A few months ago, we looked at an article that analyzed the autonomous relationship that Unilever had with its acquisition, Ben & Jerry’s. The team at the ice cream giant was adamant that they continue with their longtime commitment to social causes and hoped to influence their corporate overlord in the future. And it seems that it may have worked.
Does Selling Out Mean What it Used To?
At a market research conference, Unilver CEO Paul Polman stressed the importance to social issues and stated that, “by prioritizing social issues, business success will follow.” With the increasing presence of Millennials in the workplace, companies are starting to take note of the values of these employees. This burgeoning workforce wants to work for an employer they can believe in; they want a workplace that values social activism and volunteering; they want to work for a company that gives back to the consumers it profits from. It’s a stark contrast to the traditional view of profiting for the shareholder who in turn might return their profits to the greater community.
So what, then, will be the future decisions of employers? And, if they decide to prioritize social responsibility as company value, how do they determine and come to agree on a shared social mission? At REAL Insight, we have organized a number of team volunteering events at local charities, and plan to continue doing so each quarter. However, with a team of less than twenty, coming together on such an endeavor is a relatively easy prospect for us. In larger companies with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of employees, how realistic is it to align on and execute a social mission?
One way to activate a large group of people is to come together as an industry. Last year, a group of researchers created the Marketing Research Education Foundation in order to bring this sense of activism to the marketing research industry. MREF strives to pool the community’s resources to educate children worldwide. Though still relatively new, they hope to expand their reach with grants and service opportunities for researchers to come together and work towards a common good.
Polman asserts that supporting social issues leads to—rather than is the result of—business success, but for traditionally structured corporations, that may be a hard pill to swallow. At the end of the day, the end goal will always be profit, but as younger and younger faces enter the workforce, shifting priorities may alter the best way to get there.