Business success, societal needs interlocked

Companies have long realized the importance of meeting consumers' rational and emotional needs alike, but what about societal needs?

COMPANIES have long realized the importance of meeting consumers' rational and emotional needs alike, but delivering on societal needs is equally important, Jonathan Lutkowski of Edelman pointed out at the 2016 American Feed Industry Assn. Nutrition Symposium in New Orleans, La.

At Edelman, the belief is that societal needs speak to the heart of how a company operates; it is about the values the company is exhibiting and how well the company is living its actions.

"It's about walking the talk," Lutkowski said in reviewing results from the Edelman 2016 "Trust Barometer," a survey of 33,000-plus consumers that has been conducted for the past 16 years.

Edelman is a leading global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world's largest and emerging businesses and organizations to help them evolve and promote and protect their brands and reputations. It uses its survey results to guide clients in their brand actions. The Edelman "Trust Barometer" looks at the landscape of trust at the macro consumer level and delves into what consumers are thinking.

As Lutkowski explained, when a company lets customers see what it is all about, what its practices and beliefs are, its customers develop a great level of trust for the brand and, as a result, become much more willing to share the brand's content, defend the brand and purchase its products or services.

Four out of five consumers understand that a company needs to make a profit in order to be sustainable, but they also want the company to do good in the process, Lutkowski said.

The four "buckets" companies need to balance in tandem in order to gain and maintain consumer trust are: (1) actions, (2) values, (3) employee advocacy and (4) engagement. The goal is to create societal impact in addition to profits through purposeful action.

Here's a deeper look specifically at each bucket:

* Actions — Help solve the tough problems. Lutkowski said there is unprecedented pressure on the global food supply, and that creates an opportunity for the food and beverage industry to bring new ideas and products to market that yield benefits while ensuring connections between new developments and societal benefits like social health, energy conservation and environmental problems.

* Values — Exhibit shared values. Consumers need to feel confident that everyone involved in what they consume is open and honest about every ingredient and every step involved in production and distribution — i.e., what's in it, and how was it grown, raised or harvested? They're also concerned about ethical business practices, including how the industry interacts with its employees, communities and the planet, Lutkowski explained.

* Employee advocacy — Make employees feel heard. Businesses must engage with new rigor and self-awareness, which Lutkowski said means that they must show a commitment to robust relationships, transparency and active listening with their employees. Employees must be included in any actions taken toward a solution to a societal problem. It helps them feel valuable and as if they are part of something bigger, which benefits the business both internally and externally with customers.

* Engagement — Expand the circle. Engagement is the multiplier factor, Lutkowski said. It's engaging with stakeholders throughout the supply chain and building partnerships of mutual benefit to co-create and collaborate on solutions. How industry players engage, Lutkowski said, is essential not only to building trust but, ultimately, to building market share.

Trust can influence a lot of different things in business, but it ultimately comes down to greater profit and success.

In recent years, in fact, there has been a huge shift in consumers saying they are more likely to buy products/services from companies they trust (68% versus 48%).

Likewise, consumers say they are more likely to recommend a trusted company to a friend or colleague (59% versus 42%), more likely to share positive opinions online and even more likely to defend a company online that they trust.

Most important for the business, consumers say they are willing to pay more for products or services from companies they trust (37% versus 20%). 

The overreaching goal of a business should be to have a societal impact in addition to making a profit.

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