For years, business and society have been pitted against one another. When one gets ahead, it’s at the expense of the other. Business exploits, so government regulates. Business suffers, so it exploits elsewhere. Fair or not, it’s a common notion.
To combat that perception, companies have engaged in corporate social responsibility campaigns for the past couple of decades. Your company pollutes the atmosphere, so you donate some money to NGOs that fight pollution and it’s all fine and dandy. It was considered a cost of doing business, a PR expense. The problem is that these gestures are easily perceived as such, so the company gets no credit for the “effort.”
Now, businesses are taking a different approach: creating shared value by working to actively improve their communities. Instead of donating money to causes, they are becoming champions of them. They are seeking to integrate social responsibility into their business practices, which obviously lands them in the good graces of that community: when a community thrives, people have more money to spend. And if your company contributed to the success of the community, people will spend that money with you.
Starbucks’ Community Stores, for example, seek to revitalize run-down neighborhoods by addressing education, employment, health, housing and safety issues in the neighborhoods in which they operate. Instead of simply throwing money at the problem, they work with non-profits to create change.
What does this mean for marketing? It means it’s not just a branch of the business. The business is the marketing. How the work is done is important, and people need to know about it in order to appreciate the good your company does. It’s not just big companies that can do this, either. A local business can revitalize a local community just like a single Starbucks store in Harlem. Cooperate with non-profits and community organizations to meet the needs of your community and they will meet yours.
So don’t just talk about how great your business is, talk about how great your business is for the community. It’s a lot easier to sell something when you don’t have to convince people it’s good.