters, green retailers and, ultimately, eco-conscious consumers. A quick look at this chart illustrates how individuals and organizations are arranged by function and how they interact and support each other.
This is where an ecopreneur can find investment partners, technical advice, product evaluation, distributors, and customers. While the gort cloud is facilitated by personal contacts as well as by the Internet, the opportunities to make use of modern social media techniques to increase outreach should be obvious. All the tricks of Web 2.0 can be found at work here.
To illustrate the network’s ability to promote viral awareness of a new green product idea, I commissioned software artist Burak Arikan to create a gort cloud network simulation. This simulation imagines the spread of awareness in a new product idea beginning with a post on Treehugger and then spreading to green news organizations like this one and then off and throughout the many nodes and clusters within the gort cloud.
While traditional media is pay-to-play, the gort cloud is driven by the currency of truth and a common desire to increase the number of earth-friendly products. All of this is overseen by an academic-style peer review process that vets out greenwashers, but – and this is important – this network is entirely self-replicating and uncontrolled.
So back to the name, gort. It comes from the Oort Cloud, a vast stellar debris field orbiting the earth far beyond Pluto. We know the mass is large, but we don’t know how large. We know that the pieces are tiny, like dust, yet this invisible mass has enormous implications for earth because this is where comets come from. The gort cloud is similar. It is a vast, interconnected but invisible network that is giving birth to the Age of Sustainability.
That’s an impact we can look to without apprehension.