A recent survey of CEOs is a stark reminder of how far our economy still needs to go before social impact is seen as a key business driver.
According to the survey, while American business leaders feel more pressure than ever to speak out on social issues, they still would rather not. Instead, they’d prefer to focus on the bottom line: a plurality say their most important communications goal this year is to sell their products and services.
The positive takeaway? It’s good to see that nearly 40% of the CEOs surveyed understand the value of communicating brand differentiation (provided they can back it up). Beyond that, though, the survey is disappointing because it perpetuates a fundamental misconception about social impact and business: that the two are in opposition to each other, or worse, that social impact is bad for business.
Social impact isn’t bad for business. It’s the future of business.
Social impact helps drive sales, attract and retain customers, builds a thriving corporate culture, and helps protect brands in fluid and confusing times. CEOs who understand this and move to take advantage of the opportunities social impact brings their companies, will come out ahead.
I understand the concerns CEOs have in embracing impact because I hear them all the time: “How do we know our consumers won’t be pissed at us?” “Isn’t it safer just to stay quiet?” “What does selling (insert product) have to do with (insert issue)?”
All good questions. And all answerable. Social impact isn’t a lucky guess or something you do on a wing and a prayer. There’s a right way to do it so that these questions–and many more–are considered, asked, and answered so that you can move forward with confidence.
More to the point, it’s increasingly expected. As Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer points out, “[as] people look for change, they are increasingly turning to CEOs to lead it–from positive change on prejudice and discrimination to training for the jobs of tomorrow to sexual harassment. Today, 76% say CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for government to impose it–an 11-point increase in the last year alone.”
A recent study from Accenture supports this view. In surveying some 30,000 consumers, the consultancy found that “62% of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency, or fair employment practices.”
And these actions aren’t just for brands…