How Much Value is there in Values?

May 16, 2014


Values Saver Book

The trend of consumers considering a corporation's social values in purchasing decisions is well documented. At the same time, we're also seeing the nascent stages of an under-the-radar movement in the business-to-business (B2B) world that echoes this.

Companies are increasingly considering the values of their B2B relationships with business partnerships and trade vendors, and partnerships. Initially, this was driven by consumer uproar over corporate supply-chain practices, such as the brouhaha over Nike's Asian factories in the late 1990s. From a defensive posture, companies undertook conscious efforts to gauge and positively affect their supply chain—were manufacturing partners living up to standards for environmental compliance and fair labor practices? 

In the case of Nike, the Goddess of Victory pumped social responsibility into its corporate soul and the soles of its shoes. It addressed the issues of accountability head-on and turned corporate social responsibility into a net gain and another point of industry leadership for the company. Others began following suit. Why did they do this? Because consumers helped them realize this issue struck at their ability to compete in the marketplace.

Birds of a B2B Feather Are Flying Together

Seahawks Fans

This trend is moving beyond international supply-chain practices into the heart of the B2B relationships that companies form. Instead of playing defense, corporations across a spectrum of purpose-based values are playing offense. From social enterprises using commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental wellbeing to commercial enterprises operating with social objectives, brands are proactively choosing to work with endeavors of a similar bent.

This isn't a new phenomenon. In the same way you might trade with another member of your religious congregation or hire someone who attended the same college (Go State!), humans often base commercial relationships on shared experiences and values.

After all, if you are trying to effect positive social and environmental change with your business, what better way to speed the movement and drive results than to invest your resources and time with other organizations that share your broader goals? 

Of course, you still have to meet acceptable thresholds for quality, value, and price. This is an absolute that hasn't changed and won't likely for some time, if ever, regardless whether you are purchasing as a business or as a consumer.

It's Happening—We're Proof

Allegro Wholefoods

In the last year, we've reaped the rewards of values-based marketing in our business at Oliver Russell. As a B Corporation, we're certified through a rigorous assessment as a company that uses the power of business and a strong profit imperative to solve environmental and social issues. We promote this commitment in our marketing, and it's paying off. In the last year, we earned assignments from Allegro Coffee Company and Whole Foods Market, both mission-driven companies. A key driver in the decision process was our shared values. (Whole Foods Core ValuesAllegro Coffee Company Story)

This extends to smaller companies as well. Last week we were approached for work by a B Corporation that manufactures water-filtering systems, and we've also benefitted from customer referrals from companies with social values similar to ours.

For instance, we just won a contract with Apex Leaders, a fast-growing consultancy that helps private equity firms conduct due diligence of companies they are considering acquiring. Apex selected us after a broad competitive search to help them with their brand strategy and web marketing. A key reason they hired us was our social value platform, as they are looking for us to help them put purposeful values into the core of their company's brand strategy.

Kickin' It Old School, Too

Even old-school industry titans such as Hewlett-Packard are going well beyond foreign manufacturing facilities to include social and environmental reviews as standard components of their vendor selection process. We've been a direct-marketing agency of record for Hewlett-Packard since 2002 and have successfully navigated several competitive agency reviews during this timeframe. We're currently in the midst of another, and for the first time ever HP included a Social and Environmental Review (SER) as part of the vetting process. Companies were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their verifiable SER practices. Since we had just completed recertification through the strict B Corporation process, we had that information at our fingertips.

B2B to B Corp

Of course, we're still talking about a small portion of the overall B2B marketplace. But it's important to know that you can earn a halo effect from companies that aren't mission driven, as they often choose to work with you-all else being equal-because they like your mission mojo. Hey, we'll take it

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