Stories and charitable causes are a dime a dozen in the modern start-up era. What is the right balance to market a business while being civic minded? In this edition of the Tough Things First Podcast, Ray Zinn discusses the purpose of social causes and image building in business.
Rob Artigo: Rob Artigo here, your guest host for another edition of the Tough Things First podcast with Ray Zinn. I’m a writer and entrepreneur in California. Being invited back is always a pleasure, Ray. Thanks again.
Ray Zinn: Hey Rob, it’s always good to have you on the program, so thanks again for joining us.
Rob Artigo: You’re welcome. We hear a lot these days about uniting the startup with a story. I know that Marcus Lemonis is on CNBC’s The Profit, he comes to mind because I’ve heard him talk to people about when they’re laying out their displays or their concepts for their stores to have some kind of story that they’re trying to tell, and that can be the story of the single mom who invented a mop or something and a certain kind of special mopping device, or being able to get that story built into the concept of the company, and then also … A lot of entrepreneurs are coming out and saying, not only are we a good company and we’re aware of what’s going on in the world, but we’re also charitable and we’re good people. So every time you buy our product, we’ll donate some money to … I think one was for every pair of eyeglasses they sell, they’ll give a pair to a kid who needs them in a poor part of Africa or something. Or, for example, if you buy our water, you’ll contribute some of the proceeds to a system for cleaning up the plastics in the ocean or something.
These are ideas, I think that a lot of young people are going into business going, “Well I have to show that I’m being charitable so I have to do that.” I’m not sure if it’s a matter of them sincerely feeling like they want to do the right thing, but feel like they have to do the right thing, but you understand what I’m saying here. Is this a good way, a good approach with the business is it is something that you need to do? Both the story and the charity?
Ray Zinn: It’s all part of building your brand. The brand is something you recognize. It’s like Levi with that picture of two horse teams or mule teams pulling on each side of the pair of jeans showing how tough they are. Ford talks about Ford being Ford tough, and so you’re trying to build a brand. Hewlett Packard, their brand was built around doing it the HP way, quality, reliability and so forth. So every company in order to enhance their brand has to have some story. In other words, how do we tell … Because people remember stories. They don’t necessarily maybe remember a brand, but they remember a story, whether it be like air … Forgot now the –
Rob Artigo: Air Jordan?
Ray Zinn: Air Jordan, yeah, like Air Jordan did to remember those Nike shoes. They like to have some image that they’ll … Because an image will stick in somebody’s head more than say just what the product actually does. We’re always working on that brand and having a story behind the brand is what will help enhance the product. My grandson has a company called Gorilla Marketing. So you have that image of the gorilla, big, powerful capable as you would physically. We try to associate the image of this gorilla with marketing. Or if it’s a mother with a mop or whatever was developed, you can just picture that mother pushing around this mop. It’s that image, something that will help you remember the product when you go out to buy it. Now we’ve got two stories here. One is the image of helping enhance the brand or strengthen the brand in the mind of the consumer.
The other is about being thought of as a charitable organization. Charity begins at home, and so I would suggest that the best way you can show charity is towards your employees. Having a charitable type of company means that you treat your people right. Before you think about charity outside your company, think of charity in your company. Because then they’ll spread the word and people will want to work there. I think if you want to focus on charity, make sure your own house is clean as you would before you start cleaning up outside. I know there are employees who like to work for companies who appear to be charitable, especially the younger millennial types, because they’re thinking about, well what can we do to help society? If the product, by the way that they’re building is helping society, whether it be solar or cleaning up the oceans as you pointed out, doing something good for the environment, employees like to be involved in that. That’s another way that companies can enhance their company is by having a type of product or having a kind of image of helping the world or helping the environment.
When we talk about chair being ha ha, you know, giving away a free pair of glasses or whatever to some child in Africa or whatever. Those are good, but make sure you’re being charitable with your employees because they’ll spread the word and they will feel better if they know you’re charitable to your people. That’s the thing I want to emphasize in this podcast is charity begins at home. So home, if you’re the CEO of a company means you’re your employees.
Rob Artigo: Going back to CNBC, there’s also the show Shark Tank, and I’ve noticed that when people are pitching the sharks oftentimes probably a lot more … A lot more often than not is they … Not only do that, they present the story with their brand, which is one half, but they almost always have some kind of thing, “And we’re going to donate 10 cents for every one of these things to some kind of cause.” It almost feels to me when I see it, I’m not commenting on whether or not I know what’s in their hearts, but it feels like it’s obligatory rather than a something they’re actually doing to help. The fact that you say charity starts at home, that’s something you can do. You’re not advertising that. Your people are seeing you do it within your business, and there can be lots of charity there, but is it a mistake to fake it when you’re trying to put it forward in a public way? Virtue signaling is what comes to mind.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. When we have a disaster, whether it be like the floods or some other … The big paradise fire or whatever and people get on say, if you buy our car we’ll donate, 10% of the proceeds to the paradise fire people.” To me that that’s being somewhat disingenuous. They’re using this disaster to help pump up their business and that bothers me. That kind of like a one shot thing where they’ll try to encourage you to come buy something because some of the money’s going to go to helping out the people that were involved in a disaster. Those are the kind of disingenuous. The ones that I think have a little more play to them is for example this one company on Shark Tank talked about building backpacks or making other carrying devices out of firefighters or first responders equipment. In other words those yellow striped things. They take that material and they make these different devices and then they said they donate some of those funds that they got from those carrying devices back to the first responder people. That’s a little more genuine that way. Or maybe using the cloth made in some poor country, Zimbabwe or somewhere and they are letting the people in that area build their product and sometimes that that is something that would intrigue customers to buy because they think they’re helping this poor country.
Rob Artigo: Right. They’re not getting it from mainland China. They’re getting it from a place where entrepreneurs have … They have their little businesses where they’re doing something and there and they’re hiring people and they’re creating jobs.
Ray Zinn: Exactly. Exactly. I know that some companies are trying to help these South American countries that are trying to immigrate to the U.S. They’re trying to build jobs down there for them so they’ll be more willing and likely to stay in their countries rather than then having to immigrate 2000 miles to the U.S. Those I think are ones that are more genuine.
Rob Artigo: I saw on TV, and I’ve seen the commercial a few times, I think it’s called Firehouse Subs. They did sort of the same thing. One thing they do is they go, “Well, every time you buy a sandwich from us we will donate to first responders.” They set themselves up, “We are Firehouse Subs. We’re the company that … We’re started by firefighters and we’re going to support firefighters.” I think that sort of approach is interesting. It obviously takes away from their bottom line. I’m assuming they are competitively priced. I’ve never been to Firehouse Subs, but I’m assuming they’re competitively priced, which means they’re making less money than their competitors by giving money to the first responders, but first responders need the support. I see that and I see that side of the coin. That also seems like a pretty genuine thing to do if that’s how you’re going to … That’s part of your brand.
Ray Zinn: Well, Delta Airlines does something which is similar but it doesn’t cost them any money. What they do, they say, “Okay, we’re going to allow people with children to get on first,” and then they’ll then say, “Okay we’ll put in Zone One, Zone Two.” What they do also what I think is interesting is they allow military people to board the airplane first and they actually say, “We thank you for your service. Please feel free to board now.” Because you know, it’s always better to be able to get on the airplane first and get seated and get a good place to put your luggage and so forth, but I don’t think it costs Delta anything to do that, but it’s again recognizing and showing charitably how they feel about the military by allowing them to get on the airplane first.
It’s that sort of thing you can do, or if your company is conscious environmentally, maybe they have hand dryers that are the powered electric ones, like a hairdryer type to dry your hands rather than using paper, save the tree as you would. I see companies doing that also, depending upon what kind of bags they use to bag your groceries, they’ll use more environmental friendly materials. There are ways you can do things that appeal to your customer, like letting the military on the airplane first without actually costing you a lot of money. Companies should focus on doing what can we do to show people we care but [inaudible 00:13:45] doesn’t cost a whole lot of money.
Rob Artigo: Thanks Ray.
Ray Zinn: You’re welcome.
Rob Artigo: Join the conversation at toughthingsfirst.com. Your questions and comments are always welcome. Ray tries to get those questions answered and he reads those messages, so get those messages into him at toughthingsfirst.com. Follow Ray on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. He posts regularly. Of course, you’ve got to get the book Tough Things First if you haven’t already gotten it, and also Ray’s new book, The Zen of Zinn. Thanks Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey Rob, thank you for taking the time today.