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Doing good can help you do well

Many smart people have pointed out that the Internet has placed a premium on transparency–that the old idea that you have to fool your customers to buy from you is on the wane. And they are right. But I think something bigger is at work here. I honestly believe that companies are learning that their brands must stand for more than making a profit. Increasingly, customers expect you to do something good. Good for customers, employees, and even the general public.

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Now, I’m no political activist. I don’t come at this subject as someone who feels that business is intrinsically evil, even though corporations have sometimes been responsible for unspeakable harm. My belief is that people, even people who work in corporations, are not evil. That business people have consciences. That many of them want to do the right thing.

But I think most business people don’t know how to do the right thing. At least, they don’t know how to do it without coming across as some kind of lunatic within their corporate culture. And they don’t know how to convince others to do the right thing without sounding very un-businesslike. I’m out to show you why doing good is, in fact, good business.

I mean, it wasn’t so long ago that a 6th century book by Sun Tzu on warfare, The Art of War, actually became a popular business book. Its central thesis held that business is war, and managers tried to apply quotes like this one to their jobs: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

I’m here to tell you that declaring war on your competitors might feel good, but too often these precepts were applied to Machiavellian office politics where the warriors all worked for the same company. Those times are over. Today, companies need people who can work together to form alliances not only with fellow employees, but with other companies, and most of all, customers. That’s what the Internet demands, and rewards. The Web is declaring war on deception as a strategy.

But there’s more going on than that. As each company seems to fall all over themselves trying to look “greener” than the rest, something deeper is at work here. Companies know that they need to do something for the public good to really succeed. It’s not enough to make money for shareholders, the way we were taught in the 1980s. Now, every company is trying to at least appear to be good for the world, too.

I think it’s a generational thing. People a lot younger than me are far less willing to plunk down their money for a good product made by a bad company. Or at least a company they believe is bad. And while no two people agree on what constitutes a bad company, the point is that it wasn’t long ago that no one cared. They bought the product that was best or cheapest or tasted the best, and they didn’t care about anything else.

Now, times are changing. Customers are starting to demand more of companies. And, in time, that will mean that doing good will be one of the keys to doing well. You will enhance your profits by benevolence. As more and more credible information is unearthed by the Internet about corporate behavior, and spread far and wide, the “good guys” will have an advantage in customer loyalty and, dare I say it, profits.

And that’s how the corporate cultures will change so that you won’t look like a lunatic to suggest that your company do the right thing. Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “If doing good just becomes another cynical ploy to boost profits, is it really doing good?” I’ll leave that question to the ethicists and the moralists to discern.

All I know is this: If you’re still fooling your customers about your products and fooling your employees about your benefits and fooling the public about your pollution, you won’t have much longer to worry about it. Because the Internet exposes everything, given enough time, and the companies that are behaving in the interests of people, not profits, will eventually reap the profits, too.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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