McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations
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McCracken Consultancy

Releasing your inner social business to build a winning brand

Today I want to write about why Corporate Social Responsibility is a limited concept and moving to a new approach can enable all businesses to build winning brands.

The notion of Corporate Social Responsibility has been a staple on the Marketing plan of every large business for many years, usually characterised by some mixture of donations of cash to worthy causes, staff volunteering, and donating specialist expertise e.g. helping a charity become better at their digital marketing skills.  And why is it on the Marketing plan? To differentiate of course.  To ‘build brand’. People like buying from decent people.  And staff also like working in decent businesses.

The notion is great for business ‘big guns’ with cash and people to spare one could argue, but for many smaller and newer organisations CSR is seen as a luxury they cannot afford. Firstly, there isn’t the cash to ‘give away’; it may be even a struggle to cover costs, certainly any profits need to be ploughed back into the business to facilitate stability and growth; secondly, there is not a jot of spare staff capacity for volunteering during working hours.  I would suggest such businesses ditch getting hung up on CSR in their marketing plan and ask themselves the question “how can we be a social business”?

A Social business is NOT a social enterprise.  A social enterprise is profit-making but driven by the aim to solve a social issue or promote good and all profits are put back into the business.  A social business is driven by profit but considers social impact alongside financial return…..i.e. a decent business making an effort to be decent.  I maintain EVERY business can be a social business and most businesses to some extent probably are, but they don’t shout about the positive things they do effectively, and most could do that little bit more at no expense, differentiate even that bit more and build brands that are more competitive.

Here is a case study of a great social business.  Timpson’s strapline is ‘Great Service by Great People’.  How does that marry up with their social impact activities? I have always found them very friendly and efficient, so for me, they’ve delivered for one stakeholder group – the customer.  The second biggest social business ‘shout out’ related to individuals and wider society is that a large proportion of their workforce are ex-offenders, and they even run day-release training so trainees are able to immediately take up jobs on release sometimes at managerial level.  They say that they are a true equal opportunities employer, employing only on the basis of personality and attitude.  They say this has only benefitted Timpsons.

They also advertise other positive social impacts that aren’t so unusual, but they have set standards publicly for themselves to adhere to e.g. a ‘happy index’ (employee feedback) the findings of which they publish yearly.  They promote that they are family-run, as many businesses do, but on their website this feels meaningful as each member individually writes what they care about.  Regarding pay they also don’t just say they give ‘highly competitive salaries’, but “we pay what we can afford rather than what we can get away with” which feels honest as some years of course business will be better than others.  This is just a flavour of a few things one business who has ‘released their inner social business’ has done, having a positive impact and leveraging that to help build a successful business.  Timpson are the UK’s leading retail service provider with 3,400 colleagues, a low employee turnover rate, and outstanding public relations opportunities.

I suggest you undertake this step-by-step process to release your ‘inner social business’ and build a winning brand:

  • Assess the full value of your contribution now to all your stakeholders (you probably have more stakeholders than you think and don’t forget your staff!)

  • Check you are continually telling your stakeholders where you do have a positive social impact

  • Find changes you could make so your business can have a bigger positive social impact. Involve all your staff, clients too.  What do they care about? Brainstorm like crazy.

  • Ensure your mission statement or publicized Brand Values include something about your desired social impact, and your visual brand and strapline is coherent with that.

  • Refresh your website and use social media to keep telling the world about your positive impact and make your brand shine.

If you want to talk to me about how you could act more like a social business and benefit please call me on 07792 503 815.

And back to basics…….should you be a social enterprise or social business anyway? Call me on 07792 503 815.