Content Marketing and Good Behavior

by Holland-Mark | October 8, 2010

I had an inspirational day today at the Progressive Business Leaders Network CEO Summit. The highlight of it for me was a speech by Gary Hirshberg, the “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm.

Stonyfield is a juggernaut, powered by an intense commitment to “healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.” And I’m not talking about a mission statement on a shelf someplace. These guys walk the talk… especially on the green stuff, but just about everywhere else as well.

I figured they’d mastered smart trade-offs between societal good and financial results, but they don’t look at it that way at all. They use their values as the means by which they achieve their financial results. Here’s a partial list of their cost-saving efforts, for example:

  • Achieved over 40% reduction in transportation from 2006-2008 (saved $4,775,000)
  • Packaging changes reduced 18 tractor-trailer loads of plastic per year (saved $1,560,000)
  • Cut facility energy use by 15% (saved $1,300,000)
  • Reduced solid waste by 34% from 2007-2009 (saved $200,000)

All in all, they saved $7,800,000 through values-based changes they’ve implemented since 2006, which is truly impressive.

As is so often the case, the mother of all this invention has been necessity. To make organic, high Omega-3 products – as also mandated by their values – the company needs to make fewer compromises on their product. That costs more, and to stay price competitive, the company has to absorb a 10-point gross margin disadvantage versus competition like Dannon and Yoplait. To help close the gap, they’re fanatical about saving money in ways that cut their energy consumption, carbon output, and other negative externalities.

That gets them back to even. Then they take one more step… something so big they end up with a 10-point advantage on their net margins, the profit number that really counts.

They eliminate paid media from their marketing.

Instead they leverage their business practices to drum up PR and win the loyalty of a growing group of brand fanatics. It’s content marketing, really, but applied in a more fundamental and profound way than I’ve seen.

It’s a simple formula: Spend more to make a better product, focus real energy on being resource efficient, save even more by skipping the paid media most people ignore anyway, and leverage the whole story to build a network of rabid advocates who tell your story for you.

Is it the business model of the future? We can only hope.

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