There's been much written about the business benefits of social responsibility. Unilever recently highlighted how its most socially minded brands such as Dove and Ben & Jerry's are growing significantly faster than the rest. And several studies have shown how consumers (Millennials in particular) are increasingly assessing brands according to their contribution to society as well as the benefits they offer the individual.
It's easy to equate social responsibility with big picture issues such as climate change, poverty and biodiversity, and approach it through a formal CSR program.
Yet I've always found with supermarkets that customers first assess an individual store's impact on their own neighborhood. If they don't find it to be a good neighbor, then grander claims of corporate social responsibility just don't ring true.
What's considered a good neighbor tends to come down to three questions:
First, does the store feel part of the neighborhood?
The design of the store environment can help here, by referencing local features or providing community noticeboards. But the key is having a workforce that's friendly, and reflects the diversity of the neighborhood it serves.
Second, does the store behave in a neighborly way?
Nobody wants a noisy neighbor or to live close to an eyesore, and so it is with stores. The property needs to be well maintained, the parking lot kept clean and tidy, and noise disruption kept to a minimum. Even if there are no local restrictions, night deliveries are rarely welcomed.
Third, does the store contribute to the neighborhood?
Supporting local schools and non-profits, and building a relationship with the local food bank are all important. But the first question is usually whether any employees were hired locally, which in turn helps the store feel part of the neighborhood.
People like the idea of shopping for food in their neighborhood, and a supermarket depends on serving its local population. Being a good neighbor provides a solid foundation for a successful store, and for building a socially responsible brand.
What does your store do to be a good neighbor?
Simon Uwins is a former CMO of fresh&easy and Tesco UK, and author of Creating Loyal Brands (2014). Find him online at www.simonuwins.com.