With the end-of-the-year holidays upon us, more businesses around the world will donate money, food, and products to organizations that help people. Whether the acts are part of their year-round corporation social responsibility program or a once-a-year thing, they are needed and appreciated.
But what if your brand did something different (or in addition to its traditional outreach)? What if you offered a content-based experience that keeps on giving?
Read on for four businesses that are doing just that. Whether you can make a big investment or have next to no budget at all, you can connect with your audience members in a way that will help them heal, learn, or grow. And the returns on those investments will pay off for your business and the community for years to come.
1. Let your customers get creative and inspired
Customers at Dante’s Italian Cuisine in New Jersey can paint a wooden star as they wait for their meals. But it’s not just an activity to keep children busy, it’s an opportunity for people of all ages to promote healing through art – and to learn the story behind the business.
The stars came about through the involvement of businessman Marcus Lemonis and CNBC’s The Profit. On the show, Marcus works with owners to turn around their struggling businesses, using his own money to help them do it.
In the episode featuring the restaurant, Marcus worked with Dante Alario and his father, Jimmy Alario, on everything from pricing and budgeting to marketing and the customer experience. As part of that work, Marcus came up with a platform that allows the restaurant’s emotional origin story to be told and gives customers the opportunity to participate in something even better than great food.
Marcus bought $25,000 worth of wooden stars from Stars of Hope, a community arts program dedicated to helping people and communities in need of hope through the power of art and messages of healing.
Customers are given paints to decorate the stars while they wait for their meals. Some choose to hang theirs on the tree near the door.
And the interactive experience gives the restaurant staff the opportunity to explain not only what Stars of Hope is but also how its mission connects to Dante. (His mother, Peggy, died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was able to start the business with the money he received as a result of her death.)
2. Host conversations with a side of dinner
This fall, I gathered with 30 or so other female business owners for a delightful meal. From salad through dessert, the dinner encouraged healthy, organized (and sometimes spontaneous) conversations.
Facebook hosted the event as part of its #SheMeansBusiness initiative. It used the Civic Dinners platform to organize the meal. Civic Dinners helps people and organizations to power conversations through self-organized dinners. It guides organizers from dinner creation to RSVP management, automatic emails, reminders, and follow-up actions.
While Facebook staff organized and led the event, the social media behemoth’s brand wasn’t promoted (or even discussed). Instead, the guests shared their stories and had conversations they may not have been able to have in their offices.
And the conversation didn’t stop that night. The six women at my table left with plans to meet up again on our own dime. And Facebook is continuing the conversation too. It hosts these dinners around the country and has a Facebook group for the growing #SheMeansBusiness community. It’s a place to further share experiences and words of support, and to voice the challenges women face as entrepreneurs.
3. Brew your future
Over 10 years ago, Sam Adams Brewery launched its Brewing the American Dream program. It wasn’t created to sell more beer, it was created to grow an industry. The Dream program helps entrepreneurs pursue success in the food and beverage industry by providing resources to start and grow their businesses.
More than a funding program, Brewing the American Dream provides critical advice, from speed mentoring program to web-based video advice on unique aspects of the small business.
Since its inception, Brewing the American Dream has provided mentoring and advice to over 8,000 small-business owners. And with its partner, Accion (a nonprofit to advance financial inclusion), it has loaned nearly $24.5 million in capital to more than 1,650 food and beverage businesses in 35 states.
4. Give simply with extremely useful tools
Many content marketers already are giving something to their audiences that will continue giving – proof that you don’t always need to go big. I could offer countless examples – some from CMI’s own archives – but I chose a typical one used in another industry.
Project Manager, a software company, gives something in exchange for an email. Sure, it’s a strategic lead-gen move, but it’s giving something that the recipient can use to manage projects better even if they never purchase the company’s software. The 25 templates in Word and Excel formats cover everything from project plans to work schedules to project closures.