The benefits of being good: positioning social consciousness for bottom line impact

One of our clients has a serious branding challenge — they’re doing real good in the world. Almost every company has some charitable giving or community service component. But, ironically enough, when doing good is fundamental to your brand, it can actually raise questions regarding both intent and quality.

We messaging strategists are always looking for real differentiators and often they are hard to find. So I was amazed to discover that one of our clients provides incarcerated women with a chance to learn a profession, earn money and even gain full employment after they get out as a fundamental element of their business model.

I didn’t discover this on our first meeting or our second or our third. Now that we are helping them to better define and communicate their brand to the marketplace, I understand their reticence.

When I tell people about this great operation, they immediately wonder if the women are being exploited. (They are not – they earn enough to leave with significant savings in hand.) And for the organization’s clients, there can be questions of quality as well. Is this good-doing at the expense of services rendered?

When you read about an Apple plant in China that is such a sweatshop that several workers commit suicide annually, you may not like it, but it doesn’t make you doubt the quality of your iPad. The same might be said of child labor factories in Cambodia where your Nikes have been made. On the other hand, the message of helping people may be met with suspicion; are you going soft on getting results?

So it’s vital to position doing good in the context of the bottom line benefit to customers. Don’t leave it up to your audience to connect the dots – spell it out for them. In our client’s case, the benefit boiled down to motivation. The incarcerated women provided an exceptionally motivated staffing source in an industry that is notoriously under-motivated and transitory. To put it bluntly: they have nowhere to go and nothing better to do. In addition, the company’s employees are motivated, knowing their efforts not only earn them compensation but help improve the lives of women who need a second chance. In fact, some of these employees used to be there themselves!

It’s not enough to merely do good in the world. Like anything else, you have to communicate it smartly to get a fair hearing.

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