Leading with your values allows locally owned, independent businesses to connect with their customers to drive economic health and prosperity
Everyone has values!
If we think our politics are divided, so are our purchasing behaviors.
A substantial amount of research depicts customers buying motivations, globally and especially here in the US.
The top-line numbers go something like this: 60% are all about the discount. The 60-percenters want cheap! They don’t care about service or a nice buying experience, nor do they care about product quality. If it breaks next month that’s OK; they will throw it away and buy another – remember, it was cheap. These are your Walmart and Amazon shoppers.
If you are reading this particular publication, I am guessing you don’t resonate with the previous paragraph. Don’t despair.
The other 40% shop based on their values. These are the folks driving the localism and triple bottom line (equal emphasis on people, planet and prosperity) business movements. They will pay extra for fresh local tasty food (clearly not McDonald’s). This why a couple with young children will cancel their cable TV to be able to afford to buy locally produced yogurt for their kids and their health. These 40-percenters are willing to pay a premium for those items that inspire their values. Now let’s be clear, everybody likes a good deal! Yet, there is a huge difference between someone who buys Patagonia organic cotton T-shirts on sale, and someone who goes to the Dollar store to get 3 T-shirts for $5.
My friend Raphael Bemporad, co-founder of the branding agency BBMG, has conducted numerous studies on buying behavior. Their research suggests that people follow a fairly consistent path in their conscious purchasing trends. They call it In Me, On Me, Around Me. People generally first start making enlightened health-based choices, eating more organic foods, for example (In Me). When they see the value which that brings to their lives, the next step for them is usually On Me choices such as shampoo, makeup, etc. Finally, the folks that make it to the Around Me stage may choose to drive a Prius, install solar panels on their house and so on.
This matters to you, whether you are a shopper or a seller.
Locally owned, independent businesses cannot compete on price. With their limited sales volumes, low margins equate to death. This is why many communities have completely lost their locally owned, independent business base. These communities no longer have a distinct identity, they no longer have good jobs and they no longer produce middle class wealth. The movie “The High Cost of Low Prices” is right on.
If you are a buyer, yes, enjoy a good deal when it comes your way.
Remember, however, that if you value a vibrant community with diversity of choice that include quality products, services and experiences, that economic health is not free.
Let’s talk values.
You may not have a name for it, but just about everyone on the planet is in touch with the idea or feeling that we are in some sort of global, or universal transition, I cannot name an industry, institution or organization of any kind that is not feeling the effects.
In my opinion, the frequently reported decline in American exceptionalism, noted across many statistical lists including social mobility, income inequality, and healthcare cost versus benefits, can be traced to one word — community. We have become so focused on our fear of not getting what “we” need and want, and I mean this on the whole spectrum of Maslow’s hierarchy, that “we” can’t get past ourselves to engage in those positive outcomes that can only result from collaboration with others. In a word, community.
The business community I am describing has a minor identity crisis since we, as a collective group, can’t seem to settle on the best adjectives to describe us: Socially responsible business, green business, social enterprise, conscious capitalism, triple bottom line, and localist are all in use. The adjectives may vary, but these businesses bring real substance to solving local and global challenges.
As a business owner, it’s time to get in touch with your own deepest-held values.
With over 7 billion people on the planet (soon to be 9 billion) and with 28 million businesses in the United States, how do we get noticed? Chances are, no matter how unique you are (and I believe you are), there are many other folks who do what you do.
In the 1960’s, Mad Men ruled business communications and informed our culture through their mass communications (can you say television). The Norm for every male (sorry ladies, you have always mattered, but not in this example) was a starched, plain white shirt. The idea was to be offensive to no one and acceptable to everyone. The problem became apparent after three or four decades of workers feigned vanilla on the outside, while inside, they were peanut-bubblegum-coffee swirl. The stress of conformity was, and still is, literally killing us.
Successful businesses that are smaller in scale cannot be all things to all people. Find your like-minded tribe of values-aligned customers. Focus on their needs and ignore the rest.
In all of this insanity who gets noticed? First and foremost it is those who have the courage and confidence to be their true authentic self. I am not suggesting this is easy. It it were, everyone would be doing it. Most of us have some sort of old programing that brings out our fear more than our true self. People (read customers) are drawn to those who fully put themselves out there. Once you work through your fear, I promise you will feel more joy and happiness, more community and yes, more prosperity.
Authenticity, at its core, is about transparency. This puts fear deep into the heart of your big-business competitors.
You have heard of green washing (companies that advertise how “green” they are) and now local washing, like large national retail chains that have each store carrying a small number of local products, so they can advertise their “commitment” to the local community. Big companies want and need to operate in the shadows to continue to make the big profits they do. They don’t want the public to know what is in their concoctions. They don’t want the manner in which they treat their employees to air on the evening news. They don’t want their carbon footprint discussed on talk shows. I know it’s scary, but as a local business, you can be transparent and your community will appreciate you for it.
So, in addition to doing the hard work of getting in touch with your own values, it’s time to understand on a deep level what your community values. When you can closely align your values with theirs, everybody wins. What are their values? Ask them! In-person inquiries or online surveys are easy and free; or, perhaps you can hold a contest to see which cause you should support. The possibilities are endless, as are the virtues of connecting. I can say without hesitation that the big companies I am forced to do business with (think cable and energy monopolies) have long-ago forgone regarding me as a human being in favor of seeing me as a vendor ID number. Remembering that your customers are human beings is an easy, but vital step in creating a community, or tribe, that demonstrates mutual respect and caring as part of its unofficial mission.
Another way to communicate your values is with third party certifications. It can be confusing, as there are over 400 product certifications. I am fairly certain most people are aware of the labels USDA Certified Organic, Certified Fair Trade, or countless others. The challenge is that some certifications are quite relevant and stringent, while others are little more than marketing hyperbole.
Wouldn’t it be great if a simpler system existed? Wouldn’t it be great if we could confidently buy from good companies, not just companies with good marketing? We can!
Enter the B Corporation, a designation that shows the world a company’s equal commitment to social responsibility and profit. Globally, there is a community of over 1000 Certified B Corporations, and that number continues to grow. Some famous brands include Patagonia, Seventh Generation and Ben & Jerry’s, but my micro-company, On Belay Business Advisors Inc., is certified too; here is the link to my actual score.
Why settle for a product when you can get the whole company?
In the case of certified B Corps, all aspects of the company are evaluated – their products or service, their governance, their treatment of employees, their relationship with their community, and their impact on the environment.
Certification involves rising standards (which keep getting more demanding), and independent audits require you to prove that you walk your talk – that you are what you say you are. Being certified is a great way to communicate your values to customers and to have a far more meaningful conversation, which leads to a deeper relationship, which leads to happier customers and a more prosperous business.
It is my hope you are now feeling better about your own values and how important they are to the successful ROI of your business. And remember, engaging your customer is easier and more effective if you are part of a community of like-minded businesses. Our cultural image of John Wayne alone on Main Street, taking on the world by himself, may be beginning to fade in favor of effective collaborations.
A key take-away for all of us: Every time you spend money, you are voting for the kind of world you want. Vote wisely, with your deepest-held values in mind.