Paul Graham wrote an excellent piece on the value of altruism in business, most notably for start-ups. You can see him deliver it as a presentation here. Benevolance has all kinds of direct business benefits. It powers and supports company morale. It makes you an attractive company to work for. It makes people warm to your business, feel affinity for it, help you. All these things are critical to small businesses and start-ups. Scrub that. They are critical to businesses of any size.
Being good provides direction and a framework for your decision making. Central to this point lies a key thought. That if you are a company that does good then whatever happens, when you are in doubt about what is best to do, your instinct will always be to do whatever is best for your customers. And that's got to be a good thing. "You can hold onto this like a rope in a hurricane," says Paul, "and it will save you if anything can. Follow it and it will take you through everything you need to do."
I think the interesting thing from a marketing perspective about being good is what it does for your talkability. Etsy's whole philosophy is centred around this – just look at their mission statement. And have you ever seen such a passionate community of brand advocates? If you make something people love and you enable them to pass the word, your growth will be exponential.
I have a feeling that this is a really big idea (I'm not alone). It's like marketing as a service, and being useful, but different. It has feel to it like John Grant's Marketing Enthusiasm (remember that?). Being good doesn't have to be difficult. In fact it's often the easiest option. For example as Paul points out, just being authentic means you never have to remember all the things you said in the past so you don't contradict yourself. This is not so much about CSR as what your brand stands for and how you act – and not just that which is captured in your annual sustainability report but how you interact with your customers every day. So in that sense, being good has never been more important – for life and for business.