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How doing good can lead to marketing success

How doing good can lead to marketing success Mick Ebeling

Let me pose a question to the marketers in the room.

Suppose you could find a way to make people believe that your company was doing good in the world. And suppose you knew, unequivocally and undeniably, that that belief -- in and of itself -- would increase your brand's perception, distinguish you from your competitors, and produce very tangible and measurable press and media exposure. Not for a month, or a quarter, but for more than a year. And possibly longer -- much longer, in fact.

The question I want to pose is this: Why on earth wouldn't you do it?

Trying to answer that question is what has propelled major brands to join with me and my company Not Impossible to back projects that have helped individuals around the world. We call it social innovation.

And those companies have found out a very simple and very earth-shattering fact: That this concept, the concept of building marketing around campaigns to help individuals -- start by helping one person, wind up helping many -- has begun to revolutionize the very way they perceive their communication with their customers and the public at large.

Daniel was a boy in Sudan whose arms had been blown off in the war, when a bomb landed very close to where he was standing. With Intel's help, we brought 3-D printers to Sudan and made new arms for Daniel, and -- as we all looked on with tears in our eyes -- he fed himself for the first time since the bombing. We left the printers behind, taught the locals to run them, and by doing so, started the world's first hospital-based 3-D printed prosthetics lab.

We launched Project Daniel about a year and a half ago. Within 14 weeks, we had 420 million earned media impressions with coverage spanning nearly every continent. Within 40 weeks we had more than 1 billion earned media impressions. We won nearly every media-marketing-advertising award under the sun. And recently, nearly 15 months after launching the campaign, both USA Today and Fox News ran full print and broadcast coverage on the story.

Those facts and stats are not designed to beat our chest. They are posed to prompt the question again: Would you rather create a campaign that had a typical shelf life of a month or two or a campaign that had the potential to work without being hinged on paid media, was still giving your company positive press and confirmed earned media impressions more than a year later, and was genuinely doing good things in the world? Which would you choose?

To me, this goes back to the Buckminster Fuller concept: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality," Fuller said. "To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

This new model of marketing, to me, is rapidly making the old model obsolete. Companies have, forever, tried to improve their image in the community by giving to social causes. "Buy my soda, shampoo, shoes," they'll say, "and we'll give 10 percent to the (fill in the blank)."

But what if you turned that around? What if you said, forget our product; let's just help the homeless, and find a natural and genuine way to let folks know we're doing it? And what if, as a byproduct of that, you dramatically moved the marketing and brand dial for your company?

This concept isn't built on wishful thinking or just on the desire to be do-gooders. (Though to the credit of Intel and everyone else we've worked with, there's certainly plenty of that desire behind what they're doing.)

But at its heart, the concept is built on a quantifiable fact: Millennials -- the Holy Grail that all marketers seek -- make purchasing decisions based on their perception of whether a brand is doing good or not.

Remember that there are 80 million millennials out there -- that's an enormous market cohort -- and they're hyper-aware of which companies are really doing good in the world, and which are paying lip service. According to a study by Cone Communications, 84 percent of millennials say their perception of a company's role in the community -- the local community or the global community -- affects what they buy or where they shop; 78 percent say it affects where they work; 82 percent say it affects what they recommend to their friends.

And it's that last idea -- that a company's societal efforts affect social recommendations -- that we should pay particular attention to. Because this is not a CSR matter -- it's a marketing matter. It's no secret that social media has accelerated the "perception pass-along" -- the ability of people to influence the perceptions of their peers, and the likelihood of people being influenced by others' perceptions. Accelerated it, in fact, to the speed of the Internet. Peer pressure to support a brand that's doing good in the world -- or eschew one that's not -- can spring up overnight, create enormous momentum, and last for months and months, long after the latest cute viral video has been forgotten.

Don is a paralyzed ALS patient who had not spoken audibly since 1999. But with the help of the good folks at HP, we created a simple device that translated his letter board into a digital keyboard, followed his eye movements as he looked at a computer screen, and translated those eye movements into spoken words. His first words in 15 years: A love letter to his wife.

And I dare you to come up with a video that could get HP more traction, more views, more positive feedback than they got from that video in just the first ten days it was live. And if our experience with Project Daniel and all of our other projects is any indication, they'll be getting that positive traction for a long, long time.

Because let's face it. People are skeptical. And they're especially skeptical when it comes to companies trying to rebrand themselves or present themselves as a positive force in the community -- whether that community be local or worldwide.

There's an old joke in the television business: "On TV, sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." Well, in the marketing business, to be honest, brands do try to "fake" it -- but you really can't in this day and age. Consumers have become too savvy. And millennials? Fuhgetaboutit. They can smell insincerity a mile away. But what if you didn't try to fake it? What if you really go out and do good in the community, create or sponsor meaningful programs that result in meaningful change, and let those actions speak for themselves? What if you showed your audience that you're legitimately and truly are trying to do good?

But don't believe me, just look at the data.

According to Nielsen's 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.

But whether you begin with a macro idea like G-Star's "Raw for the Oceans" campaign, which won the Product Design Grand Prix at Cannes in 2014 for creating fabric from sea trash, or a micro-micro idea like our Don's Voice project, the point is the same:

The marketing world has changed. Bucky Fuller was right -- we're seeing the old model becoming obsolete, right before our eyes.

We're cutting through the skepticism and changing perceptions of the companies that partner with us. Not for a month, not for a quarter, but for years. And those changed perceptions are translating directly to their bottom lines.

Oh, and by the way: This whole marketing concept has an interesting side effect.

While we're changing perceptions of the companies that partner with us, and while we're impacting their bottom lines, we also happen, just by chance, to be doing some good in the world.

Mick Ebeling is CEO and founder of Not Impossible Foundation.

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"Humanitarian food for poor children in refugee camp" image via Shutterstock.

Mick Ebeling is the founder and CEO of Not Impossible, LLC, an organization that develops creative solutions to real-world problems, then produces media to ensure those solutions take flight. Not Impossible's latest endeavor, Project Daniel, is the...

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