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Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 2.41.28 PMA recent survey by the Hub Magazine notes that Starbucks’ “social responsibility” more favorably impacts their customer loyalty than other category leader brands: Amazon, Apple, Target, Proctor & Gamble and L.L. Bean. Only Patagonia, Whole Foods and Trader Joes matched Starbucks in having more favorable than combined “unfavorable and not a factor” votes.

How has Starbucks has turned social responsibility to a positive brand advantage when many other category leaders have not? A few intriguing conclusions:

One – their stance on social responsibility impacts the less frequent customers. Many responded they are occasional customers and are not necessarily a fan of Starbucks coffee.

Two – they have made their story very visible throughout their store.

Three – many customers admit that they feel better about paying a “premium” for a product that employs fair trade practices.

We know from countless research that consumers want to identify with a brand beyond the rational product benefits. A big part of brand value is what they do to be a good community “steward.” Starbucks clearly has the game plan down in this area.

Companies are being crunched by the economy. Consumers are demanding “green” products. They want brands to represent social causes important to them. What’s a company to do?

For starters, all the above.

Authenticity is more critical than ever. Here’s a reality: consumers expect, not desire, expect companies to act responsibility and to deliver to more than simply the bottom line. This means product, operations and how your product/service is delivered needs to be figured out before you run out the door and “market” to others. Something about ‘walking the talk.’

Check out the Urban Land Institute (www.uli.com). Developers are often criticized for mowing down trees and paving over every field. But, this organization is leading that industry in some terrific ways. They do a great job of bringing public and private sector together to build better communities. The right things are being explored and pursued by this fine organization.

Zealotry marketing is an approach that is inside-out. And, the stakes are rising. Value today includes being environmentally and socially responsible. Not a bad concept, quite frankly.

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