There’s an old idiom that says, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” A foundational principle for communication, the saying suggests people can hear the same message in two different ways and react very differently. Tell me good news in a way I don’t like, and I’ll wonder where’s the catch. Give me bad news in a way that shows empathy and compassion, and I’ll follow you to the moon.
Such is the case with companies and how they communicate with various audiences. Time was a firm could just lay out the basic information about a product or service for the customer, set the price and let it go at that. During this same era, employees were treated similarly, goaded along largely on pay and benefits alone. Society frowned on job-hopping, favoring security over personal satisfaction and, after all, one’s personal life was meant to be left at the door while at work anyway.
All of that went out the window with the Millennial generation, the first to not only demand more of the companies they did business with, but who had the collective buying power to make firms sit up and pay attention. Suddenly, price alone didn’t automatically make one company “better” than the other and today, research shows consumers want to know they are supporting brands that see the community and the world the same way they do.
According to the 5WPR 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 83 percent of Millennials reported it was important to buy from companies that aligned with their values and 65 percent said they’d boycotted companies due to its stance on an issue. What’s more, 71 percent said they would pay more for a product if they know some of the proceeds went to charity and nearly as many said it was important that a brand they were purchasing had a charitable component.
The same goes for current and prospective employees who repeatedly look beyond just compensation and benefits to company culture when choosing where to work. Empathetic leadership, employee recognition, advancement opportunities, training and development programs and the company’s social stances and community activism are all elements of culture that today’s employee values highly.
Communicating values to customers and employees walks a delicate line between not communicating enough and blatant self-promotion. There’s nothing wrong with your company announcing its philanthropy because it helps the audience to know what you’re all about, what you believe and what you’re doing in the community. But say it in the wrong way and you’re likely to come off like you’re fishing for accolades just for doing the right thing. Here’s a few points to consider:
There are many strategies surrounding this messaging issue, and they all seem to come back to the same central element: authenticity. Consumers have an innate sense for companies that genuinely care about an issue and for seeing through those that are just trying to cash in on saying they do.
There are plenty of opportunities for companies to live out their culture and values by getting involved within the communities where they do business. This is also a good way to reinforce the authenticity of your commitment to your employees, many of whom will relish the chance to volunteer to make a difference. Allowing employees the freedom to volunteer on company time or asking their opinion on which charities to support come the holidays leaves a lasting impression on your workforce that is more likely to be repaid with reduced turnover.
LET OTHERS SPEAK FOR YOU
Some companies have a born-in desire to control every aspect of messaging and while there are times when this is advisable, it has its drawbacks. No matter how well-spun a company is talking about its charitable and community service work, it always runs the risk of being painted as self-serving. Customer or employee testimonials, on the other hand, are not as likely to be seen with such skepticism. Yes, you run the risk of the occasional disgruntled person chiming in, but even when that happens, you get the chance to show the world how you use criticism as a way to improve and attempt to make things right. Managed properly, that alone sends a powerful, positive message about your organization.