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CHICAGO -- As advertised, former vice president Al Gore didn’t show up.

But the show went on. And ironically, on a first day during which the long-promised keynote speaker did not make an appearance because of “personal reasons,” the big topic for the morning Super Session at the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show here was values.

Marc Gunther, a senior writer at Fortune, offered an assessment of how more and more businesses are proving that they can do well by doing good, and that they are adhering to stricter ethical and cultural standards. “This is where all of business is going,” he said. ‘It is where business has to go.” And while “it may sound like a burden, it also is an opportunity.”

Despite all the scandals we read about in the papers, Gunther said, “corporate America is changing for the better.” It is, he said, “more environmentally friendly” and “more diverse,” and companies “are defining their responsibilities far more broadly.” And, Gunther noted, such an approach to business does not mean a loss of profits – in fact, he said, a study of executives and companies that create an alignment between their personal values and business practices shows that they tend to be more profitable, more productive and more effective.

Such a shift, Gunther, suggested, also is inevitable – because it is being driven by forces that senior executives cannot and should not resist. These include employees who want their companies to do the right thing, activist groups that are making their voices heard, investors who are looking for companies that are socially responsible, customers who want their purchases to reflect their values, and the Internet, which makes all company operations transparent.

This transparency also was addressed by the morning’s second speaker, Chip Health, co-author of “Made To Stick,” which looks at why some stories and urban legends resonate with people and others don’t…and how businesses can create stories that will “stick” with their customers.

Heath said, ‘If you say 10 things, you say nothing,” and suggested that retailers need to formulate their essential messages so that they are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and tell, in essence, stories.

While he didn’t really use the word, what Heath was talking about was “branding” – which too few retailers do with their own businesses because they are more focused on being places that sell other people’s brands. But in various statements made during his presentation, Heath was focusing on elements of branding:

• “Design your business to give people something to talk about.”
• “Create tangible, sensory images.”
• “You are in a business that can inspire identity.”

And when these approaches are connected to specific and shared values, they can create businesses that stand for something.
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