Customer – “What you are doing to make the world better?”

Customer – “What you are doing to make the world better?”

In Winnipeg alone:

  • There are more than 200 places that sell coffee.
  • Over 300 chiropractors are registered in the Province of Manitoba.
  • Running shoes are available at specialty stores, sporting good stores, department stores and a variety of online suppliers.
  • Cat food can be purchased at pet food stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, Costco, department stores and even dollar stores.

As a consumer – we have never had more choice for our purchases than we have available today.

So the key question becomes – how do you make your decision to purchase?

In many cases, price is still the leading decision maker and that is followed closely by access (or for the old marketers in the crowd – place).

But in a situation where price and location are similar, how does a consumer make that choice? More and more consumers today want to know what your company stands for – and if what you stand for is aligned with their beliefs. (And by standing for something – we don’t mean you stand for providing good service and the opportunity for you to make a decent profit).

We mean… how are you as a corporation addressing your corporate responsibility to the community? Do you even acknowledge you have one? Here are just a few examples of companies that understand the relationship between principles and sales:

  • Patagonia, one of the original leaders in social responsibility, believes that the protection and preservation of the environment isn’t what they do after hours. It is the reason they’re in business and the focus of every day’s work. Their commitment to this responsibility pervades all business decisions, including senior management roles and expectations.
  • Ben and Jerry’s were founding members of the Business for Social Responsibility organization and are pioneers in this format. The original owners (Ben and Jerry) infused the company with the philosophy of giving back in every way possible – including 7.5% of pre-tax profits.
  • Starbucks believes in the development of sustainable grow operations and supports the development of local business units in the areas that provide their coffee, as well as supporting the implementation of sustainable production through its C.A.F.E. practices.
  • Walmart and its Foundation use philanthropy in conjunction with its business initiatives to drive systemic changes in society. On a local level, the company empowers their stores to support local initiatives in those neighbourhoods.
  • Running Room believes in the power of the community and the ability of the sport to draw communities together for the greater good. As such, local Running Room stores support initiatives that improve causes in their local areas.
  • The founder of TOMS shoes travelled the world and realized that people in many areas did not have access to footwear. With that in mind he created TOMS shoes and committed that for every pair of shoes sold the company would donate a pair to a child in need.
  • Whole foods supports sustainable agriculture through their Local Producer loan program, actively promotes the reduction of waste, and encourages environmentally sound cleaning programs.
  • L’oreal’s goal by 2020, is to source 100% of its renewable raw resources from  sustainable sources with a commitment to zero deforestation.

There are many other examples nationally of companies “doing well while doing good”. It is clear, on a national and international stage at least, that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now an important element in a company’s narrative.

But in Winnipeg, while a large percentage of companies are good/great corporate citizens, only a very small percentage have articulated a specific Corporate Social Responsibility plan, or have created a giving program that is relevant to their core business activities. And that is too bad…

Sustainable corporate social initiatives were once laughed off as scams or cheesy ways to ingratiate the company with desired target audiences. But in an age where information is available on everything a company does (or doesn’t do), CSR has very quickly proven to be a valuable tool in delivering a brand message, cementing brand principles and connecting on non-retail terms with the community.

CSR is a window into the soul of a company – and nowadays if consumers don’t like what they see through that window – they will find another place to take their business.

It is not that hard to create a Corporate Social Responsibility plan that is relevant to your customers and to your business (we can most definitely help you create and deliver that plan).

But it is exceptionally hard to practice what you preach once that plan is established. To be truly successful in delivering your CSR initiative it has to be integrated into everything that you are and that you do. And it takes commitment and leadership from the very top of the company – it cannot be seen by the consumer as a marketing program.

But one thing is certain – the end result will be worth the effort. And your customers (the old ones, and the new ones that come to you because of the commitment) will thank you.