A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Valuing your Values: The Importance of Communication for Small Businesses

by Ajax Greene   

At the recent annual shareholder meeting Tim Cook, Apple’s post-Steve Jobs CEO, said “We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. I don’t… when I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view.” His statements drew both applause and consternation.

At the end of 2012, 57% of Fortune 500 companies were producing sustainability reports. That number continues to grow.

If we think our politics are divided, so is our consumerism. Global research (supported by lots of additional US-based research) shows a roughly 60/40 divide among consumers. The 60% are all about cheap and easy. They don’t care about service or quality; they just want cheap. And there are plenty of global companies (Walmart, ahem) willing to compete for them on tight margins. If you run a locally owned, independent businesses, its highly unlikely that you can compete on price.

The good news is that the other 40% of folks shop their values. Everyone likes a good deal, but these folks place their values front and center in their buying decisions. Being able to effectively communicate with these customers and convey your own values is vital to your bottom line.

As regular readers of this column might guess, I am no fan of global companies. Yet these global folks are smart, and they know that their consumers want to support companies whose values match their own. The sad joke is that many of these companies are now greenwashing and local-washing (yes, co-opting Localism values is the latest trend).

In 2012, our friends at the Green American Business Network released a well-researched report showing that local companies were ceding ground to their global competitors by failing to effectively communicate their values. Even more frustrating is that the locally owned independent businesses that do master the art of communicating their values do far better on a variety of measures, including financial performance. So there’s no reason to not try.

Terms we frequently use in this column, like Localism and Triple Bottom Line, place an equal emphasis on people, planet and prosperity, and are shorthand for businesses that highly value their values.

There’s a good chance that business owner is you. Do you own a business that:
• Donates to the Little League? Then tell your story.
• Do local charities depend on you for product donations? Put up a sign that shows it (“I support…”).
• Are you locally owned (51% of equity in the Hudson Valley)? Tell your customers.
• Family owned? You are as American as apple pie.
• Do you recycle? Get your customers to join in; they will appreciate it.

These are some very easy ways to get started. What matters to you? Start sharing it now. While mastering communications on a deep level is no simple task, by not even trying you are only hurting your business. Start with the basics.

Business owners are people too. When you are shopping in your personal life, start by having conversations with the folks you shop with. Ask them about their values. In addition, they may appreciate your interest and you just might learn ideas for your own business.

We are all busy and sometimes it feels complicated to research the companies we buy from. In part this is why your customers are willing to pay a little more, because they expect you have fully vetted the product or services that you sell and can vouch that they align with their values. Frequently people’s values include environmental, social and community issues.  

This is one of the key reasons Re>Think Local was founded: to help business communicate more effectively with an emphasis on Localism and the Triple Bottom Line. Consider attending one of our networking events to learn best practices from your peers. We regularly offer well-attended educational events—a great way to take your business to the next level. The Re>Think Facebook page and blog have regular postings on vital topics like this. If we are not offering something that interests you,let us know. We love hearing from members and supporters about how we can do better. We’re here for you, after all.