The CSR Agenda: Taking threats seriously

Just imagine if we could dig through the trash can ( real or electronic) at EMI and some of the other record companies, and fish out the marketing plans from the last 10 years? Among the SWOT analyses and the PEST analyses - did the marketing manager say anything about how digital downloading - legal and illegal was a threat to these company's CD sales?

Now, I do not seek to condemn marketing managers of that industry – they alone were not responsible for averting destruction, there must have been an audience for those marketing plans. Yet here we are in 2007 with record companies in crisis because CD sales are in freefall - in the UK down 40% in the first six months of this year. Most other european markets are showing similar declines.

More than that, the whole business model for the music industry has shifted in the light of digital downloading. Now, an artist of the calibre of Prince is giving away his CD as a cover mount - ahead of a tour. The Charlatans are offering their latest single for free download, and Radiohead their latest album 'In Rainbows' for digital download on a 'pay what you want basis.'

A few years ago, to those in the music industry, digital downloading must have seemed a big, horrible threat - so big and horrible that there was probably always something better to attend to - such as a newly signed artist...or lunch!

Yes, it's easy with hindsight, but what if those same people had looked at the threat with the 'eyes of an innovator'? For an innovator - a threat is an opportunity to innovate - to develop something new that will satisfy the customer's needs in a better way - as the context of the world and their life changes.

Today it is the traditional music industry, that is threatened with extinction - who next tomorrow?

How about the personal care and beauty industry? The growth of demand for organic food grew rapidly. Now, similarly, attitudes are shifting about the chemical content of everything from deodorants and shampoos to foundation and eyeshadow.

Media scrutiny of this industry is gathering pace. This week we see Sarah Beeny a top presenter begin a series on Uk television* to explore the beauty industry, and specifically the accumulated research on the risks that some of the ingredients may pose to health. Sarah - young and trendy herself claims to have given up wearing cosmetics two years ago - out of concern for her health. Sarah is an opinion former, which surely means that hers are the types of comments that should be considered within the marketing plans for the beauty industry - under threats.

Is this threat to the beauty industry on a par with the impact of digital downloading on the music industry? You may say that the rise of organic food has not destroyed the rest of the food industry. But think about it. We have to eat. As Sarah Beeny indicates, most beauty products are discretionary. The risk is that consumers drastically reduce their participation in the sector - perhaps at the extreme to just a bar of soap, shampoo and maybe a deodorant (not antiperspirant - these too have been implicated in health scares).

The marketing of beauty products is set to change. For so long the industry has relied on a wholly emotional sell. The glamorous images of actresses and models offered a simple message "buy this and you too can look like me."

 There are as yet, only a few niche players who use a more rational sell - with a detailed focus on what's in the products - and just as importantly what's not in the product. However, interest in this area is growing rapidly. One of the niche skin care companies REN, is benefitting hugely from the current trend. Their products are clearly labelled "no petrochemicals."

I wonder if the rest of the beauty industry has got these threats 'covered'. Not just by putting them into the analysis part of the marketing plan, but also by taking effective action and using these threats as a platform for innovation.

As the music industry is learning, innovation or failure to do so, can be a matter of life or death.

 "How toxic are you? Channel 4 from 11th October"