How leading companies advance their business and brand by creating shared value
The world now faces an increasingly complex set of challenges: growing income inequality, climate change, and food scarcity, to name just a few. While governments and NGOs continue their work in these areas, the corporate sector is now standing up to help address these issues, recognizing that the world is moving towards a new center of balance where societal impact is just as important as profits. Leading companies around the globe are acting to create meaningful change that not only advances business objectives and the world in a sustainable way, but also continually strengthens brand value.
However, a review CSR reports, even among leading Canadian companies, reveals that many organizations are simply going through the motions, either aiming for minimum targets for regulatory compliance or recasting standard business practices through a politically expedient lens. In both instances, these organizations are missing valuable opportunities to create positive social impact, enhance the long-term viability of their business, and share more compelling and differentiating stories with the marketplace. By shifting focus from compliance to creating shared value, these companies can strengthen both their business performance and brand.
What is Shared Value?
Shared value is the idea that a company can create measureable business value by addressing social issues that directly intersect with its business. The notion goes beyond philanthropy or sustainability efforts to identifying specific challenges that will grow the company’s profits while creating positive outcomes for society. Michael Porter and Michael Kramer, who coined the term, identified unique ways companies can create these shared value opportunities, including product innovation that focuses on societal benefits, efficiencies in the supply chain that reduce environmental impact, and supportive industry relationships in the communities where a company operates.
Many leading companies have realized the benefits of creating shared value, such as GE. Since launching its Ecomagination business in 2005, the company has earned over $105 billion in revenue from associated products and services. Focused on building innovative solutions for today’s environmental challenges, the Ecomagination business has grown at twice the rate of the rest of the company. Walmart has realized similar success with its own shared value initiatives. In its efforts to reduce product packaging and optimize delivery routes, Walmart has lowered its carbon emissions while saving $200 million in costs—a clear and dramatic example of redefining productivity in its value chain.
Shared Value and Brand Value
But beyond driving revenue and improving margin, shared value initiatives provide companies with the opportunity to build brand value. No matter what the goal—from enhancing employee clarity on the company’s purpose to differentiating the brand or improving perceived authenticity and relevance—creating shared value fortifies the attributes that strengthen B2B or B2C brands. The result is a brand better able to drive choice, enhance loyalty, and ultimately increase brand value.
Shared Value and Internal Clarity
A key tenet to any strong brand is an internal sense of clarity. After all, how can employees be responsible for delivering a brand they don’t understand? This includes being aligned with what the brand stands for—its purpose in the world—so they can engage fully and deliver on its promise. Studies show that companies enjoy significant benefits from highly engaged employees, and frequently see uplift in every business performance indicator: profitability +16 percent, productivity +18 percent, customer loyalty +12 percent, and quality +60 percent.
Canadian outdoor recreation outfitter, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), understands its purpose in the world (inspiring Canadians to be active outdoors) and motivates employees accordingly. But to fulfill its mission, MEC understands it must go beyond providing equipment and play a role in conserving the outdoor spaces where people use MEC’s gear. Through its involvement in local communities and outdoor industry associations, and its integrated business and sustainability strategy, MEC embodies shared value. It is building supportive industry clusters that create, develop, and innovate opportunities within its market, while ensuring employees understand the brand’s purpose.
Shared Value and Differentiation
Canada’s leading telecommunications brands have struggled to differentiate and drive consumer choice beyond price, but one brand stands out for making significant strides to separate itself from the pack. With the launch of Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative in 2010, the company has made progress to put an end to the stigma surrounding mental health by raising national awareness and committing $62 million in funding. While Let’s Talk is playing a vital role in bringing attention to one of the most widespread health issues in this country, it is also helping Bell engage with consumers in a more meaningful way—on the very devices they provide to them. This effort differentiates the brand in a way that has been proven to drive consumer choice and loyalty.
Shared Value and Authenticity
To convey authenticity effectively, a brand’s communications must consistently align with its actions. For instance, as Canadian financial services brands send messages of partnership and support to customers, consumer debt levels head to a forecasted all-time high in 2014— largely due to easy access to credit. One exception is National Bank.
With its ClearFacts initiative, National Bank provides consumers with a plethora of free advice to help Canadians make more sound financial decisions today and tomorrow. Guidance spans from how to best manage daily expenses, such as cell phone data usage, to longer-term considerations like buying a home and planning for retirement. By creating a service that supports the financial health of consumers, National Bank is strengthening its credibility and the authenticity of its brand.
Shared Value and Relevance
In Canada, childhood obesity is expected to have significant impact on industries such as healthcare and insurance, yet one brand taking on the issue represents a different sector altogether. In 2013, Canadian Tire launched a national advertising campaign bringing broader awareness to childhood obesity, encouraging parents and kids alike to embrace sport and outdoor activity to live better. Canadian Tire extends this effort far beyond ad campaigns by continuously supporting its Jumpstart initiative. Founded in 2005, Canadian Tire Jumpstart enables financially disadvantaged kids to participate in sports by helping to cover the cost of registration, equipment, and transportation. These cumulative efforts notably enhance the brand’s relevance with Canadians by driving interest and engagement in sport, and ultimately, health and well-being.
The concept of creating shared value is equally relevant to the non-profit sector. In focusing on new ways to partner, non-profit organizations along with their corporate sector donors are transforming traditional corporate philanthropy into shared value opportunities. One NGO taking on this approach is Plan Canada. “We’re finding more and more opportunities to engage with our corporate partners, moving beyond donations to engaging their employees more holistically,” says Paula Roberts, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Development at Plan Canada. Not only does this approach support Plan Canada’s work in various regions across the globe, but it also strengthens employee engagement levels within its corporate partner base, a proven metric to enhance both productivity and profitability within a business.
In creating shared value, these brands demonstrate the opportunity at hand: to be leading Corporate Citizens while strengthening their organizations’ bottom line and brand value. By stepping outside category norms, each has shown how doing what is beneficial for society can, in turn, be beneficial to the business and brand. As more companies move from compliance to embracing shared value in their strategic business planning, we will hopefully see an exciting evolution in category norms altogether.
Meghan Fraser is a Director of Strategy for Interbrand Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @meghannfraser.