Just as it is with life, a sense of balance is crucial for a business to thrive. This is just as true for a large scale company with thousands of employees as it is for a five-person start-up.
A business is a lot like a person – you need a basic system to function, strategy to persevere, resources to grow, and good morale to thrive. But you don’t just need balance on a company level. In order for a business to do well, it also needs to find balance with the world around it. One of the most important business lessons I’ve ever learned is the concept of giving back. For me, it means listening to what those around me need, and seeing how I can support them. It’s a big part of establishing trust – imperative for any business to flourish.
Considering how essential trust and communication are for a company to survive, it makes sense that social entrepreneurship is becoming more and more common. From major corporations adding large-scale social change initiatives to smaller start-ups or small business owners finding ways to become more involved in the neighbourhoods around them, social issues and the well-being of community are increasingly relevant to the future and livelihood of a business.
From how retailers chose to support or reject specific movements and causes during the US election, to less political values-based marketing, such as increasing consumer interest in how our food is produced or working conditions of employees, social elements are now an integral part of doing good business. Paraphrasing Forbes, companies can now do well by doing good.
Being culturally aware will get you far. Knowing your consumer base and their values will get you farther. When you’re building a brand, you have to know how it’s going to relate and be valuable – not just in today’s world, but in tomorrow’s as well. That’s why it’s so important to understand where consumer habits are headed and utilise the technology and social curve to get ahead of them. It’s a rule of the world that things which are a given today will not be that way for long.
Even in Dubai, for instance, which is considered to have a steady bricks and mortar consumer base, retail store sales are starting to drop, while online shopping picks up. But understanding that online shopping is where most purchases are made is still not enough information. How do people discover brands? What is the path they take to conversion and what is their thought process for getting there? How do they feel when they shop? In a world that’s more interconnected socially, these questions are becoming more key than ever.
My advice for new businesses is to define your underlying values. Despite your goals, what will you not compromise on? What do you stand for? And then once you know that, get to know your consumer and what they stand for. See them face to face. Yes, spending habits and other data are incredibly important, but can you get past the theoretical and get to know them on a personal level? What are their deepest desires? Fears? What causes do they care about and how can you support them? What areas do they refuse to compromise on? If you can find a way to see them as people, you’ll have a customer for life.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Photography: Ethan Mann. Carla wears: Jumpsuit, Elisabetta Franchi.