Written By: Andrew Brady
FCP Note: Conscious businesses are businesses that are good, ethical, noble and heroic. Conscious businesses work to constantly provide their communities and workers with transformational experiences that inspire, educate and empower them to elevate humanity through business. Posts about conscious businesses (in Rochester or otherwise) on Flower City Philanthropy are made possible through our community partnership with Conscious Capitalism Rochester.
Growing up, I remember Nike being an iconic brand. I also vividly remember when it was uncovered that they had sweatshops in developing countries with working conditions that bordered on subhuman. These days, it’s much more difficult to keep those kinds of skeletons hidden in the closet. Why? The internet, smartphones and social media. When everyone has a camera in their pocket and the ability to broadcast to the world, it creates a paradigm of radical transparency. Companies no longer have full control over their branding. Instead, their customers and other stakeholders become equally if not more important in shaping the brand.
What do you trust more? A great advertisement during the Super Bowl? Or a friend tweeting about great customer service at Wegmans? What about your cousin sharing a horror story a terrible customer service experience on Facebook? Most people will give more weight to friends and family, (or sometimes even strangers!) than the well-crafted marketing messages put out by a company. No longer is your brand what your advertisements say it is. Instead, what if you asked customers, the community and other external stakeholders what they’ve experienced in their interactions with your company? Would they identify values like customer service, quality or making a difference in the community? Or would they more likely associate your company with untrustworthiness or a lack of reliability? If the brand espoused in your marketing messages doesn’t match their experience of the brand (or the stories they’ve heard about others’ experiences), the lack of authenticity quickly becomes apparent.
Yet aligning the brand with the experiences of external stakeholders is not enough. Your brand is made up of the values as seen by external stakeholders. Yet the values as seen internally make up your culture. This isn’t merely the values espoused on the plaque on the wall of your conference room or plastered all over your website. What if you asked employees to identify the values that they actually experience every day? Would they identify teamwork, accountability and trust? Or would it be blame, bureaucracy and lack of transparency? Again, if the values on the website and the plaque don’t match the everyday experiences of the employees, the lack of authenticity is readily apparent.
Conscious businesses align their values as seen internally by employees (the culture) with the values as seen externally (the brand). Thanks to our smartphones and social media, when the values that the company espouses don’t align with the culture and the brand, no amount of advertising can overcome the lack of authenticity. Outdoor apparel company Patagonia has a strong and consistent focus on sustainability. They are so committed to this value that they created an environmental internship program that gives employees paid time off to volunteer with an environmental organization of their choice. In 2011, they even took out a page in the New York Times on Black Friday that had a picture of one of their jackets and said “Don’t buy this Jacket.” Sound crazy? In a statement, Patagonia said that it would be “hypocritical to work for environmental sustainability without encouraging customers to think before they buy.” The result? Patagonia also started an initiative to repair worn clothing and constantly raises the bar on sustainability by voluntarily disclosing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of everything they make. Another outdoors company and Conscious Business, REI, responded to the commercialization of Black Friday with a movement to #OptOutside. On Black Friday, they close their stores and pay all of their employees to spend the day enjoying the outdoors.
A clothing company that doesn’t want you to buy their jackets (or at least wants you to consider whether you truly need another jacket)? Closing down on the biggest retail sales day of the year? Isn’t that costly? Only in the short term. In the long term, Conscious Businesses like these have more engaged employees, higher morale, turnover well below industry averages and receive far more applications for each open position, allowing them to be more selective in the hiring process. Often, they save money on recruiting because their employees are such advocates for the company that they enlist their friends! When employees connect with the company’s mission and don’t just read the values on the website, but can feel the values every day, that authenticity impacts the bottom line. At the same time, customers become fiercely loyal not only because they also see an authentic alignment of values and brand, but also because they receive exceptional customer service from happy, engaged employees. Many conscious businesses can save money on advertising because their customers do it for them!
So what about your company? Are your values just words on a website? Or are they part of the culture that is felt by employees and part of the brand that is felt by customers? Whether or not they align, there’s probably somebody tweeting about it…and no matter how much you paid for your commercials, ads and billboards, your REAL brand is being shaped—and shared—one interaction at a time.
Guest Blogger: Andrew Brady
Andrew Brady is the Chief Evolutionary Officer at The XLR8 Team. He helps purpose-driven leaders evolve their organizational cultures, leading to the engagement of employees and the flourishing of their organizations. He Chairs Conscious Capitalism ROC, co-Chairs the RocCity Coalition and is a board member with Junior Achievement, Rochester Young Professionals, NextGen Rochester and the United Way Emerging Leaders Society.