A few times a year, Dr. Tony Fattal invites me to do a guest lecture for his social marketing course at York University. Last night, I had the pleasure of spending 3 hours with 4th year marketing students who are taking Tonys social marketing course as part of their degree program. In addition to being impressed by their enthusiasm for a discipline that, according to William Novelli, is 1,000 times harder than marketing commercial products and services, I took the opportunity to find out about the social issues that matter most to them. Not surprisingly, most students said that global warming was a top priority. To a lesser degree, the students included foreign affairs, the economy, social transmitted diseases, and the negative impact of technology on society.
Interestingly, when I asked who was responsible for taking leadership on understanding and addressing these issues there wasnt a clear consensus on the roles of government, corporations, and non-profit organizations. I found this interesting because historically, I think that most people would have said that government and non-profits are responsible for addressing societal issues such as the environment, health care, social services, and so on. On the one hand, it was clear that these students believe that corporations have a role to play. On the other hand, they werent exactly sure what that role is.
What does this mean for corporations?
I think these students are confused because corporations themselves dont have a clear sense of their social purpose. As a result, their communications are often siloed into product/service promotions, corporate brand/reputation building, and corporate responsibility and community investment.
In my view, corporations need to integrate their corporate responsibility programs more than they do today. Internally, this begins with more cross-functional dialogue at all levels. Externally, all stakeholder communications need to reflect a corporations social character as well as effectively establishing differentiation, increasing loyalty, and driving sales.