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Can mass collaboration save our beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon?

At the beginning of November, news sources reported that Pabst (maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the official beer of our little honky-tonk band) was up for sale. Apparently, Pabst is owned by a non-profit foundation and the IRS has been trying to get the foundation to sell it for years.

Problem is, last time Pabst was on the market in 2005 there were no buyers, and the IRS gave them a reprieve until 2010 before they had to try again.

The selling price? $300 million. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you hear that Pabst doesn’t even have any breweries– the last one closed in 2001. They are now essentially a marketing vehicle for a bunch of beer brands, including PBR, but also Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Stroh’s and about 25-30 others (check out the full list here).

Well now two enterprising advertising agencies have banded together to see if they can create a mass collaboration movement to buy Pabst. They’ve created a website called Buy A Beer Company where you can actually pitch in to purchase a piece of Pabst for yourself. Once they get to $300 million in crowd-sourced funds, they make a formal offer to buy the company.

Sound like a marketing stunt? It is… but it has only been going on for two weeks, and they have already raised almost $10 million!

That’s pretty impressive for a stunt.

Who knows were this will lead? Perhaps a rival crowd-sourced movement will appear and make an aggressive counter-offer? Or maybe some rich investor will swoop in and buy Pabst, the two ad agencies, and their list of donors all at one time. One way or another, it’ll be interesting to watch what happens next. If you want to stay tuned in, you can follow the Buy a Beer Company Twitter feed here.

Maslow’s hierarchy of (community) needs

Over the past month or so, I’ve been having a conversation with Iain Gray, Red Hat Vice President of Customer Engagement, about the ways companies engage with communities. I’ve also written a lot lately about common mistakes folks make in developing corporate community strategies (see my two posts about Tom Sawyer community-building here and here and Chris Brogan’s writeup here).

One idea we bounced around for a while was a mashup of community thinking and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those of you who slept in with a bad hangover the day you were supposed to learn about Maslow in your intro psych class (damn you, Jagermeister!), here is the Wikipedia summary:

“[Maslow’s hierarchy of needs] is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the lowest level is associated with physiological needs, while the uppermost level is associated with self-actualization needs, particularly those related to identity and purpose. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. If a lower set of needs is no longer being met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level.”


Maslow's hierarchy of needs


Now granted, the needs of a company are very different than the needs of a human being. At its very basic level, a company has a “physiological” need to make money. If that need is not being met, little else will matter. But in an ironic twist, this basic need to make money can actually hinder the company’s ability to make money if it is not wrapped in a more self-actualized strategy.

To explain what I mean, think about the last annoying salesperson who called or emailed you. Why were you annoyed? Probably because it was very clear to you that the salesperson was badly hiding his basic motivation to make money. He wasn’t talking to you because he valued you– he was talking to your wallet.

Now think about the best recent sales experience you’ve had. Mostly likely, this salesperson was being motivated by a higher purpose, perhaps something as simple as a desire to make you happy. Sometimes the most effective salespeople aren’t even in sales at all– like a friend who tells you about a new album you should buy, for example. Or sites like Trip Advisor, where you can learn about where to go on vacation from other folks like you.

When it comes to community strategy, most companies have trouble finding motivation beyond the simple need to make money– and the communities they interact with can tell.

Yet if you look at the greatest companies out there, you’ll find that they usually have a strong sense of identity and purpose– just like Maslow’s self-actualized people. Read anything by Jim Collins and you’ll see what I mean.

For a recent presentation, Iain developed a chart that looks a lot like the one below. And to embarrass Iain, let’s call it the Gray hierarchy of community needs.

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