Sears Utilizes Giving as an Indirect Driver of Sales

Giving as an Indirect Driver of Sales

Recently ABC’s 60 Minutes program ran a piece called, Coming Home about citizen soldiers coming home from active duty service to find that their jobs, titles, and salaries were no longer there – even though they are entitled to it by law. In the piece a few companies, who are honoring their commitment, talk about the hardships of this on their businesses due to the short notification periods, long deployment times, and the frequency with which the reservists and national guardsmen are called up.

While no one would argue these points, especially when you add the current economic crisis on top of it, there are companies who honor these commitments beyond just compliance with Federal law. One such company is Sears. Sears has long track record of support for the military and all of its service members. As part of their commitment they not only hold open the jobs of employees on active duty, but also voluntarily pay them the difference in salaries and maintain all benefits, including medical insurance and bonus programs. Details on all of the different support programs are available on the Sears Military Support page.

But in an environment when retailers are forecasting double-digit declines in sales for the holiday season you have to ask yourself,: “are there merits to a policy like this beyond being a good corporate citizen?”

The answer: You bet! The following are two non-exclusive approaches that can benefit both company and individuals alike.

1. Amplify Organic Messages of Support

As we’ve found in our interactive marketing work, this type of goodwill can be invaluable toward gaining purchase consideration. As an example, word of Sears support for service members was first published in 2003. A few sites like picked this up, posted the claim, and established its truth. From there a few other sites picked it up and Sears’ policy was subsequently passed around via emails unaided with messages like, “Sears has been very faithful in their financial support of our troops. Please consider sending some business their way.”

It tends to make a comeback each holiday season with someone picking it up, sending it to a few friends, and so on in the natural lifespan of these things. This is great longevity for a message and about as good PR as you can get. But imagine if you were to utilize the social networks and grass roots tools available today to amplify that message. How much further could that message of support go? How many more people might see it and be compelled to do some of their holiday shopping at Sears?

Targeting popular blogs that would be receptive to your message would provide significant exposure to a community that is very likely to act upon the suggestion. In the Sears example above, military blogs would be a great starting point. Once posted on these sites, tools like Digg and Reddit can help to publicize these stories to wider audiences. Sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter also provide avenues within which to gain public attention. The creation of pages/applications, badges, and messages of support across status feeds can grow awareness of your message within new demographic segments who may not frequent current advertising channels (online and offline).

While all of these things could occur naturally, savvy marketers will help to facilitate these actions. A key social media strategy that we frequently employ at Roundarch involves energizing your biggest supporters and giving them a voice to be your advocate to a wider audience.

2. Create Win-Win Support Programs

A second approach, which we’d suggest using alongside the first, is to develop charitable programs that are in-line with the core values of your company. A few examples of programs like this are L.L. Bean’s charitable programs that focus on conservation and outdoor recreation or Merck’s commitment to improve health worldwide through numerous education and vaccination programs. This holiday season Sears has expanded its Heroes At Home program to include a Wish Registry component similar to pay it forward. In their program military families in need can register to receive a portion of the overall donations submitted (total donations are divided equally between all registered, qualified families). Visitors to the site can choose to donate to the program to help fulfill a wish for the families. On Christmas Day, registered families are given Sears gift cards that can be used to purchase those items that will make their holiday better. The reason this works is because Sears already has a strong commitment to the military and the motive is altruistic. This type of program is win-win in that it benefits Sears in that some of the money donated will come back to them in the form of sales but it also improves the lives of the 29,000 registered military families with a loved-one stationed overseas and in harms way.

Finally, it’s important to remember when considering any type of charitable or donation oriented program is that these cannot be forced. These programs are successful when based on the goodwill your company has created through its dedication to specific causes.