#1 Thing You Need to Know about this Post:
The only sustainable way for you to create wealth for yourself is by improving the lives of others. Starbucks understands this and so can you.
A More Detailed Exploration
In case you just missed it in the opening sentence, I have an earth-shattering announcement to make:
The only sustainable way for you to create wealth for yourself is by improving the lives of others.
Despite what you might have heard from others, the only true path to long-term wealth creation comes from the careful balance of private gain and social good. Think about it. You create wealth when a lot of people think what you offer to the world is important enough to them that they pay you money and then keep paying you money over long periods of time.
Sure, a person can make lots of money at the expense of others, but those scams and bubbles can go only so far before everything comes crashing down. Just look around at the current financial meltdown and the litany of corporate and government scandals that have littered the daily news since forever.
With the bright, shiny light of the Internet and the self-organized swarms that come with it, it’s pretty hard for graft, corruption, and bad business practices to go undetected and unpunished for too long. That’s especially so when you are a well-known global company that sells its products and services to the 1 billion people on the Internet and 3.3 billion with mobile phones.
Cause Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility Isn’t New
One of the hot, new concepts in business today is cause marketing. The same goes for corporate social responsibility. While many are heralding these as the newest, most amazing business ideas of humankind, you and I know they’ve been around since the earliest days of commerce.
In case you already forgot my earth-shattering announcement, long-term wealth cannot be created at the detriment of those funding it. Some how, some way, somewhere along the line, common wisdom forgot this fact. I’m sure there are great theories on why this happened, but I’m saving mine for a future blog post. In the meantime, let’s agree that it makes good business to improve the lives of others.
Rich and Successful in More than One Way
You and I can agree that we humans have an easy time being suspicious of very successful people, right? In my years as a major gift fundraiser, I spent countless hours visiting with men and women who’ve made financial fortunes most people can only imagine. So what type of people do you think these wealthy folks were?
Contrary to popular belief, I found that they were often the nicest, most decent-minded individuals I have ever met. Of course, there were a few top-notch SOBs; but those were a small fraction of the sum. For the great majority of them, though, they were focused on making sure the wealth they created would go to help solve the pressing needs of the many.
The Same Can Be Said about Starbucks
Before we go too far into this, let me be clear that I am writing this post on my own volition and have no relationship with Starbucks other than being a semi-regular customer. Yes, I am fallible and, like any person, my opinion can be bought for the right price, but it hasn’t been this time.
As long as we’re being candid with each other. I need you to admit something to me. Right now, do you have a very distinct perception of Starbucks already formed in your mind? Whether you view them as the epitome of evil, a sputtering giant who has lost their way, or your reliable local coffee house, can you admit that you have some sort of opinion of them? Thanks, I appreciate your honesty. Just for a few moments, I ask you to open your mind to the possibility that this perception is wrong.
Believe or not, Starbucks was once just a local coffee purveyor in Seattle, Washington. It was in the “good ol’ days” when coffee houses were known for their eclectic charm, beat poetry, and defiance to the establishment. So it has been quite an interesting journey Starbucks has taken to bridge that socialistic vibe with the mainstream customers (the much despised bourgeoisie) they needed to grow into the global corporation every proletariat coffee house patron despised.
Doing Good by Selling Lots of Coffee
While I can’t vouch for every single person who’s personally profited from Starbucks, I believe the same can be said for them as I said about the wealthy people I’ve met. When you consider the industry they’ve transformed, it’s no surprise to learn they have a strong core commitment to use their wealth wisely.
Starbucks was held to very high standards by its early customer base. They had to be extra vigilant about where they bought their beans and who’s profited from the wealth they’re creating. When they forgot this early in their growth curve, it was a hard lesson they learned and one they have been keen to remember.
Howard Schultz sheds much light on this topic in his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, and so do many others who have written about Starbucks. For the purpose of this post, it is important for you and I to acknowledge that Starbucks has made being a good corporate citizen a core part of their company culture.
The “What Have You Done Lately to Improve the World?” Question
I’ll leave the health care and employment benefits for their full- and part-time partners to someone more qualified on the subject. For obvious reasons, I want to explore what they are doing externally, specifically in terms of cause marketing and corporate social responsibility efforts.
Over the past few months, I have been conducting top-secret research at Starbucks. At least, that’s how I justify my caffeine addiction right now. I began to notice a lot of things they were doing to make a difference in my local area and around the world Some of these efforts were widely publicized and others were quietly sitting around me in the stores and in their online efforts.
Yesterday, I challenged those brave souls who follow my Twitter stream (aka the @ScottyHendo Spectacle) to name five cause marketing initiatives Starbucks has conducted in the past three months. While most could name the (RED) campaign, only a handful came up with more. Without a doubt, Eric Reagan from Chicago (@ericreagan) came the closest by naming four.
Here are Five Things Starbucks Has Done Lately:
- The (RED) Campaign – this includes the 5 cents they donated for each holiday drink purchased in December and their commitment to give 5 cents of every purchase made by people using the new Starbucks (red) pre-paid card. All proceeds go through Bono’s (RED) organization to benefit The Global Fund, an international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
- Pledge 5 Service Drive- in celebration of the National Day of Service held to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Starbucks launched an integrated campaign that included in-store displays, free coffee for anyone pledging to perform five hours of service, and a website to formally commit and get resources where you could volunteer. The site claims to have generated over 1 million hours of community service pledges.
- The Starbucks V2V Network – in April 2008, Starbucks became the pioneer corporate partner of the V2V Network, an online space for individuals to help other individuals around the world make a difference in their communities. So why does this count for the past 90 days? Because it has become an active community platform that is used to coordinate fundraisers and social actions, including a Run/Walk in my community this November. Check it out and see how you can help with specific projects and ongoing ones, as well.
- Starbucks Shared Planet – Coming directly from ideas and feedback garnered through their My Starbucks Idea website, the company announced the launch of this new global initiative in partnership with the Earthwatch Institute and Conservation International. As the site says, “It’s our commitment to doing business in ways that are good to the earth and to each other.” It goes on to outline their goals for 2015 in the areas of ethical sourcing, environmental stewardship, and community involvement.
- Local Community Campaigns – At the same time all of these initiatives are underway, each Starbucks store is still encouraged to operate like the neighborhood coffee house. Every store has a community bulletin board that can be used to promote community events. As I walked into the Starbucks near my house, a flier caught my eye (see right). In honor of National Mentoring Month, volunteers to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana can receive a free tall cup of coffee. According to @joewaters, something special happens every March in the northeastern US, too. What’s happening in your area?
Coffee for US Troops – In various US stores, you and I can choose to buy whole bean Starbucks coffee and they will ship it directly to US troops serving abroad via the American Red Cross. Despite Internet rumors to the contrary, this program is alive and well.
Witness the photo I took last week at the Starbucks in Chicago at Illinois Street and Michigan Avenue I visited during the BlogWell conference. Admittedly, this cause marketing/corporate social responsibility example might be questioned by some given the nature of the troops’ line of work. But, it is certainly so in the minds of the troops and their supporters.
A Strategic Online Presence, Not Just a Big Website
As you peruse the sites I’ve linked to, I want you to notice how they are seamlessly integrated. Enter either the Pledge 5, My Starbucks Idea, Shared Planet, or the Starbucks V2V site and you can easily find the others. Instead of trying to build one massive website, they have built a constellation of websites that form a cohesive web presence. In addition, each site has an intuitive navigation with very specific calls-to-action. I know they want me to pledge to bring my own mug. I know they want me to pledge 5 hours of service. And so on.
To pull off just one of these initiatives would take a very large commitment of resources. To launch and run all of them takes a complete and total commitment by the company. This is not something for the faint of heart. What impresses me most about it all is how Starbucks has started by making a strategic commitment and is driving all its efforts (global, national, and local) from this strategy. Their actions speak louder than words, so let’s start listening to what they’re doing.
Update: The same day I posted this, Starbucks announced more layoffs and store closings (Hat tip to @cvgstrategy). Interesting to note the focus on efficiency hasn’t led to elimination of the programs I mentioned. In fact, their increased focus on them indicates to me that their commitment is at their core, not just window dressing.
Enough About Me, What About You?
So what do you think? Is Starbucks truly committed to doing good? Are they are an example to follow? Can you really only create long-term wealth by improving the lives of others?
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