3 Reasons Your Business Benefits When You Make Social Impact a Priority (and one risk)
Most of the small business owners I work with have one thing in common — you’re not in it just for the money. You’re also strongly motivated by the desire to create work that feels personally fulfilling and has a positive impact on the world.
But the more success you create, the more you can feel tempted to make small compromises around the message you want to put out in the world. The last thing you want to do is alienate the customers you’ve worked so hard to attract.
I’m here today to make the case that this kind of thinking is actually counter-productive. If social impact matters to you, there are some real benefits to incorporating your mission into your business.
1. The road to mediocrity is littered with small compromises.
Another thing my clients have in common is they want to be known for something. Typically that takes the form of the go-to expert in your field, or a sought-after product designer.
It’s next to impossible to get known without staking out a clear and defined position in the marketplace.
Let’s face it — there aren’t huge innovations in how much of our work gets done. This is true for your industry and for mine. No single publicist has some magical method that’s going to guarantee you better results than what I, or the thousands of other firms and independents out there, can get you.
When you think too hard on this fact, it can feel overwhelming. How are your supposed to stand out when thousands of other companies are perfectly capable, if not brilliant, at the work you both do?
For a lot of my clients, it comes to their positioning in the marketplace. It’s not always the work product that gets you hired over the other company. It’s a sense of shared values, or a strong point-of-view, or some small difference in the way you serve your customers. Sometimes it simply comes down to branding — a customer likes your style.
When you start to compromise your dedication to impact, you’re eliminating one strong avenue for creating a market positioning that’s all your own.
2. It gives your brand evangelists something to talk about.
We’ve known for a long time now that Millennials integrate their beliefs into their buying decisions. Well guess what. The Millennials are all grown up. They make up a solid quarter of the US population and they have tremendous purchasing power.
I bring up the Millennials not to say you should be marketing to them, but to show you that a huge portion of the buying consumers in the population make buying decisions at least in part based on shared values.
At no time have we seen greater evidence for how much this matters than in the current election cycle. From the CEO of Penzeys Spices accusing the Republican party of embracing racism to the politically charged Super Bowl commercials, even large, established brands know that their customers expect them to take a stand.
If you believe the Penzeys CEO, this gamble can pay off financially in a big way. But beyond that, putting your company’s values out there gives your fans something to talk about and share. It’s an excellent way to mobilize them to share your company with their larger networks.
3. It’s a time-tested way to generate PR.
Similar to giving your fans something to talk about, being vocal around a hot-button issue gives the media something to talk about. I often hear from clients who donate proceeds to charity and want to get PR for it.
Unfortunately (or happily depending on your perspective!), this is such a common thing that there’s no media value in a story like this. To get press for your advocacy efforts, you need to get creative. And often that means speaking your mind.
Now, this can be risky. Beyond any fear of losing customers or partners you might feel, there’s also a very real risk that the narrative can overshadow the work you do.
I always ask clients, “Is this what you want to be known for?” before they go public with a controversial opinion. Does this value or belief system add to the larger narrative around your company, or distract from it?
But that’s not the only risk I wanted to share with you today.
If you’re going to put social impact front-and-center of your business, you better believe in it. Consumers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. In the environmental space, they have a term for companies that are faking their commitment to earth-friendly policies: greenwashing.
If you’re in it for the bottom line, that’s okay! You don’t have to fake a social mission. We can use one of the other techniques to make you stand out in your industry.
Just like another company wouldn’t fake being the first to market with a new technology, you shouldn’t fake a social mission just to get known.
At the end of the day, PR is about helping your audience get to know you. Not spin. Not faking an image. But rather helping the public see what you’re all about.