PSFK Challenges Brands to Do Good

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On November 1, I was honored to appear onstage with Jermaine Dupri at the PSFK  Conference San Francisco 2012, where we discussed how Dupri’s Global 14 social networking site brings community back to social media. The entire conference featured designers, creative thinkers, and marketers who shared innovative ways to operate businesses and build brands. The underlying theme was that brands should seize the opportunity to do good, not just make money.

All the speakers demonstrated different ways brands can do good. Jason Oberfest discussed how Mango Health uses a gaming app to help people manage their health. Scott Bradbury of Brandstream asked marketers to “find art in everything you do.” Dupri and Joe Gebbia of Airbnb challenged everyone at the conference to embrace real community. Airbnb, the online site where people rent their personal residences to each other, creates relationships, not just temporary lodging.

Global 14 helps emerging musicians develop their careers and creates an environment for all members to share ideas, not just social updates. (“We have lost communication on social networks and have become a social notifying world,” Dupri said.)

Regina Ellis of the Children’s Cancer Association delivered the most powerful presentation, which concerned the business of spreading joy. She opened her talk by describing the loss of her own daughter to cancer — an experience that taught her how to find joy in every precious moment we have on Earth, as her own daughter did before she passed away. The Children’s Cancer Center works with major brands like Apple and Nike to “give, get, and share” — a compelling vision for how brands can do good.

For example, through Music Rx and My Music Rx, children obtaining cancer care can experience the joy of music through live musical performances at treatment centers or by creating their own music, among other activities. My Music Rx is collaboration among the Children’s Cancer Association and brands ranging from Apple iTunes to Nike. Music for cancer stricken children: yes, brands can do good.

Meantime, Dupri and I shared four ways that businesses can enrich the lives of other people by building communities and developing ideas (our discussion was informed by our experiences working together — Dupri is a client of my employer, iCrossing):

1. Surprise and Delight

What kind of content do you expect the CEO of So So Def Recordings to share on his own social media community? Music, right? And Dupri shares plenty of music. But mostly he shares (usually through images) information about the sources of inspiration for his music: art, architecture, and fashion, to name a few.

 In doing so, he enriches perception of his personal brand but also exposes Global 14 members to fresh thinking. For instance, Dupri often posts updates about his visits to Factory Zero, a start-up in San Francisco that finds creative ways to bring fresh ideas to market.

2. Show Leadership by Sparking Discussion

Sharing content is one way to engage your community. But a brand (whether you are Dupri or Intel) can show leadership by empowering your community to share ideas with each other, especially about topical issues like the presidential election.  Earlier this year, before the Trayvon Martin shooting became national headline news, Dupri informed Global 14 members about the incident and sparked a passionate discussion about race and the justice system. And during the presidential debates, he hosted real-time forums on Global 14 to discuss the candidates.

Similarly, a brand like Apple could exercise leadership by sparking discussions about current events on community sites of their own. The challenge for brands: do good by forming your own communities and doing more than talking about your products and services.

3. Make Your Community a Proving Ground for New Content

Global 14 is a talent pool for the next generation of musical artists. Emerging musicians such as Destiny Underwood use the site to share their music and learn how to use social to engage an audience. So So Def Recordings acts such as Fresco Kane break use Global 14 as a proving ground for new songs before the public hears about them. Global 14 members are sharing content of their own, not simply expecting Dupri to do all the sharing.

You don’t have to be a fan of hip-hop to understand the opportunity here: you can make your own community a source of new ideas, such as experimental consumer-generated product designs or crowdsourced creative development.

4. Co-Create Ideas

The future of marketing is about sharing value, not money. iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri are experimenting with fresh ways to build a brand by co-developing ideas rather than exchange money or advertising. Through our co-branding relationship, iCrossing and Dupri co-develop thought leadership such as a video series on how to be a killer creative and how to build a connected brand with social media. iCrossing shares the videos with its C-level clients.


Both brands benefit from this kind of co-creation. Dupri gains exposure and builds his reputation as a business leader with major brands like Coca-Cola. iCrossing builds its own reputation for creativity, which is important as iCrossing reinvents its brand from search firm to full-services agency that builds connected brands.

The PSFK Conference San Francisco was remarkable for a number of reasons, among them that the event even happened at all while the New York-based PSFK reeled from the impact of Hurricane Sandy. (Many members responsible for putting on the conference were trapped in New York as the event was being planned, as were some attendees and speakers.) By creating an environment where brands could inspire each other to inject joy, community, and fresh thinking into their lives, PSFK Conference San Francisco did plenty of good. Bravo to Piers Fawkes and PSFK.

For an insightful overview of the event, check out this Marketing Know and How blog post — “12 Powerful Ideas on Creativity & Business from the PSFK Conference.”

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