By now it should be clear that doing good is good business.
But if something about the whole thing strikes you as a bit fishy, you’re not alone. It should sound fishy. Marketers interested in doing good are caught in an odd kind of double bind. Admitting that social good campaigns are really about the bottom line smacks of inauthenticity. The problem is, so does denying it. The fact that you recognize this tension is a pretty good indication that you have what it takes to think like your audience, and to ultimately rise above the noise.
If you don’t tackle the mistrust directly, it will tackle you. Led in large part by the young adults, audiences today are far more suspicious of marketing than any audience before it. This is, we freely admit, our own fault. Advertisers (wea culpa) have brought this on ourselves. Turns out when you spend several decades manipulating people’s desires, they start to resent you for it. They also assume every piece of communication is manipulation. Oops.
For our current all-time favorite example of this effect, see this insightful and delightfully cynically spectacular takedown of the NFL’s “partnership” with No More. It’s long, but worth it, we swear. Favorite bit (if you’re too rushed at the moment):
Imagine your girlfriend saying, “I love that color,” and you being able to respond with, “Yeah, it’s my anti-domestic violence polish.” It’s what we’ve been missing all this time.
It gets better than that, we swear, seriously read it. Anyway, this is what you’re up against. Your audience’s bullshit meter is at an all time high. And, paradoxically, so is their hunger-for-good meter. The least we can do is to try to help you navigate this terrain.
If you’re a business thinking of using your resources for some higher good, you may read articles like that one and go, “Well shoot, we’ll just support who we support and not bother telling anyone.” Or worse, you’ll just decide to avoid doing good all together.
Option one is certainly a safe and viable one, but misses an opportunity. We started this business to help good-hearted businesses navigate this exact atmospheric soup of competing pressure fronts – the cynical front in perpetual collision with the idealism front. (Apparently, the metaphor was terrain before, and now it’s weather systems. Go with it.) Because if you can do good and get credit for it, well, you can do even more good. Good done well feeds itself and builds, amplifying its work by giving your audience a reason to join you. Good pays for itself. And then some.
There will always be skeptics. And they’ll usually have an important point, one worth listening hard to. But if you do this right, if you engage with a real problem in an authentic and meaningful way, even the skeptics will begin to support you, regardless of whether or not they trust you.
But earning their trust in the long run is possible. And, we’d argue, essential. You get it right with the skeptics, the others will follow (and the biggest immediate impact may well be internal – motivating and rallying your employees). Regardless of the demographic, there’s never been a better chance to connect with your audience on a deeper level than you ever imagined was possible. The question is: how do you overcome their suspicions?
You start by recognizing inauthenticity in your own motivations.
Then you do some good, motivations be damned. The bigger the better.
But there’s no getting around this next part.
Eventually, you’re going to have to start meaning it.
Start by giving something meaningful. Make it hurt. It’s remarkable how much having real skin in the game will make you care about that game.
And then you’re going to have to ask for something meaningful from your audience. The ask has to be bigger than “Please drink out of your be-logoed, over-priced coffee cup!” Respect them enough to ask for their help, their passions, their skills and their time. Give them something to care about, and a way to turn their care into change.
That’s what authenticity looks like.
And that’s where you have to start to make sure Good stays good.