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Businesses want customers to buy.

That’s how brands succeed and ultimately grow. But in recent years, the path to purchase has grown increasingly complex, with consumers making buying decisions based on a variety of factors.

One of the most influential? Community engagement.

In a recent survey from Cone Communications, seven of 10 consumers said they believe companies have an obligation to take action in the communities they serve. And 87% said they would buy a product because that company advocated for an issue they cared about.

Corporate social responsibility and strong community partnerships also have a profound impact on employees. A recent Covestro survey of Fortune 1000 leaders found that 71% of millennials, 69% of GenXers and 46% of baby boomers want to do more social-purpose work while on the job. At the same time, the Project ROI study from Babson Social Innovation Lab and IO Sustainability found that, when companies have a strong focus on giving back, employee productivity increases by 13%, while turnover decreases between 25 and 50%.

Jeff Maggs has seen that firsthand in his work with ad agency Brunner.

When Brunner entered the Atlanta market several years ago following an acquisition, it had little name recognition. It was an unknown entity and, as a result, a tough sell. So Maggs devised a strategy similar to what he’d done to build the business in its hometown of Pittsburgh.

He went all in on community involvement.

“I like to be involved in the community, and there’s a business rationale for being involved in the community,” said Jeff Maggs, managing director of Brunner, an ad agency with offices in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. “Dig in, get involved, give back, get out there, be a voice, make a difference. Oh, and by the way, if people like what they see, it will lead to growth in our business, as well.”

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Brunner recently partnered with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation to help increase diversity in its ranks. The foundation was looking for help engaging a more diverse pool of candidates, and Brunner offered to provide pro bono advertising services, creating a campaign to generate broader awareness of the opportunities available.

The result was a new class of recruits that has been recognized as one of the most diverse in the country, Maggs said.

“Most of the diversity work was done by the foundation and our chief here in Atlanta, but our advertising efforts played a big role in getting that word out,” he said.

And Brunner is not alone. Novelis, another Atlanta company and a global leader in rolled aluminum products and recycling, partnered with the Atlanta Falcons and Habitat for Humanity back in 2017 to encourage recycling while giving back to the community it serves. The company pledged to build a Habitat for Humanity home for every 3 million cans collected at Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Georgians send more than $70 million worth of aluminum into landfills every year,” Novelis’ manager of corporate social responsibility said when the program launched. “Because aluminum can be recycled forever, without losing its properties, it’s the perfect sustainable funding source for communities and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.”

Both Novelis and Brunner present two different ways companies can engage in their communities. In the case of Novelis, the business is focusing its efforts on the more traditional avenues of monetary contributions and volunteer work in the community. With Brunner, the commitment is largely through skills-based volunteering — pro bono work, so to speak — with the agency donating its expertise to help local organizations.

That skills-based approach is gaining popularity, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. More than 50% of companies now use the pro bono approach to get more deeply involved in their community. The result has been a demonstrated increase in employee engagement and retention. It also helps those employees get more experience in their designated fields.

Some companies have even begun to use this approach as a form of internal talent development, according to the article. John Hancock, for instance, offers a program called Signature Corps, which offers employees the opportunity to work on skills-based projects in the community. The goal is to help these employees further develop their skills and tee them up for bigger opportunities within the company, the article explained.

Regardless of the method, businesses need to understand that commitment to community work requires a substantial outlay of time, money and resources. Over the past two years, Maggs said his team at Brunner has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional services, balancing that work against client commitments that keep the business up and running. But all of it has been time and money well spent.

“We do great work for clients that sell stuff. We’re proud of that work, for sure. But there’s something a little extra special about work that changes society and makes a difference,” he said.

For your free copy of the Brunner 2020 Atlanta Marketing Report, visit go.brunnerworks.com/atlanta-business-chronicle and find out how Atlanta-area brands connect with their audience throughout the buying process — and where opportunities exist.

Brunner is an independent Atlanta-based marketing agency 100+ people strong, with 35 years of evolutionary experience based on “what’s next.”