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Lead With Your Authentic Values

(October 2007) posted on Sat Oct 20, 2007

Increasingly vocal customers, shareholders, and employees will hold you to account.

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By Andrea Southcott

The camp you don't want to be in is those businesses that jump on the bandwagon because it's popular with their publics and not because it comes from the heart of the organization. The term 'greenwashing' is often applied to companies who talk but don't walk the walk when it comes to environmental strategies. Customers may be fooled once, but the backlash can be swift and extremely damaging.

In thinking about how to deliver an authentic Corporate Social Responsibility strategy to your business or brand, consider the following:

* Your values most come from your DNA: They can't be bolted on as an afterthought. For example, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a Canadian-based, member-owned co-op focused on 'self-propelled wilderness-oriented recreation' and a supplier of outdoor gear and clothing. MEC is regularly recognized for values that come directly from their mission statement.

* Be prepared to be accountable: Before embarking on a values-based strategy, determine how you are going to be measured. 'What are we doing to become carbon neutral?' has become something that even ad-agency management teams talk about. But without understanding the measurable outcome, good intentions can become hollow goals.

* Start slow, learn and refine as you go: Set realistic goals and timelines. Don't try to change the world overnight. You'll have more success with a small change well-executed than a noble goal with no proof points.

* Be fully open to feedback and learning-don't be afraid of your customers: Actively solicit commentary, encourage blogs, contribute and engage. Customers respect conversation.

* Embrace risk: Values-based marketing can mean moving out of your comfort zone. For example, Vancity, Canada's largest credit union, recently launched a bike-share program, giving out 45 bikes and encouraging people to 'take a ride, ride it, and pass it on.' While not directly related to banking, it gave Vancity a chance to put its money where its values are.

* Work in collaboration with others: Wal-Mart and Home Depot have pledged to lower their environmental footprint by offering sustainable products and favoring suppliers who use less packaging, restrict emissions, and embrace sustainability.

* Put your money where your mouth is: Invest in new products that live your values.

Finding your authentic way
As Corporate Social Responsibility strategies become an increasing visible part of a business's brand or brand's public face, finding your authentic way to play will require a greater investment in time and in hard dollars. Done right, though, the benefits can far outweigh the costs. And, you'll sleep better at night knowing you're doing your part to create positive change.

Andrea Southcott is president of TBWA/Vancouver (, a full-service advertising and media-planning company. This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail.