Making a difference: The marketing rewards for genuine social responsibility

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canadian business unileverThis Canadian Business article about social responsibility: Unilever is rethinking capitalism: why doing good is good for business, should be on your must-read list if you are struggling to figure out how to succeed as a marketer in an intensely competitive environment.

Yes, as the article asserts, there can be “greenwashing” and other gimmicks where businesses dress themselves up to fake their environmental and social spirit, but when we get down to the basics, really successful businesses at all levels — and here I’m not just talking about multi-national companies — realize that the more they give (without worrying about financial reward, but with financial responsibility in their sharing), the more they receive.

Consider, for example, the most effective route to social and business-building connections when you enter a new market, or wish to recover your status in a mature environment. Strategically, you view the non-profit community causes, concerns and groups important to both you and your current and potential clients, and you get involved, contributing your time, resources, and money. You can’t do this with selfish, ulterior motives (people see through that sort of thing really quickly, unless you are a psychopathic con-artist, where you can put on a good story, fake it, and make your suckers ‘believe’). Ultimately, if you share with integrity, you gain access and the respect of potential clients who then think it is absolutely natural to do business with you — and you generally don’t have to be the “lowest bid” to win every job.

Of course, the payback for this kind of social responsibility needs to be measured in years or decades rather than in instant gratification, and if you try to quantify and budget ROI for genuine community spirit and sharing (outside of obvious cost-savings from good environmental and business practices, that would be valid regardless of your intent), you will fall into the selfish and ineffective “I expect a return from the charitable investment” perspective. Yet, I think you could easily implement some simple programs within your business and then conduct a before and after evaluation — and I think you would be impressed with the results.

Here are some ideas:

  • Grant your employees some time off (maybe a tithe, or 10 per cent — possibly more) for community initiatives that require no association or “purpose” other than they are honourable and outer-centred;
  • Invite individuals representing minorities or reflecting worthy causes to your company meetings and events and allow them to share their perspectives and insights;
  • Graciously provide gifts in kind to relevant groups and causes BUT don’t make a big deal about it. (There’s few things seen as more cynical by a community group than you trying to dump some surplus or outdated stuff on the non-profit, and then you seek bragging rights for your ‘generosity’);
  • Listen to your heart and those of your employees, but remember the most meaningful charities are the ones that are less popular. Sure, it is easy to give money in support of the local children’s hospital, but what about mental health services for disadvantaged adults?

I can’t overstate the value of the concepts in this posting, though frankly I have trouble putting metrics around the conclusions here. Our company policy continues to be modest with cash but generous with time and resources in terms of community and voluntary service, but the rewards far exceed the investment and so the argument may rightfully be made that we should also allocate more cash for generous deeds. Do you have your own stories?

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