Written By Rob Farinella • 07.27.2018

We’re a bunch of tough customers – seriously.

A recent study by Havas Worldwide and Market Probe International found that 73% of people believe that brands have an obligation to do more than just generate profits. We expect a degree of social responsibility from the companies we do business with, whether they’re global giants or the corner store.

Consumers are a fickle bunch too, for as much as we expect businesses to give back, corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns tend to feel mundane, self-serving and forgettable to us. In a 2016 survey conducted by Iconoculture, only 16% of respondents could recall a brand-charity partnership from the past year that they liked. And while 40% of consumers claim to want purposeful brands in their lives, only half of them were able to name a single one.

Corporate social responsibility, community relations, cause marketing… often consumers see these as benefitting the company, not the community.

There’s a better way. You can do well while doing good in a way that benefits your businesses and your customers—by building a Community Brand.

What is a Community Brand?

Simply put, a Community Brand is one that believes in reinvesting, supporting, enriching and protecting the communities it serves. Supporting the community in a meaningful way creates long-term relationships with customers and sets the brand apart from competitors.

Strong community brands understand their success depends on the consistent fulfillment of three core actions: identify, fulfill and support.

  • Identify: Community Brands listen deeply to the concerns expressed by their community and identify where their business is uniquely suited to address some of those needs.
  • Fulfill: Community Brands think strategically about how to fulfill those needs through an integrated plan of action. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Support: Community Brands' efforts go well beyond an isolated, well-meaning event. They make a sustained investment and, as a result, enjoy exponential growth in value.

Community Brands in Action
Here are two great examples of Community Brands. One is a Blue Sky Agency client that represents more than a decade of collaboration and the other is an international brand that is seen in neighborhoods throughout the world. Both share the hallmarks of successful brand building.

Gas South: Fuel for Good
From the CEO to the call center, Gas South lives up to their purpose of truly being a fuel for good. When it comes right down to it, Gas South sells a commodity product that’s exactly the same as its competitors. Yet, our benchmark studies confirm, Gas South has evolved into a company “that people feel good doing business with.”

It has been doing the right thing for years. In contrast to the gimmick game played by its competitors, Gas South offers everyday low rates and assurances like never having to pay a deposit. Plus, it gives back five percent of its profits to help community children in need.

The Gas South team knew this was a story that deserved to be told. This effort was two-fold; our team developed and tested the “Difference is Good” campaign with the right balance of benefits, sentiment and credibility, while Gas South did the hard work of living up to these investments and it’s purpose of being the fuel for even more good. The combination has yielded big results in 2018, delivering a record number of subscribers despite still being consistently outspent. The “Difference is Good” also drove historic brand awareness levels and positive perceptions, with people saying they felt good about doing business with a Community Brand like Gas South – that’s meaningful in a commodity industry.

Starbucks: Community Service
Starbucks has created success as a global company by strengthening communities and staying engaged on a local level. It’s the core values that are instilled in their employees that makes Starbucks a Community Brand all over the world. At a global level, Starbucks creates initiatives focused on supporting youth, transitioning veterans, helping the environment and alleviating hunger. But the key to success in those areas lies within the employee-led local volunteer events. These events bring together employees and customers to create unique communities that can serve as a united force (https://starbucks.volunteermatch.org/). Starbucks’ goal is to have all 24,000 of their stores participating in these service initiatives by 2020. Now that’s harnessing the power of a Community Brand.

6 Principles to Creating a Community Brand

Want to start leveraging the power of being a Community Brand? Here are our six principles to guide you:

  1. Do it because it’s who you are- It’s essential that your brand reflects both your values and the values of the customers which it serves. Your community-building activities must be things that you would do anyway even if nobody knew about them. Don’t cross the line into self-serving actions.
  2. Identify a need and fulfill it with consistency over time- Avoid one-off efforts. Like compound interest, community brand-building grows richer over time. It reinforces trust and familiarity. Consistent actions telegraph to the community that it can count on you over time.
  3. Implement win-win strategies for your business and the community- Gas South built a successful brand by putting others first; employees, customers and neighbors. And during a time when call center jobs are outsourced, it created nearly a hundred local jobs by bringing call center operations in-house. This also provided Gas South with a more direct way to understand and serve its customers better.
  4. Embrace the community that knows you best- Activate those community members who walk through your doors every work day: your employees! A good internal communications plan can be a helpful, but your team is going to be most motivated by the behaviors they witness at the leadership level. Working for a company that gives back also enhances job satisfaction and employee retention.
  5. Be seen doing, not just saying- Build trust and momentum through actions, not just press releases. While social media is a perfect outlet to have a dialogue with the community, stay authentic to your actions and manage the urge to overcommunicate to avoid any hints of insincerity.
  6. Recalibrate often- Make it a regular practice to stop and ask, “are we making the community a better place?” Go back to the first principle and listen to your community. Actively seek feedback, validate through benchmark studies and be willing to openly confront criticism.

As an agency, Blue Sky works hard to fulfill its mission of making Atlanta and the Southeast, a better place to live and do business. We know that doing good isn’t just a nice idea – for smart brands, it’s a successful business strategy. We’re proud to work with clients like Gas South, Northside Hospital and Stone Mountain Park to name a few, who recognize that delivering for their communities is essential to their values and success.

Rob Farinella is the Founder and CEO of Blue Sky Agency.