Supporting your community has always been a great way to raise your company's profile, but sponsoring events, volunteering, and donating money may not be the most effective ways to do it. In "Best of Breed" (Adobe Acrobat Reader needed to view full article)," written for the Stanford Social Innovation review, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee argue that to really gain a market edge companies should engage in "corporate social marketing" (CSM). As they put it, "when it comes to marketing benefits, CSM outshines the rest."

Why? Corporate social marketing puts a companies money behind a promotion that seeks to positively change the personal behavior of a target population. When people are positively affected by a company's efforts, they're more likely to have a positive association with the company that supported the change.

The authors offer a few big company examples, including insurance company Safeco's sponsorship of a fire safety campaign, called FireFree, in Bend, Ore., and Home Depot's participation in Water--Use It Wisely, a water conservation campaign founded by the Arizona Water Department. In both cases, the companies took active steps in trying to change personal behaviors to benefit a greater cause. In the process, the companies' actions shed a positive light on their businesses.