The Currency of Confluence
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
According to the dictionary, “confluence” describes the flowing together of two or more rivers -- for example, where the smaller Missouri joins the roaring Mississippi. There is a similar confluence of strategy forming between the for-profit and non-profit sectors. And considering the reputational challenges damming many for-profit revenue streams, the non-profit sector may prove its contributions to the union to be more Mississippi than Missouri.
Recent articles about brands, businesses and entire industries struggling with trust erosion and disloyalty are making this confluence timely. For-profits can learn and benefit from three approaches long-used by non-profits to earn trust and loyalty.
Collaboration -- Long before an explosion of social media drove for-profits to listen and collaborate in new ways, non-profits understood that relationships with stakeholders and other like-minded organizations are key to successful operations. Yet, non-profits also understood early on that social media would allow them to replicate online what they had done on a smaller scale offline. As The McKinsey Quarterly suggested earlier this month, corporations have far to go toward better understanding and supporting their stakeholders and the broader networks in which they operate. IBM is one of the first to embrace an approach that is reminiscent of the consensus-building, collaborative efforts non-profits typically employ. Matt Preschern, marketing VP at IBM, recognizes: “If we are serious about Smarter Planet, this cannot be IBM talking to you, and IBM telling you what a smarter planet needs to look like. We need to build an entire ecosystem of partners, and the only way they will be interested is if we give them tools to engage in dialogue.”
Guidance -- Increasingly companies are building trust and providing value by serving as guides for their consumers. Again, that’s what non-profits have done for a long time -- curating information and sharing their particular expertise and knowledge. Long before the current economic woes, a 2003 national survey found that 9 out of 10 Americans considered museums to be the most trustworthy or a trustworthy source of information. It may behoove businesses to study how non-profits’ have leveraged their focused expertise to answer questions and build deeper, trusted relationships with their consumer.
Citizenship -- For-profits who embrace collaboration and offer guidance represent a new kind of corporate citizen -- a branded utility whose contributions (and responsibilities) to consumers, and society at large, more closely mirror those of non-profits. A growing number of consumers expect businesses to contribute to society in areas where they have real expertise, and thus, can make a real impact. Some branded utilities have already recognized the opportunities. Yet, these corporate citizens can still look to non-profits for added direction on how to collaborate on and guide national agendas, not just discreet consumer segments.
We have encouraged non-profits to look to their for-profit counterparts for guidance on how to manage (and innovate) their brands. But non-profits have their own counsel to give. And they may well prove the loadsmen in an era that demands greater transparency and consumer engagement. A blend of best practices from each sector will ensure the smoothest sailing, even though for-profits may be the smaller tributary for a change.