Be So Good that Other People Do Your Marketing for You

gigcmo
09/11/2021

Businesses have the power to do a lot of good. They can be instrumental in driving change in consumer behaviours (minimising plastic packaging on supermarket shelves), bringing new skills to communities and paying forward some of the success they have had to date. Telling the world about all the good things you're doing has become a staple of modern marketing, but the companies that do it best don't always shout about it - other people do that for them.

Authenticity and modern marketing

Modern marketing often talks about authenticity. It seems almost funny that we need to be reminded to be authentic, and perhaps that tells us all something. However, the rise in transparency, communications, publicly available information and ardently articulated public opinion means that businesses and the people behind them are far more on show than ever before. The result is that they are far more likely to be held accountable for their words and actions.

Saying the right thing is not good enough; customers want brands to be authentic in what they do as well - putting their money where their mouths are, so to speak. Getting it wrong can do more harm than good, but getting it right can be extremely powerful. That's even more important when it comes to charity, donations or aligning yourself with a cause.

Greenwashing, pinkwashing and rainbow capitalism

Perhaps most famously at the moment, we see companies who pay lip service (or are perceived to pay lip service) to being environmentally friendly but without being genuinely sustainable (greenwashing). However, this lack of authenticity happens regularly. It's not that the intentions are necessarily wrong, but there's a vast difference between superficial support and meaningful action.

October, for example, was Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the UK. Characterised by the pink ribbon, the month has increasingly led to 'pinkwashing' - where companies jump on the colourful bandwagon but either don't take any action around breast cancer or seek to profit from being seen to be involved. Forbes raised the issue in 2011, taking the case of pinkwashing a step further by questioning 'Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?' They wrote:

"Each year, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close, there are mixed emotions amongst women's health advocates. On the one hand, all those walks, runs and pink ribbons raise billions of dollars for charity. On the other, in some cases, it's hard to trace what's being done with that money and the list of companies that seem to be promoting breast cancer awareness while profiting from less-than-healthy products grows every year."

We also see it with Pride. This year The Independent wrote about "Rainbow capitalism: The companies that want your Pride money but have murky records with LGBTQ rights".

Commercial decisions can still be authentic decisions

At best, these antics smack of poor research and a lack of thought; at worst, some serious ethical boundaries are being breached in a bid for good PR in the hope of extra profits. For those with both a conscience and an eye for long-term business success, intentionally or inadvertently veering towards a lack of authenticity, especially regarding individual health and civil liberties, isn't an option their marketing can afford.

It feels counterintuitive in a world where even someone's breakfast gets a post on social media. Still, sometimes the most powerful thing an organisation can do for its reputation is not to tell anyone about the good that they are doing.

New York priest Theodore M. Hesburgh once said:

"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."

With that in mind, business leaders can take the authenticity demanded in the court of public opinion and use it to make the brand, marketing and company decisions they genuinely believe in.

Should marketing stay quiet?

One example of doing good without a lot of fanfare is when Starbucks donated an onboard coffee shop to Mercy Ships. This global not-for-profit brings life-changing surgery to communities without access to safe surgical treatment around the world. It's not that the donation has not been publicised. However, it has mainly been mentioned organically by the charity itself. It doesn't feel as though the coffee giant is trying to capitalise from its contribution overtly. It's a remarkably tasteful approach from the brand. There are other examples as well - but of course, they're not widely publicised (at least not on the internet). In fact, we learned of this example through a conversation with Mercy ships, not Starbucks.

The challenge as a business when doing something good but not talking about it is that, of course, commercial viability needs to be taken into consideration. It's not that you shouldn't talk about the good things you do; the PR and marketing need not take centre stage.

At gigCMO, we're commercial business leaders, and we understand that operationally, every decision has to make sense. However, this type of leadership needs to look to the future rather than making reactionary, short-term decisions.

We're not suggesting that leaders are not commercial or strategic in their decision making, but that when it comes to 'doing good', they recognise that consumers are intelligent and can detect a lack of authenticity. It's ok for a charitable decision to make business sense, but it should also ring true and be followed through to show meaningful action.

Doing meaningful good is often a costly exercise, and it usually means being committed to a cause for the long haul. It might even mean ensuring that everything from your marketing to your operations processes aligns with what you say or support. However, that level of authenticity cannot only drive meaningful change but can also pay dividends for your company's reputation. Do it well enough, and it will speak for itself.

Does your company have the power to make a difference? The team at gigCMO can help you make decisions about corporate social responsibility, charitable alignment and marketing strategy that makes commercial and meaningful sense to you and your customers.

CONTACT GIGCMO

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