Tough choices involved in doing the right thing

You’ve heard it before: doing good is good for brands. To date, it’s been nice for some but necessary for none. However, we are approaching a time when doing good will be mandatory for all.

syl saller

Nielsen’s 2012 Global, Socially Conscious Consumer report found that 66 per cent of consumers around the world prefer to buy from companies that have implemented programmes to contribute to the greater good. This sounds attractive, but you cannot make token investments in pursuit of a momentary halo. Sometimes doing good hurts in the short and 
even medium term with points of margin sacrificed for values. But if you don’t mean it, it won’t matter, although those 66 per cent of consumers will not be buying from you.

Professor Raj Sisodia and John Mackey, founder and co-chief executive of supermarket Whole Foods, are the authors of Conscious Capitalism in which they aim to “liberate the heroic spirit of business”. They conclude that socially responsible companies perform 10 times better than their peers.

US company TOMS, which was founded by Blake Mycoskie, has given more than 2 million pairs of shoes to children in need since 2006. TOMS is not a charity but a sustainable for-profit business. It has has been so successful that it has branched into eyewear.

Diageo takes a similar approach: operating sustainably and responsibly to ensure overall impact is positive. This desire to do the right thing is at the heart of everything we do.

Take Johnnie Walker. We are proud that it is the world’s best-selling spirit brand in value terms and recently reached the mark of 20 million cases sold. But more gratifying is that, with this reach, the brand can be the mouthpiece for a universal cause – asking consumers to ‘join the pact’ to never drink and drive.

We pursue this message because we are parents, aunts and uncles and friends. If you want to truly understand the depth of a company’s social commitment, ask the employees. They know if it is real, and when it is, it drives motivation
and loyalty.

Sometimes, you can make more of a difference by joining forces with folks who are already effecting change. One of our latest innovations in the US, Naked Turtle Rum, partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy before the brand was launched. We did this to ensure the product was true to its heritage, not so we could bolt on charitable credentials. Through our Kill the Lights/Save the Turtles initiative, we work to retrofit beachfront bars with turtle-friendly LED lights. These protect turtle hatchlings, who otherwise are led astray by the bright lights of the shoreline. So far, thousands of baby turtles have been saved. Our hope is that our support of the Sea Turtle Conservancy will grow in line with Naked Turtle, giving a great cause an even greater voice. By creating a powerful new brand for millennial consumers, we can be a powerful force for good.

Another example is Renault’s Mobiliz campaign. The car manufacturer partnered with NGO Voiture & Co, investing €5m to help car dealers develop affordable service and repair schemes for the 8 million people living below the poverty line in France. Voiture & Co organises car hire and car pooling for people without transport. By doing this, Renault is not trying to sell more cars but is being serious about an issue.

The same can be said for Diageo’s Water of Life programme in Africa. We use water to make all our beverages, so protecting and conserving the resources in the communities in which we operate is critical. This drive for good, and our commitment to standards in compliance and ethics, was given no greater accolade than when the Ethiopian government sold its national Meta Abo brewery to Diageo, a decision based in no small part by our conduct in Africa.

Julian Metcalfe, who founded Pret A Manger and Itsu, has the right reason for his shops giving all unsold food to the homeless – “because it makes sense and it’s the right thing to do”.

Doing good isn’t always easy. But in the age of the globally connected consumer, companies 
that are serious about making a difference will come out on top.

Doing good is good for brands but it can also be good for so much more.

Syl Saller is chief marketing officer at Diageo 

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