The idea of "giving" often has an air of obligation. What if we changed that perspective and made "doing good" a meaningful lifestyle enhancement worth paying extra for?
Over the last several decades, the measure of personal success and self-esteem has been closely linked to what we could afford for ourselves. A good part of our society and marketing industry has always been vested in the Vogue-style life of luxury -- ostentatious cars, shiny villas, and private jets.
Marketing execs have used this particular mindset to their advantage over the years: branded $800 handbags and $350 sunglasses give aspirational shoppers the opportunity to feel closer to the jet set.
However, it appears that this perspective has been shifting in recent years. Many in the younger, socially aware generation have begun to doubt this concept of consumerism. The notion of wasteful luxury does not appeal to them. Craftsmanship has become more important because the less we own, the better quality we expect on average.
A casual walk through lower Manhattan confirms this new view: smaller shops are popping up everywhere offering manufactured goods, local fashion design, handmade perfumes and slow food. Etsy.com has created an online platform selling handmade items that has been growing to an unbelievable scale -- it's $895 million in annual merchant revenue places them in the same categories as Amazon or eBay.
Even the infamous "one-percent" have been gradually changing their lifestyle approach, many investing their money in the social good. They support social entrepreneurs who are trying to balance economic success, change the world and encourage a meaningful lifestyle.
Consumers are still paying premium prices in their local stores. However, they don't pay the classic brand markup anymore. The value seems to be justified by craftsman-like quality, combined with an implicit support for something the customer believes in.
It appears that a simpler, more meaningful lifestyle is now the new luxury. But how can this be economically sustainable or scalable?
A new generation of start-up entrepreneurs has been answering this question in a brilliantly simple way: Contributing to the social good is not a sacrifice, but a lifestyle enhancement worth paying premium for.
Neil Blumenthal, CEO of the fashionable glasses manufacturer Warby Parker, decided that the price of buying a pair of glasses would include a donation of an extra pair to someone in need. More than a marketing idea, it's a narrative that encompasses the entire company. He believes that aligning the core product with a larger purpose can become the norm for business to attract high value clients and quality talent in the future. Blumenthal thinks that buying a pair of Warby Parker glasses automatically makes every customer a micro-philanthropist. This "brand value" consists in looking less selfish -- a marked contrast to the individualistic, status-driven style of shopping.
The formal idea behind all of this is the concept of a B (or "Benefit") corporation -- a business that puts its social mission first, but uses market forces as a tool to finance and scale the cause it stands for. The goal is to create value for all stakeholders alike: investors, employees, customers and local communities. There are now 775 certified companies whose goals are to redefine success in business, and be made accountable for their impact on society.
At least 12 U.S. states have recently passed laws allowing businesses to operate as Benefit Corporations. B corporations are required to pursue a material positive impact on society and the environment as assessed against a third-party standard.
If we were just able to redirect more of our powerful enterprise tools and data science towards the social good, we could solve much bigger problems and create better brands in the process. As we look toward the future, I believe that customers, employees and investors will increasingly be seeking out companies with a positive mission.
Right now, we are helping small businesses become more effective with leveraging data but we are also using our "know-how" to predict everything from homelessness and preventing prescription drug abuse to analyzing human trafficking data. It is gratifying to balance business with social impact and use our professional skills in a truly meaningful way.