The Quick & Dirty: Snake Oil Sellers

3231184805_794c027e52_zShayna Samuels and Glenn Turner of Ripple Strategies wrote a great piece on the reasons why a social mission should be at the heart of your marketing. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the mother of cause and brand marketing, Carol Cone, since I landed in the U.S. many years ago – hi mom! And I am surrounded by people chipping away at companies to convince them to bring a social mission to their business and to bring it to life in creative ways. The missing social mission … Having a social mission as a central part of who you are as a business has been at the front of what we’ve been trying to tell companies over here in the sustainability/CSR/purpose/shared value/citizenship/whatevergetsyougoing space.

The one essential thing so many companies miss completely when it comes to a social mission is that it isn’t a choice but a given. You either have a social mission as part of your company identity or you are selling snake oil. Your choice.

Let’s go back to the beginning of almost every company that exists today: You can find a clear social mission at the heart of why they started as a business. I’m not going to spend any time on the easy ones like TOMS or Tesla — they are still young and new enough to remember, and their business model is still fresh enough as a reaction to a social need. But the same goes for those large companies that have been around for ages. Take a company like Tesco that was founded with a simple social purpose of getting affordable surplus groceries to the poorest communities as close to their homes as possible. AT&T can trace its roots back to the Bell Co., which wanted to help connect people — sounds like Facebook today. BASF can trace its roots back to bringing light to the previously dark town of Mannheim. Cargill helped farmers store their grain in more effective ways through grain flat houses. Bank of America was founded to help new immigrants as most existing banks in America refused to provide them with basic services. And so the list goes on and on — social mission at the heart of where most companies started.

And then so many lost their way.

Instead of being driven by the principles they were founded on they started listening to investors who knew nothing about mission and purpose. Profits became the new master instead of the mission that launched their success. Companies simply forgot about their roots. And like all good things, out of sight, out of mind. It would be a bit like the U.S. deciding that the ideas and principles that have guided them since the Founding Fathers should be dropped to simply make more money…

Companies are not only rudderless without this social mission – they are also disconnected from society. If they don’t believe their success and existence is due to their social roots then there is not reason why the communities they serve should believe in them or support them. They have become nothing but snake oil sellers who believe in making money instead of their actual products or services. From serving the community to slaves of the mighty dollar. A money driven company is a meaningless company from the community and consumer perspective.

At the heart of growth lies a social mission.

And companies forget that and then asks: “Why can’t I sell more stuff?” or “why don’t people like me?” Because you forgot who you are.

But it is easy to fix — if you really want to fix it. That’s what we in sustainability do. We help you go find your roots. Your reason for being. We help you find your social mission and how it relates to the communities of today.

And to those who are new to the world like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Tesla, TOMS, etc. — we help you stay rooted in your social mission. We help you stay rooted to growth.

So please stop selling snake oil get back to your roots. We’ll start liking you and might even start dating you again.

Image credit: Flickr/wfryer

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher. Senior Vice President, Business + Social Purpose and Managing Director of Sustainability at Edelman (www.edelman.com) out in the Wild West of San Francisco.  Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie – @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. His new book, Creating a Sustainable Brand is available here.

Follow Henk Campher on Twitter.

Henk Campher

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie - @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. He wrote a book once.

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