Leaders are already into it, the marketing department wants you to, experts say you should..
In Accenture’s 2013 UN Global Compact CEO study 97% of the world’s most powerful Chief Executives stated that sustainability was important to the future success of their business.
And, in KPMG’s report on sustainability performance 93% of the world’s largest companies are reporting, and reporting well. Yvo de Boer, KPMG’s Global Chairman puts it very succinctly. His view is that:
The debate on whether companies should report on Corporate Responsibility or not is dead and buried… Corporate Responsibility reporting is – or should be – an essential business management tool. It is not – or should not be – something produced simply to mollify potential critics and polish the corporate halo
Reporting is an excellent start
But should our efforts stop there? Rather than just reporting on the good stuff and instead of simply stating, albeit important, facts, it’s actually incumbent upon us go a little further. In fact, there exists an opportunity to do quite a bit more and, within that opportunity, a benefit from doing so. What we need to do is spread the word; tell our story.
As marketers we implicitly know this, but do our corporate colleagues? Does the rest of the organisation realise that if we can’t keep pushing our ‘good barrow’ we’ll continue to miss out on so much of the benefit that the business deserves, that supports and contributes to the enhancement of our brand, strengthening our reputation and building brand equity. If, indeed when, they do realise it, are they engaged enough to channel their involvement to help inform the storytelling that our responsible business efforts deserve?
Yes, I realise that the social impact, the good that’s been achieved, the assuaged corporate and even personal conscience provide a sense of relief and inner joy, but why miss out on the extra layers of goodness and tangible benefits that could be accrued by failing to make some noise about it?
Our critics might say “that wouldn’t be a very humble approach, that would be a bit arrogant, could you not just quietly do your bit and be done with it..?”
Well, yes you could. Or maybe you’d rather not. The simple fact of the matter is that your customers and employees, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders actually WANT to know what the dickens is going on.
No, they don’t want to be shouted at, drowned in drivel or feel like you’ve climbed up on our soap box but they do want to hear what their favourite brands and businesses are up to. They want to know what progress is being made, they want to see and hear and feel feedback.
You can be absolutely certain of one thing, if you’re not proactive about your communication, your customers will certainly be ready to provide some feedback of their own.. and it could be pretty damning.
Nobody’s expecting you to be 100% perfect but they would actually prefer to seesome progress rather than find that you’re avoiding the subject for fear that the progress itself isn’t deemed sufficient.
Nobody expects you to be 100% perfect, but they do expect you to try, to make an effort , to move in the ‘right’ direction.
For some, the psychology of good marketing helps them justify one purchase over another, even leaving them feeling somewhat vindicated for buying something that they otherwise might have avoided. This can have a powerful effect on the bottom line.
“The inclusion of a social cause has a positive effect on people’s choice behavior,” Henderson said. “What does it also do in peoples’ minds? Red Cross is trustworthy, so it’s like meeting a friend.”
Cause related marketing is nothing new, but what is sought today is better marketing of the activity itself. This only ever really works when the alignment is absolutely right, when the core purpose of the product and the social purpose of the cause overlap and intersect in a truly credible way. Once these pieces are in place the focus has to be on balancing the purpose-led messaging, the channel (which media to use and when) and syncing with the expectations of the target audience.
For a really great example I’d point you to the Dulux Weathershield Surf Club Project. Here we see a paint brand (which ironically was once owned the mightily destructive and environmentally unaware British behemoth ICI but is now a major part of sustainability forerunner AkzoNobel’s stable of products) lining up with the most Australian of organisations, our very own surf life-saving clubs. So, what is it about this example that’s worth taking on board?
1. THE MESSAGING WAS SIMPLE AND CLEAR
We’re repainting all the surf-life saving clubs in Australia with Dulux Weathershield”… the subtext to this was that this was a ‘Project’ and that ‘Your club could be repainted for free if you applied online at the Surf Project website’
2. THE CREATIVE EXECUTIONS MADE YOU FEEL SOMETHING
Great creative executions don’t grow on trees. It’s worth spending the time, and yes, sometimes a few extra dollars to get the content right.. music, lights, camera, action.. it all matters. Great communications are emotive. They make you feel something, and this is what produces a memorable experience.
3. THE MEDIA SUPPORTED THE MESSAGING
TV and online videos were used to spread the word while there was real-life brand experience work taking place too. The clubs got repainted. They also had ‘openings’ and parties and fun. All of which was filmed and then re-posted online to complete the offer, while seamlessly continuing to spread the word.
Or for the longer version, see the video below. I suggest some big screen and big sound to get the full effect.. it’s worth it.
4. AUTHENTIC, CREDIBLE, ALIGNMENTS THAT REALLY INTERSECT ARE THE ONES THAT WORK BEST
The most compelling part of all of this activity is the underlying message that connects the core purpose of the product and the social purpose of the cause
Weathershield, a protective paint, had not only aligned itself with an iconic Australian institution that stands for, well, the protection of human life.. but it was making a point of protecting it.
Could it get any better?
So, to recap. First, understand your core purpose. Second, dive in and really get to grips with your social purpose. Then, and only then, maybe consider partnering with an organisation that encapsulates that purpose. At that point you can get the creative juices flowing and possibly consider devising a simple but brilliant idea to tell that story.
In the case of the Surf Club Project they were able to knock out a couple of clever TVCs and then film (and post, said film) of the repainting of every club, while adding in a real-life ‘opening’ day for the newly painted club, so the good just keeps on giving.
It may sound easy, but it’s not. There are many more examples of failed attempts than successful ones, but this is an excellent one to model.
5. BENEFIT FROM THE GOOD
There’s very real pressure to do good from customers, suppliers and stakeholders and it’s growing. So make the most of that pressure. Channel it and release some of it by telling them what you’re up to.
The key is to be authentic, credible, real and honest. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got 3 hybrid vans in your fleet of courier vehicles this year, if it’s 3 more than last year then it’s a major step, especially if it’s just a first step and next year you’ll have 6 hybrids, and the year after that you’ll have 9… you get the idea; and it offers up a really compelling messaging opportunity.
As I say, nobody expects you to be 100% perfect, but they do expect you to try, to make an effort , to move in the ‘right’ direction. And when you do tell them what you’re up to, go on building a sustainable brand, a purpose led business and benefit from the good you’re doing.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
If you’ve made it this far, your thoughts and comments to build on this piece and insights into other great, and even not-so-great, examples would be really useful for executives and business leaders to learn from, so please do share below.
At the end of the day, every contribution as to how businesses and individuals can ‘do some good’ helps raise the standard, increases social impact and creates long-term benefits for society.