Companies with Deep-Connect value

Co-op Grocer Building Anti-Racist Communities

From Seward Co-op Scorecard 2019;

In the past ten years there has been a trend, growing from a small base, amongst co-op grocers to generate competitive advantages out of transformative forces leading to an anti-racist society. The co-op grocers offer wide-ranging benefits going well beyond food which involve addressing affordability, usability, sustainability and diversity issues, thereby engaging in community-building for a progressive future.

An example is Seward Co-op in Minneapolis. In 2013 they decided to open a second store in the minority-majority Bryant neighborhood which was underserved in groceries. The second store opened in 2016, leading to a total market positioning as follows.

Business paradigm of co-op, sustainability and diversity

The business paradigm is rooted in the traditional principles of the cooperative economy: members are owners with voting rights and discounts, personnel are trained in co-op ideals, and “intentional sourcing” prioritizes suppliers embodying the ideals of healthy, low-cost food. The co-op traditions have been modernized to include sustainability: 80 % of waste is recycled; local and organic products are sourced to minimize to the environmental impact; bulk quantities are promoted and money is given back to shoppers using reusable bags. The paradigm has been further updated to include diversity in the personnel.

Network of benefits and stakeholders

Seward’s offers make up a network of benefits, connected in their essence. Alongside the high-quality food offering throughout the product range, “Staples” signs in the shop highlight basic inexpensive healthy food, classes inform about how to shop on a budget and recipes are shown for healthy meals costing less than $10 for a family of four. Additionally for low-income customers, the Nourish program gives discounts on daily purchases. Furthermore, the«Community Foods» own-label promotes into the mainstream of the co-op’s product range a set of products fromthose producers that best align with the cooperative values and mission to sustain a healthy economy. Priority is given to BIPOC producers. Finally, Seward also promotes alternative transportation to and from the store via privileged parking for participants in car- and bike-sharing programs as well as price discounts for bicyclists.

The co-op promotes relationships with stakeholders inside and outside the store, such that it is present in the minds of the stakeholders, who then are “naturally” drawn to the two stores to shop. Personnel are recruited from the neighborhood, including a partnership with an employment agency that works with dislocated, low-income, welfare-transition and new immigrant workers. Thus a relatively high proportion of employees have multi-lingual skills and minority backgrounds. The co-op raises money for customer seed donations to the local community and itself finances grants and scholarships to locals. The stores serve as locations for community meetings. Even before the second store in Bryant opened, the co-op engaged in dialog with multiple community-based organizations, even before the new store opened. To keep the dialog alive, Seward has a full-time community education coordinator.

Unique offers create loyalty and convergence

The network of interconnected benefits as well as the active stakeholder relations create value that is not available in other stores, binding customers to the store. These distinctive offers are supplemented by further elements giving Seward an exclusive market position, setting it apart from other grocers. The company complied with customer requests for employees in the Bryant store “who look like us.” A Black employee living in the neighborhood reported that her neighbors come in the store and say to her “I’ve never been to a co-op before” or “I would never have come to a place like this.” In addition, the co-op is unusually open to direct customer feedback to individual products: in 2019 there were 629 product changes resulting from customer requests. Customers perceive the uniqueness of the Seward stores and see little reason to shop elsewhere.

The Seward Co-op represents a convergence between the three strands of first, those promoting self-ownership coupled with inexpensive basic nutrition, as is traditional to the co-op movement, second, those working for sustainability and third, those working for food justice in the form of diversity and inclusion for personnel and customers. The co-op’s activist anti-racist stance is underlined by murals placed on the stores created by local, BIPOC-led artist groups. The murals support the community in metabolizing trauma in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, particularly important to the city of Minneapolis. The co-op facilitates a stakeholder dialog on what it means to commit to Black liberation as a co-op community, for which gatherings are organized. Additionally, resources are made available for people to create art and signs which can be hung at home or carried on demonstrations.

Building communities generates business success

Thus, Seward undertakes much in and around the two stores to build stakeholder communities of customer-owners, personnel, suppliers, community groups and others who think this way. Doing good for these communities also generates business success. Indeed, advantageous benefits are in fact offered to People of All Colors, promoting the transformation to a sustainable economy and an anti-racist society. 

Companies with Deep-Connect value

P&G Aims at Transformation

Procter and Gamble undertakes a large number of activities which aim at transforming society in a progressive direction. Selected initiatives are summarized in this post.

The firm has broadened its objectives well beyond financial values. The goals in the Ambition 2030 enable and inspire positive impact on the environment and society while creating value for the firm and the consumer. Social and environmental responsibility is an integral component of every brand. P&G wants to be a force for good and a force for growth. The firm believes that the more it can integrate and build Citizenship into how it does business, the bigger the impact P&G can have on the people it serves, the communities where these people live and work and the broader world. In turn, this helps the firm to grow and build its business.

Broadly speaking, P&G is making meaningful connections in two ways. First, it works closely together with numerous business, not-for-profit and state organisations to raise the sustainability of its own operations. It also connects with such organisations to improve the sustainability balance of the suppliers and the end consumers of its products and packaging, which will have a far greater impact. Second, it has run numerous internal and external campaigns to address societal issues and steer towards a society where all can fully participate. For example, P&G aspires to a world which is free of gender bias. The marketing campaign #LikeAGirl challenges the demeaning stereotypes of ineffectual girls associated with this slogan, presenting images of resolute and forceful girls. The campaign #NOCOMPETITION showcases top female athletes who advocate eliminating toxic competition in beauty amongst women.

Such P&G marketing campaigns “sell themselves”, as it were, in the sense that the campaigns attract attention and are referenced and shown in other media by journalists, influencers and private individuals. For example, the advertisements “The Look”, “The Talk” and “The Choice” inspire people of all colors from around the world to take action against racism. The many articles and posts about the ads have raised their impact, stimulating a community of like-minded people who support an active engagement in anti-racism.

Initiatives which are more closely tied to the consumption of P&G products capture the minds of the targeted customers to change social behaviours for the better. For example, in Africa many girls who have entered puberty stay home from school on those days when they have their period due to shyness and insecurity. The Always brand of tampons ran a campaign to encourage confidence, a sense of personal care and self-security via use of the product. The rates of school absence among girls were lowered. In India, 70% of children believe it’s a woman’s responsibility to do the laundry. The Ariel brand of washing powder updated its #ShareTheLoad campaign with a new film that asks, “Isn’t it time we change the way we raise our sons and teach them what we teach our daughters?” Since the beginning of the campaign, the percentage of Indian men who think “household chores are a woman’s job” dropped from 79% to 52%.

P&G looks to grow by, among other things, a convergence in the methods of combating social issues. For example, 1.3 billion people in the world have some kind of disability. P&G implements overlapping methods to assist them in their everyday. Inclusive design is a technique in product development to ensure that products are accessible to as many people as possible, e.g. even those with arthritis can open the package and even those in a wheelchair can use the product. Training programs help disabled people to function in the workplace; more crucially, training programs are also developed to help those working with disabled people to understand how they can best behave to optimize the teamwork. P&G promotes the free Be My Eyes app, which brings sight to people with low or no vision. The app establishes a live video connection between the visually disabled and sighted volunteers. The volunteers can help with many everyday challenges, from checking expiry dates to finding lost items. 

For P&G, serving five billion people gives the brands the unique opportunity to delight consumers through superior product performance and spark conversations, influence attitudes, change behaviors and drive positive impact on society and the environment. The firm intends for each brand to define a commitment to help solve a societal challenge in which the brand is uniquely and meaningfully able to contribute.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

Events at mountain resort with overlapping value in “Greenstyle”

Source: White Arena Group and Adrian Beeli

The White Arena Group is a mountain resort company operating in the three Swiss villages Flims, Laax and Falera, and was already portrayed regarding its green ski hotel (see below). The Group organizes events offering value in overlapping contexts which correspond to the external demand interfaces of Deep-Connect value. These events are bundled under the brand GREENSTYLE which the Group launched in 2010 as an umbrella for all its many and varied sustainability activities.

An event in the resort with Deep-Connect value was actually a kind of “exhibition”. The LAAX Vintage Days took place on 24 and 25 August 2019 at the piazza of the shi hotel named rocksresort. The exhibition linked value for the visitor in several contexts, all of which embodied value in Deep-Connect. 

  • First, the visitor could choose from the offerings of 17 exhibitors, united by the theme of sustainable consumption. A unique concentration of used and sustainably produced garments was available, which could both cover existing as well as expand into new areas the preferences of consumers. 
  • Second, music and food – with a focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes – provided inspiration for an environmentally conscious lifestyle. 
  • Third, lectures, workshops and a film introduced the related themes of vintage clothes and sustainability. 
  • Fourth, the reuse of clothes was supported by a free mending service for clothes brought in by visitors, along with a demonstration of upcycling. 
  • Fifth, five percent of the exhibitors’ income went to the Greenstyle Foundation and is in turn used for the preservation and protection of the environment in the entire destination Flims Laax Falera. 
  • Sixth, visitors were invited to sell their old clothes. Clothing items delivered in advance were selected and prepared for resale. The proceeds from the items sold went 50 percent to the owner and 50 percent to the Greenstyle Foundation. 

Additional events of the White Arena Group were also designed according to the principles of sustainability and value in multiple contexts, as in the following

  • The meaningfulness of maintaining and upgrading the Unesco World Natural Heritage Site Tectonic Arena Sardona above Flims was underlined by the networking of sport and culture. In the summer of 2019, 26 hammocks were strung on site to form the longest hammock chain in the world. Nearby, an 800-meter long highline – the longest in Switzerland – was set up, whereupon several top slackline artists from all over the world demonstrated their skills. Right next to it an art installation was realized. A crystal, built from slackline straps, ropes and hammocks, was mounted on the rock next to the waterfall. The crystal is symbolically based on a snow or water crystal and refers to the water erosion in the mountains.
  • Sustainability characterizes the “Sudden-Rush Banked Slalom.” The discipline combines casual snowboarding through steep turns with speed and is considered the original discipline of snowboard competition. The participants are a colourful mixture of hobby athletes, active professionals and former top athletes, whereby the latter can probably be called living snowboard legends. During the competition there were discussions with experts about sustainability; advertising media made of recycled wood as well as start numbers from old banners, produced without date to be able to reuse them; the course was completely hand shaped without machine support; Patagonia’s Worn Wear Repair Tour stopped in Laax so that outdoor clothing of all brands were repaired free of charge; wildlife protected areas were avoided in constructing the course; and part of the entry fees was donated to the Atlantic Rainforest Institution and the Greenstyle Foundation of the Group, which supports regional environmental protection projects. A casual and celebratory atmosphere overlaid the entire event. Xavier De Le Rue, former Freeride World Champion and for the first time at the SuddenRush Banked Slalom, summed it up wonderfully: “It’s totally satisfying that the snowboarding vibe is so alive here in LAAX. This event is so refreshing and simply heartwarming. I will certainly come back.“
  • The “Swiss Ice Challenge” generated new experiences or sources of value through the in-depth networking of digitisation, the touristic destination LAAX, the cooperation of two different organisations and the central role of communities – among participants, in the local area and in solidarity with non-profit organisations. In the event itself, it is simply a matter of the participants “lightly dressed” – in T-shirt and shorts – walking back and forth between Crap Sogn Gion and Crap Masegn in the depths of winter. What sounds like a teenage prank, however, primarily promotes awareness of the health-promoting aspect of “self-leadership”, which the Erna Foundation in charge is striving for. In a six-week online preparation programme, the approximately 100 participants are trained to control their own breathing, heart rate and blood circulation and thus to cope better with external conditions. Well-known personalities from cultural and sports circles took part and the six-figure donations collected were given to two charitable organisations. The ambience of the Weisse Arena Group was value-enhancing, as the Erna Foundation had chosen the company as the ideal partner for “somewhat different events” like this one and is striving for a long-term partnership.

In the context of the environment, the White Arena Group takes an extremely active stance. For the Group, a sustainable approach to nature is fully in line with its sustainable management as a company: “We offer our guests experiences in a unique natural environment. Our business activities are always in harmony with these natural resources and we are committed to sustainable use of them, because an intact environment is a guarantee for our future and for the next generation.” In order to emphasise this principle, the Group launched the GREENSTYLE brand in 2010 as the hallmark for all efforts in favour of the environment. The brand sensitises employees, business partners and customers to the environment. WAG is convinced that the positive ecological balance of a holiday resort will attract customers. 

In autumn 2019 WAG announced an ambitious vision for GREENSTYLE, in which Flims Laax Falera is to become the first self-sufficient alpine resort. The entire energy demand of the resort is to be covered by regional renewable energy. To this end, the Group has drawn up a comprehensive 7-point plan, ranging from the electrified mobility and decarbonisation of the buildings to expanding the production of renewable energy. As a groundbreaking thought-provoking impulse, WAG presents the cheeky closing remark: “Imagine our resort is transformed from consumer to producer of energy.”

Companies with Deep-Connect value

9 interconnected value contexts in a green ski hotel

rocksresort is a complex owned and operated by the White Arena Group, located right next to the skilift in the village of Laax in the Swiss Alps. It has a hotel and holiday apartments, playgrounds for children and young people, as well as sports facilities such as badminton, skate boarding, trampoline and slackline. The complex also offers a comprehensive range of services with shops, restaurants and bars, and is increasingly becoming a location for events. In short, rocksresort offers everything one needs for a holiday in the mountains. Combining a residential residence with sports facilities, an event location and a shopping mall, rocksresort represents the entirety of a holiday destination in a microcosm of approximately two hundred metres. Nine networked contexts for the guest form Deep-Connect value, starting with the guest and including more and more communities, as shown in the graphic and outlined below.

1. Group feeling despite divergent activities: A group of guests with different preferences, whether family or peers, can pursue their own preferences and still stay connected because they are in the same place. The guests enjoy their own activities more, because they know that they are part of a travel group, while the others in the group follow their preferences and are just around the corner; due to the physical proximity the group feeling of joint activities is preserved.

2. Low-emission holiday: For the duration of the holiday stay at the rocksresort, the guest can partially or completely do without a motorised vehicle. Many holiday activities are immediately available in the complex or can be easily reached by walking or the free shuttle bus in the village. 

The offers 1 and 2 are linked: From the two contexts of group feeling and environmental friendliness a further value is created, namely conscious, considered and thoughtful holidays. Value in Deep-Connect comes from guests experiencing themselves as more aware of their self, the group and the environment by organising the holiday accordingly. 

3. Aesthetic embedding in the locality: The aesthetic sense of the guest is stimulated by the value of an architecture that takes up the forms and materials of the region and reinterprets them. The architecture and design of the complex is of great value to the guest in the context of the aesthetic embedding in the area through the authentic atmosphere both in terms of the landscape and society. 

4. Low energy consumption in the buildings: rocksresort was built to optimise energy consumption and conserve resources. At the heart of the energy supply is a central woodchip-fired heating system for heat and hot water, fired by wood waste from the locale, thereby minimizing transportation costs and emissions.

In offers 3 and 4, the architectural concept of the complex links authenticity and sustainability. Together with offer 2, the contexts of activities and architecture are unified in the overall design of the complex to be sustainable, creating additional meaningful value in Deep-Connect.

5. Hotel service or self-catering in the apartment: In rocksresort there are only suites with kitchen and living room. The services of a hotel are available, or the guest can cook and clean on his own, or choose a mixture of both. In the rocksresort the apartments can be purchased, which means that the guest can become a co-owner of the holiday complex. As the owner of the holiday apartment, the guest can also choose from the same services as for the hotel guests: Living like at home with all the comforts of a hotel. Linked with offer 1, the planning and execution of the activities in rocksresort can be arranged as a whole with many alternatives that can easily be coordinated, e.g. two guests play badminton while two cook. The value created for the family or group of friends as a “Community” by linking the two contexts represents further meaningful value in Deep-Connect.

6. Events on the doorstep: rocksresort increasingly organizes events and happenings of various kinds, e.g. an outdoor market for sustainable clothes, concerts, and sports competitions. The events link with offers 1 and 5 as another context in which the holiday activities are enriched and coordinated. Furthermore, rocksresort is becoming an “in” place to be and the guest enjoys the privilege of being on-site where exciting things are happening.

7. Social community of regularly returning guests: Both owners and hotel guests visit rocksresort regularly, creating the possibility for bonding. Together with offer 1, there is a sense of an active community at rocksresort: the guest can look forward to encounters throughout the stay, which may be planned, imagined or a welcome surprise.

8. Apartment owner is a co-entrepreneur: A condition for the purchase of an apartment is participation in the novel “buy-to-use-and-let” concept. When the owner is not in the suite, it is rented out by the White Arena Group as if it were a hotel room to guests. Each owner makes the suite available for rent during a minimum number of weeks in the year. The proceeds from the rental are shared out equally amongst the owners, who thus collectively act as landlords.

Because the rocksresort is designed to be ecologically, aesthetically and economically sustainable and thus focused on value retention, the owner can consider himself an investor in an environmentally friendly and financially sound property in a future-oriented holiday resort. And this in a community with other owners, where the pooling model means that there is no competition but cooperation. Thus contexts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 reinforce each other, creating Deep- Connect value. The owners experience themselves in a community of people with shared leisure, business and environmental interests and the same taste in architecture and interior design.

9. Promoter of regional development: The “buy-to-use-and-let” concept represents an important contribution to the business development of the White Arena Group, the rocksresort complex and the village of Laax as a touristic destination. Both owners and hotel guests can stay in the suites, raising the number of visitors during the year to the destination, from which all local businesses potentially benefit. Thus the owners gain value from contributing to the regional development of an area which they have chosen as a kind of home. The regional development in turn is supported by the attractive value in rocksresort of offers 1 – 8. In this way the owners gain value in Deep-Connect through the personal and economic connection to the entire destination.

Summing up, the meaningful value in Deep-Connect from the rocksresort complex forms a tightly interconnected structure of value generated in nine contexts. Thanks to this interconnected value rocksresort stands for a new, alpine lifestyle. In November 2017 rocksresort was awarded World’s Best Green Ski Hotel at the World Ski Awards, in November 2019 it was awarded second best. With its modern architecture and innovative concept, it generates social and aesthetic as well as ecological and economic value in the nine interconnected contexts.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

Air Bag, not helmet, for a New Bicycling World

15 years ago two Swedish industrial designers came up with an idea for an alternative to the bicycle helmet: an air bag worn around the neck. Three innovation prizes, an IPO and three product generations later, the Hövding, as the product is called, checks the bodily movements 200 times per second and when the motion indicates an accident, an upholstered hood opens within 0.1 seconds to protect the neck and entire head. Scientific tests show that this round-about protection offers more protection than a helmet. Hövding is also the name of the company, which exhibits features of Deep-Connect value in its external demand interfaces.

The air bag is accompanied by an app, which can be used to monitor the load in the air bag’s battery and which, in case of an accident, notifies contact persons who have been entered into it. The app also tracks the customer’s bicycling tours and, with the allowance of the customer, enables Hövding to collect data on the bicycling behaviour of the customers, in general and specifically in accidents. A product reviewer reported that the average Hövding wearer rides five times per week at an average speed of 14 km/h for a total of 18.7 kilometres. The data collection via the app is the basis for the new paradigm as in Deep-Connect value: the company wants to create a better future by understanding bicycling more completely. Hövding wants to influence city planners to create cities that are more bicycle friendly. By agreeing to join the Hövding community and share data, customers can make their contribution to realising this better world.

The essential connections have already been named: between the wearer’s bodily movements and the air bag, between an injured wearer and the emergency contact persons, between the rider and the tracked routes, within the community of Hövding customers who share data, and between Hövding and city authorities to create cities more suited to bicycling.

The air bag represents an absorbing solution in the novelty of safe bicycling with the head free to enjoy the wind as the only impairment to the hairstyle, as well as the many ways in which the protection is superior to that of a conventional helmet, both for the head and for contacting help.

The solution sells itself in that there has been much publicity and media attention for the innovative product throughout the company history. In addition, there are many satisfied customers who pledge their allegiance to the product on social media. One Swiss customer enthusiastically wrote a post about swearing by the product for four years; in addition his wife avoided severe head injuries due to wearing the Hövding.

The product represents the convergence between safety solutions in two kinds of vehicles: automobiles and bicycles. There is also the convergence in the technologies between a product, the air bag, and a service, the app with its functions.

It should be noted that the air bag is best suited for an upright body position on the bicycle and not when leaning forward as e.g. with a racing bicycle; functions only for persons who are older than 15 years due to the algorithms for bodily movements; and will not protect the wearer against obstacles at head height, e.g. low-hanging branches or garage doors tilted at an unfavourable angle.

Summing up, Hövding the company and Hövding the product, now in its third generation, are leading the way to a new paradigm of inter-connected elements in which bicycling is comprehensively improved: safer, more comfortable and better accommodated in cities.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

Wholly subscriber-financed journalism

The Republic is an online newsmagazine running on a business formula for journalism that has been widely discussed for years – financing via subscriptions only – but rarely practiced with success. The success comes from in fact doing much more than just journalism for subscribers, in a manner that reflects the external demand interfaces of a company offering Deep-Connect value.

Three “health warnings” in advance. First, this blog post is ridiculously long, running to almost 3,000 words. Second, I am a customer of the company being blogged on, as will become clear in the post. The blog post has been written based on my own experience and the communication of the company with all of its customers. The company and its employees have not been involved in any manner in the writing of this post. Third, in light of the first two warnings it is advisable to repeat that in the posts the focus is on the value offered and not on weaknesses or shortcomings.

The Republic (“Die Republik”) addresses a readership primarily in German-speaking Switzerland and is based in Zurich. Six days a week they distribute per mail two to three articles to their “publishers”, as they designate their subscribers. The reference to publishers is a first indication of what The Republic does which is unusual and represents Deep-Connect value: the customers are treated as financiers and thus can have a say in running the business. More on that later. The articles represent high-quality journalism: the bulk of the articles are in-depth reports, thoroughly researched, covering mostly society and politics, and also business and culture. From the beginning there was the clear decision for “no sports”, which from the point of view of this subscriber – er, publisher – for reasons of personal interest is somewhat disappointing, and considering that sport is increasingly reflecting business, society and politics – and probably somehow culture – the decision is also somewhat difficult to understand, but that’s how it is.

Anyway, the decision was probably taken in keeping with the wider purpose of The Republic: not simply high-quality journalism free from advertising, but more prominently an important contribution to democracy. The Republic sees itself as making a significant input to its reading and financing public, to inform them so that they can participate in political decision-making in a more informed manner. The purpose to inform in this way leads to a focus on topics in Switzerland, but also includes much reporting beyond the Swiss borders to include Europe and the world, because Switzerland is traditionally a very open society. And in Switzerland, with its system of direct democracy, coupled with the reality of a nation consisting of a relatively small population, individuals do feel that their decisions have an impact on politics and thus there is certainly an interest to be informed accordingly. Furthermore, from the perspective of The Republic, and probably from the “publishers” as well, one step further from supporting democracy is to promote freedom; the two go hand-in-hand. This is the core of the new paradigm as in Deep-Connect value: the readers finance an organisation which they and the journalists working there both regard as in fact an institution in the political system of the country, where part of the institutional power of the organisation is that its readers participate in the political processes in part by drawing on what they read.

Another characteristic of Deep-Connect value is that essential connections are made in the offers to the customers. The Republic offers four kinds of essential connections. One essential connection made by the newsmagazine was described above: journalism connecting to democracy and freedom which connects to political activity. 

A second essential connection is the expanded role of the customers, i.e. the subscribers, i.e. the publishers. Firstly, they – or I should say we – are invited to comment on individual articles. This is a widespread practice for online journalism; it’s just that, in my experience, on other news websites there are a limited number of comments. On The Republic there are often dozens, or even over one hundred comments and replies to comments. The feedback culture is alive and well at The Republic. It is more than a feedback culture: the commenters are made into co-journalists, where their comments become part of the journalistic output which is read by the publishers. The feedback culture goes even further in a second connection. As publishers, we are constantly invited to give feedback to the business plans of the organization. The strategy, marketing methods, major types of costs, and so forth are laid open for comment from the publishers. Although we are all laywomen and laymen in the business of journalism, we are invited to make contributions as co-businesspeople.

Thirdly, we laywomen and laymen are asked to exercise our non-expert thinking in the practice of journalism itself, if we care to. An article published in The Republic was formally criticised in a Swiss journalistic oversight organ for misrepresenting certain facts. The Republic not only informed the publishers about this criticism, but laid open the internal procedures for fact-checking which lie behind every article. We were served up the Excel document which soberly listed in one column every statement in the article, matched in a second column by the source of the “evidence”. This Excel document is checked by a second journalist, and not by the one who wrote the article. So those of us who have spent our lives reading journalism not only now know how this kind of editing review is done, but have the opportunity to make a comment. We are co-editors in establishing the editorial processes. Drawing this all together, the publishers are thus fourthly invited to take part in the entire business of the organisation, as co-journalists, as co-businesspeople and as co-editors. We have the chance to be co-entrepreneurs with a finger in everything.

In the third essential connection made by The Republic, the interaction between journalists who are well informed and have opinions and the readership in a similar position goes beyond the boundaries of the website. The Republic regularly organises events reflecting the topics in the newsmagazine – sadly enough, nothing about sports, as already noted, but rather culture, politics and society. Regarding culture, the book club, or book salon, as it has been newly christened, is an intensive discussion amongst three journalists of three books, moderated by a fourth journalist and open to questions from the audience. Journalists jump over their own shadow in that they are willing to speak and not just write, and the audience gathers in a public room to listen and question instead of just reading on their couch. The quality of the discussion in the book salon stands in an inverse relation to the quantity of attendees, at least the three that I attended with great interest; but it seems that no one is particularly bothered by that: one reason why this may be the case is presented just below. Another event – in politics – was an interview with the leader of the Green Party in Germany, which drew a much larger crowd. And the societal issue of prostitution, which in Switzerland is legal but nevertheless operates somewhat undercover and can involve illegal activities such as human trafficking, drew an overflow crowd of hundreds for the discussion between a journalist and three practitioners. We were agog. Where else can one take part in such a discussion?

The fourth essential connection at The Republic is, loosely described, the IT features. That is, the reader is connected to an enormous reservoir of information and news in a very manageable manner. Firstly, every article is choc-a-bloc with links; this is an online newsmagazine that lives in the internet world with a vengeance. Secondly, many of the articles are organised on the website into sets of articles on the same topic, referred to as dossiers, e.g. on prostitution – as an aside, the event was not just a one-off but built on the fundament of a set of articles which I assume will be continued. That is, the website is structured to offer articles which are connected to one another. Readers can inform themselves in-depth on a topic via a set of in-depth articles. Thirdly, items appear regularly with high-powered IT features. For example, during the recent national elections, readers had access to a database providing the voting record in parliament of the candidates, a profile of their views on key issues, and so forth. The navigation smoothly enabled one to filter the candidates in a given canton and then flick through their profiles, swiping candidates to the left to be ignored and those to the right for later referral. Yes, you got it – just like in Tinder, as remarked by The Republic itself.

Fourthly, all the events are recorded and then made available as a podcast. This is, perhaps, the reason why the enthusiasm for the book salon remains high even if attendance is sparse. The readership is connected to the event even without attending. Podcasts are also made for interviews with journalists, e.g. the two journalists who travelled to five Near Eastern countries to write articles about the grassroots movements underneath autocratic regimes talked about the challenges and rewards of doing this kind of journalism. Fascinating. Fifthly, articles can be downloaded or shared per mail or social media, to create a connection to other people. Such functionality is offered more or less as a standard on many news websites, but in the case of The Republic, this IT functionality operates smoothly every time. Which is not always the case on other news websites. Indeed, a sixth aspect of the IT features on The Republic is that all of them – the links, the podcasts, the Tinder for politicians, etc. – function fast, smooth, reliably, easy. What I cannot say about other news websites I visit. 

Overall, the fourth essential connection at The Republic relates to the IT: the reader is connected to the essentials of the multi-faceted offers from The Republic in a direct and immediate manner.

Deep-Connect value is further characterised by an organisation that manages relations with stakeholders to create solutions which sell themselves. There are three ways in which The Republic does this. 

First, the newsmagazine has always urged its publishers – i.e. the ones who consume the “solutions” in the form of the news articles – to spread the word about the newsmagazine in order to gain more publishers. The implicit argument to the publishers was, if you want to keep consuming the solutions, help us to business survival, and hopefully business success, with more publishers. That is, the organisation hoped that the quality of the solutions – the articles, events, podcasts, etc. to support democracy and all that – was of a nature which would motivate the customers to themselves sell the solution. This appeal was made explicit in December 2019 when The Republic announced two targets for the number of publishers and the volume of financing from investors; if these targets were not met by the end of March 2020, The Republic would fold. A clear and compelling message. Publishers were appealed to for their help, where they could participate in various marketing initiatives to help sell subscriptions. I took part in two. The first initiative was to become an “accomplice” and participate in brainstorming sessions to come up with good ideas for how to increase the number of subscriptions.

The second was to engage in a practice which created, as far as I know, a new verb: “to flyer”. I stood outside a train station to pass out flyers to passers-by, along with two journalists from The Republic. The “flyering” was done on the basis of an official authorisation which strictly specified where we could stand – this is Switzerland, after all, where order is important. Indeed, within fifteen minutes two policemen came by to check our authorisation; and were friendly enough – this is another feature of Switzerland – to take away a flyer which the journalist, my fellow flyerer, full of initiative, offered. I am writing before the end of March 2020, and the good news is, The Republic has already more than reached the target for the number of publishers needed. As is often the case in marketing, one does not know the extent to which any individual marketing initiative contributed to raising the number of publishers, but it seems that the initiatives as a whole accomplished their aim.

The second set of stakeholders with which The Republic maintains relations is the investors. When The Republic started up two years ago, a crowd-funding campaign gained not only the first group of publishers but also won a number of investors. The campaign conducted in recent months included also winning further investors to raise the equity capital of the business. It has been announced that this target has also been reached. Exactly how this was accomplished, i.e. how The Republic manages the relations to investors, is not known to me. Here there seems to be less transparency, although I am not certain: I do not read every last piece of information sent to me. In any case, the “solution” offered by The Republic, i.e. the novel approach to an online newsmagazine, was “sold” to investors willing to take a financial stake.

The third set of stakeholders is the other media organisations in the Swiss media landscape. The Republic has a mix of first direct relations with these organisations, i.e. the journalists and investors know each other, and second indirect: when The Republic publishes an article, the other media organisations are of course free to themselves include in their reporting the content of the article from The Republic. The news item from another organisation includes a reference to The Republic as the original source, serving to raise the profile of the newsmagazine. That is, the solution from The Republic, i.e. the in-depth article based on journalistic research, “sells itself” in that it generates interest from other media organisations, who in turn “sell” The Republic to their readerships by informing them about the article from The Republic.

This kind of self-selling has happened several times. Most prominently in two articles about the largest chain of childcare facilities in Switzerland, which revealed severe shortcomings in the quality of childcare and the working conditions for the staff. Virtually every news organisation in German-speaking Switzerland repeated the content and it led to motions in the cantonal parliaments. The authorities overseeing the childcare facilities will be more rigorous as a result of the articles. Another example is a set of articles about a cartel amongst construction companies in one canton which shared out the contracts and set the prices, this with the knowledge of some cantonal officials. This reporting also made a big splash in the media and led to a parliamentary investigation in the canton, where the final consequences have not yet been reached. The articles about the childcare facilities appeared in January 2020, and were included in a summary version in the flyer distributed in March 2020. Fortunate timing. 

The next characteristic of Deep-Connect value is absorbing solutions. That is, customers become taken up with and highly engaged by the outputs of the organisation. With regard to The Republic, many aspects which make the outputs absorbing have already been mentioned above: the connection to political practice, the many links in and comments to the articles, the organisation of the articles into dossiers, the ability to gain the behind-the-scene look into the internal affairs of the newsmagazine, the smooth IT features, and the compelling content of the in-depth articles. Readers can lose themselves in the articles, following links, reading and commenting on the comments of others, and plunging further into related articles. 

Three additional aspects relating to the absorption in the in-depth articles are mentioned here. First, every article begins with a time clock displaying the estimated time to read the article. The shortest I’ve seen is six minutes, the longest twenty-seven. Second, in the daily e-mail, each article is introduced in two ways: first with simply a sentence to explain the content, and second with a paragraph giving more background. Third, in case readers stop reading an article mid-way, when returning to the article the bookmark function brings them to the last point they had reached. By the way, these three innovations, and quite a few more, stem from feedback gathered from the publishers.

A final aspect of the absorbing solutions is a different kind of article, which provides an overview rather than an in-depth perspective. Every Thursday the major happenings in the Swiss federal legislature and executive are outlined in the three categories of what happened, why is this important, and what comes next. Every Friday there is a review of the week in the news, covering both national and international developments, and including links to other news websites. Indeed, in 2020 this weekly overview has been extended to include suggestions from the publishers regarding links worthy of the readership. As a reader one can become absorbed in, or in my case addicted to, this systematic reporting which gives me the assurance that no matter what, I can keep myself updated on the most important news.

The final characteristic of external demand interfaces in Deep-Connect value is convergence. Companies offering Deep-Connect value combine different branches of business or other organised activity into a unique new category of business. The discussion above shows that The Republic has blended together the approach of several different kinds of businesses and non-profit organisations:

  • In-depth journalistic reporting as in quality news media
  • User comments and sharing as in social media
  • Linkages and navigation as found in online webshops
  • Member engagement as in clubs and other voluntary organisations
  • User activism and involvement as in web communities
  • Events and meetings as in public interest groups.

All in all, The Republic is an example of a company which thoroughly and systematically manages its position on the market for news according to the characteristics of Deep-Connect value.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

Polyface Farm Part 2: Convergent Offers selling Themselves

The products and services which Polyface offer are convergent in that they are located in an overlap between agriculture, training, infotainment and media. Due to this unusually stimulating convergence as well as the paradigmatic nature of their offers (see Part 1 of this blog), customers and business partners find the offers from Polyface totally convincing; indeed, absorbing. Polyface is able to raise its profile and become known without conventional marketing methods, because the solutions it offers are first, so noteworthy that they gain attention from journalists and in the social media, and second, the solutions themselves spread the word about the farm.

Polyface generates value in overlapping “technologies”, i.e. different categories of products and services, as well as in different contexts. In addition to the sale of a range of agricultural products, Polyface offers:

  • three kinds of farm tours for visitors as a form of infotainment (see photo)
  • training for young farmers as interns/apprentices
  • a package of videos and reference guides to learn the Polyface farming methods
  • ten different books
  • speakers for conferences and other public appearances who explain e.g. the sales distribution techniques, farming methods and the approach to managing personnel. 

Polyface outputs add value in a variety of contexts. Along with products and services for the markets with consumers and business customers such as restaurants and retailers, Polyface emphasizes the importance of family and social responsibility in the neighborhood as an important part of its method. In speaking appearances and in the videos, reference is made to topics in the context of the individual, e.g. self-optimisation, and of the family, e.g. farm succession and family life. Finally, the fundament of the farm is built on treasuring what God has given to mankind by preserving and making more fruitful the land, water and air.

These overlaps and multiple contexts represent a strategy of “convergence,” as it were. Polyface works on the interfaces between multiple industries: a new farming method not only e.g. produces more eggs but is also new content for the media products, tours and speaking engagements. The convergence is eulogised on the website in terms of what goes on the plate of its customers while giving thanks to them:

“Thank you for actively connecting the dots between earthworms, biomass, animals, and the plate. Hovering over the plate absolutely defines our hovering over the landscape. Seeing the land, the ecology, the commons (air, soil, water) through the plate is perhaps the ultimate awareness you can cultivate in your kitchen. Thank you for being our partners in this land healing ministry; we couldn’t do it without you.”

The originality of the outputs makes for absorbing solutions. Consumers and business partners are enthusiastic and loyal to the farm, wanting to buy more and more. They may start with purchasing eggs and then move on to the different meat products. The interns absorb the techniques and move on to establish and run their own farms according to the same principles. Polyface has launched numerous young farmers through the internship/apprenticeship program and built a wonderfully efficient farm guild. The next step is to leverage the guild with additional production. As Polyface sees it, the answer as to how they generate such absorption is simple: The company heals land and germinates farmers. Visitors always comment on the happy animals and happy farmers, most of whom are under the age of 35.

Another context, or community, for Polyface is its local food distribution system termed the Metropolitan Buying Club. It combines the real-time interfaces of online marketing with community-based interaction. These kind of interfaces create efficiencies and economies in local food distribution which excite the participants and those wanting to find out about the approach.

Thus, Polyface cultivates relationships with a broad range of stakeholders in a variety of contexts or communities to manage solutions which sell themselves.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

Polyface Farm Part 1: New Paradigm for Agriculture

Moveable electric fences shepherd cattle to new grasslands every 24 hours to maintain natural eco-cycles without over-grazing

The Polyface Farm – the farm of many faces i.e. many sides – located in the Shenendoah Valley in Virginia illustrates the external demand interfaces of a company offering Deep-Connect value. It aims to usher in a new kind of farming in which the essence of plants and animals is connected up to form a sustainable – and profitable – ecosystem.

The farm presents itself as a pioneer, leading the way to a new paradigm for agriculture. Starting with the wood from the forest and leading through the cattle, pigs, chickens and rabbits to the blades of grass on the pasture, all resources on the farm are cultivated in a natural way. Yet the farm products are not certified as organic; external attestations are regarded as unnecessary. Unnecessary are also expensive machines; much of the infrastructure is hand-built or modified from standard equipment. The farm is a successful business yet managed in stark contrast to the capital-intensive, “industrialized” farms which dominate American agriculture.

The farm is able to work naturally by operating as a diversified ecosystem within which every animal, plant and step has a clear and unique role. A small part of the complex and thoroughly thought-through circular system looks like this: The cows only graze on a pasture for 24 hours; then they are led elsewhere by moveable electric fences (see photo). Only the upper part of the blades of grass is eaten away, leaving enough green to allow the grass to absorb carbon dioxide from the air thanks to photosynthesis. This results in fertile humus, which strengthens the soil. The chickens come out to pasture after the cows. They pick worms, maggots and fly larvae from the cows’ excrement, and fertilize the grass with the natural nitrogen from their own excrements. At the same time they lay eggs that are sold. The pigs also have a job to do: after winter they come to the cows’ stables, where they stir up the soil filled with sawdust – wood from the farm’s own forests – corn and cow dung. In this way they bring oxygen into the solid anaerobic manure. The result is valuable fertilizer, which is added to the grass soil to increase fertility.

The ecosystem is designed to mimic the patterns and flows of wild herds and flocks and thereby attains the stability and sustainability of nature. In contrast to the predominant monoculture of today’s agriculture, Polyface farm nurtures the diversity of several animal species and cultivates wood, vegetables and fruit. Its concept is based on permanently functioning, sustainable and pseudo-natural cycles.

Yet Polyface Farm strives to be much more than just a successful organic farm. It’s mission statement reveals its underlying purpose:

To develop environmentally, economically, and emotionally enhancing agricultural prototypes and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.

Polyface Farm wants to be the germ to turn farming on its head. It is a “disruptor”, to use the current parlance, not only for itself but for the entire branch. It has developed extremely efficient and easily replicated production systems which it wants to see adopted by more and more farms. These production systems heal the land rather than exploit it. The more of such production systems operating on farms, the faster the land will heal. Polyface Farm’s determined drive to expand it’s market serves the overriding purpose to open up more opportunity for land healing and germinating the corresponding new kinds of farmers.

How the farm goes about spreading its message and gaining adherents is the subject of Part 2 of the Polyface Farm blog.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

The Outside-Inside Bicycle Dealer

“Velo” is “bicycle” in French and “plus” stands in my interpretation for the value generated by this bicycle dealer in multiple integrated contexts ©VELOplus

A Swiss bicycle dealer appears to be as much concerned about what happens outside its stores as inside. VELOplus – where “velo” is French for “bicycle” – keeps its customers up-to-date and gets involved with political and legal issues as well as market developments. Supplemented by much interaction with its customers, this broad-based knowledge from outside feeds into the hundreds of accessories they have designed and the outstanding level of service they offer inside. The “plus” from the shop adds up to generating value for communities in multiple contexts – as in Deep-Connect – and has driven their success to become the largest specialist bicycle retailer in Switzerland.

VELOplus was active in two political campaigns at the national level:

  • In the spring of 2019 a demonstration was held in the capital city Bern named “I bike to move it” and was promoted by Veloplus. Over one thousand people from all over Switzerland bicycled to the city to demonstrate for more sustainable policies including more support for bicycles.
  • Veloplus was one of the main sponsors for the national campaign “bike to work” in which in 2019 more employees signed up at more firms to commute on the bicycle to cover more kilometers than ever.

Legal topics are also of concern

  • The headquarters maps bicycle traffic patterns in its town in order to work together with local authorities to plan bike routes
  • A compendium of traffic rules for bicyclists was distributed to the customers, which included some surprises regarding what exactly is allowed and required from bicyclists.
  • Customers were informed about a study from Germany regarding the relatively high incidence of cars that drive dangerously close to the bicyclists when the drivers pass by the bicyclists.

Market developments

  • The client magazine reported on an unusual bicycle manufacturer and then later, after a show of interest, the store organized a client event to visit the unusual bicycle manufacturer.
  • The store presented a free series of six evening presentations in which long-distance bicyclists report on their bicycle journeys.
  • Customers were informed in an enthusiastic manger about the most thrilling innovations in bicycles and accessories which were presented at an exhibition for dealers. The idea was that customers could feel they had attended. The report was not directly sales oriented because not all the products reported about will come into the store.

Wide-ranging customer interaction:

  • Customers are invited to be models for the product catalogue.
  • Courses are offered in bike repair, which in effect cannibalizes their own repair work
  • Customers are often drawn into product development. Two recent examples are a survey to gather requirements for a tool bag hung on the bicycle and a workshop to define the features of a sustainable bicycle, where the bicycle should be compatible with respectively adjustable to different life phases.
  • A platform on the website for buying and selling used bicycles and accessories as well as for finding colleagues for tours.
  • Customers can register their bicycles on the website to help find them if they are lost or stolen.

VELOplus has grown to become the largest chain of specialty bicycle shops in Switzerland with ten locations and 130 employees.

Companies with Deep-Connect value

The importance of repairing clothes for Patagonia

A Worn Wear event from Patagonia:
The crowd outside the repair bus on tour

As part of Deep-Connect value, Patagonia believes that clothes gain value over time and thus should be repaired and not thrown away. This of course is also good for the environment. Find out more about the firm’s approach to repairing clothes.

The durability and longevity of Patagonia’s clothes has the consequence that the article comes to represent the personal history of the wearer. The website refers to “stories we wear” in that people’s own experiences are pressed into the rips, colorings and repairs of the clothes. Indeed, the website suggests that the articles gain value with time as a result: “better than new”. The website underlines these kind of connections by showing videos and photos of the articles in use, supplemented with personal stories from people who wear and have themselves repaired their Patagonia clothes. Furthermore, Patagonia repairs clothes as a customer service, generally for free. The repair of an article adds value: not only is the personal history of the wearer embodied in the clothing, but an additional individual has taken the garment in the hand and restored it to functionality and appeal to the eye. The article not only carries the personal history of the wearer, but the individual care and competence of another person.

Under the banner of “Worn Wear” on its website, Patagonia urges everyone to conserve the world’s resources by repairing clothes. The firm states “Keeping clothing in use just nine extra months can reduce the related carbon, water and waste footprints by 20 – 30%” with a reference to the study supporting this finding. In Nevada, Patagonia operates the largest garment repair facility in North America, where customers can send in their clothes to be repaired. The pieces of clothing are often accompanied by personal letters and photos which tell the story of the article and why it has significant sentimental value for the customer, filled with their own history or that of a loved one. Such actions by the customers attest to Patagonia’s philosophy that its clothes gain value with time. The firm also supports the repair of its clothes by training and making available its retail staff in stores to perform simple repair jobs. Furthermore, Patagonia presents 40 free guides on its website for repairing Patagonia products. Finally, the firm organizes Worn Wear events in the US and in Europe, at which its employees appear in a bus and on the day repair garments which are brought to them, or allow visitors to take a used garment from the rack, repair it themselves, and keep it (see photo). The knowledge of the employees in the bus and the tools and material for repairs are oriented to clothes from Patagonia, but in principle any garment brought to the bus will be repaired for free. The schedule for the buses is presented on the website. For each stop there is a page in Facebook with details and maps for the specific location, as well as the possibility to sign up for attendance and to show interest.