The 3rd Third

By Alex Diaz. Edited by Julia Dopp and Meaghan Pachay.

Have you seen—I mean really seen—the video on the front page of COMMON’s website? In it, co-founder Alex Bogusky explains our vision for social entrepreneurship and the original design of COMMON as composed of three parts: one third community, one third business incubator, and one third collaborative brand.

That final third, my friends, is revolutionary: an opportunity for hundreds of independently owned but mutually supportive businesses to unite. Together, they form a community that in turn owns and manages their shared brand, allowing all of them to benefit from its growing value.

Akex DiazI’ve been a COMMON member since 2015, but it wasn’t until last October that I finally decided to take the plunge into this 3rd third by launching COMMON Future, a content studio and communications agency focused exclusively on raising awareness around the need for climate adaptation.

I’ve been in sustainability and climate communications since 1992, but as an independent social entrepreneur with limited resources, I found it quite challenging to land large-scale work that would enable me to provoke greater change.

So I had to pivot. I knew I couldn’t do shit that mattered if I stayed solo. I needed a large, multinational, massively talented team. And given the urgency of the moment, I needed it ASAP. I knew the only way a large client would talk to me is if I could say “we” and bring others to the table seamlessly.

The COMMON shared brand was the answer. So I worked closely with Mark Eckhardt (COMMON’s CEO) to curate a team of member agencies, culture/leadership coaches and creative powerhouses, and I changed from Alex Díaz Eco Consulting to COMMON Future.

I went from being a solo firm in Puerto Rico making referrals to other solo social entrepreneurs, to having the COMMON mark in my name and being, in effect, an affiliate firm. Instead of just a member, I became COMMON. We are now one and the same — independent, yes, but integrated.

Suddenly, I had scale. Overnight. When I talk to prospective clients now, I represent the experience and capabilities of a large agency group, and that has made all the difference in my business.

I’ve always emphasized, when pitching to clients, that I am motivated by the purpose of making a difference: “You’re not hiring just another consultant. You’re hiring someone who lives for a bigger outcome—who feels it and means it.”

The commitment is deeper. The passion goes further. And it comes across in what we produce. When aligned with the communications the client wants to deliver, the cause has concrete value and becomes a big reason to hire me vs. another agency.

Today, I’m able to totally multiply that effect because it applies just the same to my entire team of COMMON agencies and everyone at the COMMON office. Our talent makes us a great hire, but that shared purpose makes us a uniquely compelling one.

And so in my case, conversations and deals are happening that would not be happening were I not COMMON-branded. I’m on track to end 2019, my first full year as COMMON Future, with a dramatic increase in sales over 2018 and every year before.

With the climate crisis now making adaptation indispensable, the timing could not be better.

Reimagine it

I was the first COMMON Venture, but as one becomes hundreds, our shared value will grow. When the COMMON mark is in the brand names of countless social enterprises around the world, the value of the brand will accrue to each of us individually.

It will be a significant part of our profitability without any one of us having to make the insane capital investment to build the brand value that traditional corporations must make.

In our model, investment is dispersed. Each of us invests in our own business, but since we share the COMMON brand, the sum of our individual successes will augment the value of the brand. There can be no better icing on the cake than that.

As you run your business today and gain from the immediate benefits of being a COMMON Venture, you’re building value for the long term, collaboratively.

Building our shared COMMON brand may not take a large capital investment, but we do have to invest something: We have to invest commitment. We get to co-manage the growth of that brand equity between now and then, helping to screen new companies that join to ensure alignment with our shared values, mutually supporting each other to help everyone grow and succeed, because the performance and reputation of each of us will impact all of us.

That, too, is what it means to have a shared brand, one that is managed by the community, not by a brand team in some removed C-suite up in an ivory tower HQ somewhere.

After all, what’s in a brand, right? A brand isn’t a name, logo and color code. A brand is everything that comes to mind when thinking of a company. Price. Quality. Delivery. Product variety. Service. Place. Size. Sustainability. Ethics.

Today, when a prospective client looks at COMMON Future and weighs saying yes, s/he is looking at all of that, now enhanced and nuanced by everything COMMON has built into the brand since its founding eight years ago.

Tomorrow, they will also look at the global expanse of our hundreds of COMMON ventures, the dynamism that represents, the massive global and local change we’re creating collectively, and they’ll have even more reason to say yes.

We will be, in effect, a movement they want to join, not just a service they choose to buy —a movement that is redefining business because it is time for brands that take care of future generations instead of endangering them. It is time for a new agreement between consumers and providers. It is time (as our co-founder Alex said almost a decade ago in the COMMON story video) for “business as unusual.” And they’ll be damned if they’re not part of it.

COMMON began as an exercise in imagining the future. Well, the future is now. It is here. And it is ours to lead.