Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Michael Pollan writes, Whole Foods writes back

Partly in response to Michael Pollan's latest book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Whole Foods is rejiggering its regional supplier chain to incorporate more locally grown foods.

This is a pretty lengthy SF Gate/Chronicle story, with references to blog entries by the CEO of Whole Foods and Pollan himself.

Separate from the content issues themselves (which do make for interesting reading), what I find most remarkable is that a company the size of Whole Foods would so publicly respond to the work of a single author, and that it would do it using the CEO as the primary communicator, and the internet as the primary zone of communication--rather than hiding behind a corporate press release sent to media outlets, or even a one-way interview by the CEO.

Granted, Pollan was reaching readers within Whole Foods' target demographic--both with his bestselling book and his columns for NYT TimesSelect. So these challenges to Whole Foods' values were having a real impact on the company's image.

What's interesting at a meta- level is how this exchange points towards future shifts in the ways businesses communicate, as articulated in part by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in their book Naked Conversations.

Pollan remarks in the article that using this public arena to create a dialogue was a shrewd decision by Whole Foods, and builds credibility among those who care about these issues.

Scoble would argue that the companies who are open and honest will be the shrewdest, and the most successful at building lasting relationships with their customers. Those, on the other hand, who use "openness" as a PR device will fail, because that is still about attempting to control the conversation.

Pollan will still continue to study and write about Whole Foods, so he'll be there to help keep them honest.

Or, maybe Whole Foods knows a guy who knows a guy who can, you know, take care of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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