Recently I was lecturing an international operations class at the local university on global marketing. I was able to use an interesting case study video about the international performance company, Cirque du Soleil.

Certainly one of the aspects of Cirque du Soleil’s international marketing success is their ability to walk a tight wire between standardized and localized marketing elements. The company employs staff from over 50 countries, often recruiting street performers to join the show. They blend various cultures into each performance and still manage to use almost no words during the performance, making it accessible to people from all linguistic backgrounds. Shows are designed for a set of cultures, appealing to specific values and ideas of beauty and interest.

But what you might not know about this company is how they strategically use corporate social responsibility to help brand the company as a source of goodwill before even entering a new country market. The program is called Cirque du Monde. The company collaborates often with would-be local circus competitors to set up programs for underprivileged and homeless youth usually in areas where the company wishes to set up a new base of operations. The programs typically teach performance arts such as juggling, stilt walking, clowning, and acrobatics. Cirque du Soleil gains a reputation for doing good deeds in the community, further building interest in their shows and helping to build relationships in that community.

For Cirque du Soleil, working diligently to be seen as a responsible corporate citizen in every country where they operate takes enormous efforts. But it fits well with the company vision, branding and culture. This leads to the question for entrepreneurs expanding their companies into new markets:

Are there aspects of the Cirque du Soleil approach to corporate social responsibility that can be widely translated for every company’s benefit?

Yes, there are definitely lessons to be learned. Entrepreneurs can ask themselves:

  • Are there socially responsible practices or programs that would easily fit with the mission of our company and the products or services we already sell?
  • What do our customers expect from a company like ours in terms of corporate social responsibility?
  • Are there negative country-of-origin effects that could be softened by publicly showing goodwill in a specific country?
  • What would be the effect of such programs on employee productivity and retention, if employees appreciate the good works of your company?

In Part 2 of this series, we will examine each one of these questions in more detail. Stay tuned until next week. Until then, best of success to you in all of your international business endeavors.