The For-Profit Company as Catalyst for Social Change: Three Vital Distinctions
As the lines between personal and professional tend to blur, the lines between corporate and society will blur with them.
The flip side is that as those lines continue to blur, organizations which choose to venture into the social arena can no longer stand behind the corporate lines and fire PR mortars at the public.
We have seen this most recently in Starbucks’ imprudent “Race Together” campaign. It was a disaster because Starbucks’ tried to piggy back an issue — and I suspect was hoping for some good PR and social media buzz for being engaged and social minded — rather than champion a cause.
Exploiting an issue for marketing is not championing the issue. That is the first vital distinction.
Defining the Cause
During the 1990's, cause marketing was a thing. It was the natural extension of a company’s doling out funds to charities and non-profits just because they were charities and non-profits, in which the unwritten rule is that the company never refuses to write a check, but writes them first charity come, first charity served until the budget for giving to social charities ran dry.
With cause marketing, rather than cutting checks, a portion of sales was given to a charitable marketing partner. Campbell’s Pink Campaign is an obvious example. It’s marketing, and embraced as such; it is not a social mission.
Starbuck’s failure was that it was marketing, but pretending to have a social mission. That won’t work.
It does not mean that Starbuck’s was outright lying or even that it doesn’t think race relations and conversations about it are important. It only means that it not a champion of the issue:
A social mission is not a marketing tactic or growth strategy. It is an issue, an agenda, or a cause that a company will champion even at the cost of bottom line profit or negative public reaction.
Starbuck’s, on the other hand, fled from its Race Together campaign to preserve its real brand identity and its bottom line.
There will always be a place for the old school, antiquated, conservative companies to write checks and launch cause marketing campaigns. They should stick to it.
To enter the social arena and straddle the line between profit and purpose, a company must genuinely champion a cause to the point it intends to act in society as a catalyst for change.
Its marketing and profit are conceived in light of that intent; they are not the intent of the cause. That is the second vital distinction.
To function as a catalyst of social change, a company must learn to view itself as a For-Profit Moral Community that accounts a blurry, not bottom, line profit. Rather than embedding in society as a social player to capitalize on and exploit market opportunities, as a traditional the For-Profit Moral Community transcends society.
It considers itself above and unconstrained by social mores, conventions, and protocols, but not disinterested in society’s form and progress. It is immanent in society, a player that shapes and influences, but by creating new paradigms, building new models, and leading by its practice in new directions.
The For-Profit Moral Community’s brand is conveyed within the context of that ideology and its economic activities are constrained by it. It intends to affect society, driven by its own ideology, broadly defined as its own extra-financial values, vision, and purpose with the intent of impacting society around it.
Moral Partners, Markets, and Decision Making
Because a For-Profit Moral Community is not bottom-line driven, it will make many decisions, particularly in choosing its moral partners — vendors, suppliers, and partners — up-, down-, and cross-stream of its own economic activities for non-financial reasons. Lowest price is not the criteria.
As a catalyst of social change, the For-Profit Moral Community will not be market driven, but driven to create markets that are not defined by competition, price-setting, and price signals alone.
A market defined by sheer price forces might be efficient but it cannot be moral. A market must be more. It’s broader character has to do with society, mores, identity, values, and thought.
True free market competition embraces the moral dimensions of choice. Because the for-profit business acting as a catalyst for social change has a non-financial purpose, it will embrace that competition and constrain its economic activities by that purpose.
#GTIdeology Happy Hour Chat
We will these issues in The @SkolnyOrg’s #GTIdeology Happy Hour Twitter Chat on Thursday, March 26, 2015, at 4:00 PT and 7:00 ET.
You are invited and welcome to join us every Thursday at 4:00 PT | 7:00 ET to discuss various aspects of our GTIdeology — the ideology of Greatness Through the Individual applied to business.
About Vince Skolny
Vince Skolny is the Founding Chair of The Skolny Organization, an unabashedly for-profit venture marketing organization that exists to impact the world by creating and encouraging greatness through the individual.
Vince is a fierce advocate for the individual and intends it to lead an entire social revolution, reorienting society around individual persons, point blank equality, and genuine egalitarian opportunity.
He speaks to groups, conducts workshops, and facilitates discussions on the ideology of Greatness Through the Individual as the foundation of life, society, and business.
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Copyright © 2015 by Vince Skolny. You are free to share and disseminate this article however you wish, but don’t even think of selling it or claiming it as your own. You’re better than that.