Charity or Business Model? Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility with Your Email Marketing

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“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”Henry Ford

The quote above was included recently in a marketing newsletter to which I subscribe, and it struck a chord with me. When we stop and think about our business, how do we answer the question of what it is that we make?

Obviously, we may make a product or provide a service, and this is what eventually earns us revenue. But is this all that we do? And does our answer to this question have any bearing on our marketing programs?

It occurred to me recently, in trying to think about marketing and specifically email marketing in a new way, that there are other aspects to business to which we may not give a lot of thought. Certainly, there are aspects that we don’t generally read a lot about. We do read a lot about revenue, lead generation, open rates, increasing our list size and our customer base, etc., etc. These are the money-making aspects of our businesses with which we are, of course, very familiar.

But what of the other aspects of our business that aren’t so directly related to our accounts receivable? How about, for example, our corporate social responsibility? What do we give back to the communities in which our business exists or in which our customers reside? Do we give back anything at all? Or do we simply make money, and as much of it as possible?

I suspect that this is what Henry Ford–that icon of marketing and innovation–may have been getting at. While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may not have existed back then as a common business term, the concept must have, at least in some incipient form. How relevant it was back then, I don’t know. Today, though, it’s very relevant. For a company that makes only money is putting itself at a disadvantage.

This is because a company’s behavior, its good works, and its reputation may be even more relevant to its bottom line than you imagine. And while goodwill and community giving are much more difficult for your accounting team to quantify, this does not mean that they shouldn’t be contemplated as an aspect of your company’s mission and reputation.

A company that becomes involved somehow in its community demonstrates its commitment to the community and gives credence to the company’s stability and its longevity. It also demonstrates that the company cares about more than just profits and that they are aligned with the values that the community believes are important.

Okay, hopefully you’re with me here. It all makes sense, does it not, that a company’s reputation and corporate practices can affect its bottom line? But what, you may ask, does CSR have to do with email marketing?

Well, for a start, have you thought about the fact that by sending emails to your customers and prospects instead of direct mail or catalogs, you’re saving trees, in the form of using less paper? That’s a responsible business decision. You save your company postage, of course, but don’t you also cause less gas to be used by the Postal Service, since they have to use planes and trucks to deliver the mail? Mail you’re no longer sending because you’re using email.

That’s pretty basic stuff, of course. We can take things further, though. How about using email to promote your company’s CSR program? You provide various links to your corporate website in your emails, but how about a link to your CSR program? What if you create revenue for your CSR program though a promotional offer? It’s easy to do: a certain percentage of your customers’ purchases–those made within a certain timeframe or those purchases of particular items–could be donated to the organization(s) you support. The fraction of the profit you may lose through this donation could easily be offset by the increase in purchases by customers who want to support the cause or who will be more likely to buy something if they know their purchase will result in a donation to a worthy recipient.

I don’t mean to suggest you should do these things in a manner that is self-serving or that is antithetical to the intent of your CSR program, which is to do good for the purpose of doing good, because you are a company with enough resources that you can give back. I simply hope to provide a new way to think about your email marketing–something beyond opens and click-throughs. Perhaps there’s profit in these ideas and perhaps not. But perhaps profit shouldn’t always be the driver of decisions.

I do believe there is a movement underfoot to more directly align profit and business decisions with social responsibility. Witness the (RED) campaign, founded by the lead singer of U2, Bono, which is a perfect example of a business which directly combines its support for a worthy cause with the goal of creating revenue through selling products. The campaign’s philosophy is summarized in its Manifesto which says, succinctly, ” (RED) is not a charity, (RED) is a business model.” A good one, I think.

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