There are brands that we know and love—the ones that stock our pantry shelves and adorn our clothing. There are companies that are woven into the fabric of our communities—whether they’re mom and pop businesses owned by friends and neighbors or global corporations that employee thousands. These companies and brands provide products, services and jobs. But, they also have a higher calling.

As Millennials came of age, they ushered in greater expectations of social responsibility for businesses and brands. This group of consumers is now in their late twenties and early thirties, raising families of their own, exercising notable spending power and influencing other segments of the population. Across segments, individual expect brands to not only take their money in exchange for goods and services, but to give something back and be accountable for leaving the world better than they found it.

Welcome to the Era of Social Impact.The Era of Social Impact

What Does Social Impact Mean to Your Brand

In the Era of Social Impact individuals choose the brands, businesses, executives and even government leaders with whom they associate based on a sense of shared values, not just transactional value of the relationship. When a brand, a business or a leader demonstrates values that aren’t in alignment with their constituents, the effects can be damaging, long-lasting and far reaching. Why? Call it guilt by association.

If an executive takes a controversial and potentially damaging position, and your CEO continues to serve on their Board of Directors, this may reflect on the perceived values of your organization. Similarly, if a product harms the environment and your company continues to sell that product and fails to take steps to mitigate environmental risks, this won’t just affect product sales. It will also impact customers’ willingness to do business with your company at all.

Social impact isn’t just about making smart or socially-conscious business decisions or protecting brand reputation. Social impact extends beyond the products or services your company provides. It relates to:

  1. The community your company serves
  2. The core values of your organization
  3. The causes your customer care about

Impacting the Community

Social impact also takes many different forms. It can be seen in a decision by CVS Health to stop selling cigarettes in some of its stores, a decision that led to lower sales, but also reduced packages sold by 95 million. While this business decision could have had a negative impact on the company’s financial results, it also had the potentially to positively impact the communities surrounding those stores. Putting community needs ahead of corporate coffers can put pressure on competitors to follow suite, magnifying social impact and leading to societal change on a greater scale.

Being True to Corporate Values

In order for your company’s social impact efforts to be successful and sustainable, they have to be genuine. This means they have to be true to your corporate values, otherwise you risk “green-washing”. If you social impact isn’t rooted in the company’s core values, it will lack executive buy-in and support, employee or customer engagement, amounting to nothing more than a public relations campaign that gets media attention but falls short of driving real change. You see, your company can’t change the world outside its walls without first adopting core values internally.

Take Patagonia, for instance. The company mission is to,

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

The mission isn’t just mounted in the board room. It is reflected in several aspects of their business, from sourcing and supply chain to marketing campaigns. The companies tries to walk the walk and talk the talk, which is made easier by the fact the sense of cohesion between why they were founded, what they still stand for and how this drives their business decisions.

Taking a Stand for the Causes that Matter Most

Not every company sells a product or service that can be the catalyst of positive or negative social impact. But even those who sell goods as innocuous as shampoo and conditioner can make an impact by standing for causes that matter to the customers they serve. Take Unilever, for example. The CPG manufacturer first tackled the issue of women’s and girl’s self-esteem with its Dove Real Beauty campaign in 2004.  Or, consider Procter & Gamble, which recently launched a commercial entitled simply, “The Talk”, taking aim at issues of racial bias.

Both campaigns speak the issues facing each company’s customers, the women and minorities buying their products. But taking a stand on the issues that matter can and should go beyond cause marketing. It should involve direct and immediate action, such as Anheuser-Busch, which halted production of beer to can emergency drinking water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And, most importantly, the steps that are taken shouldn’t be done to benefit the brand. It’s not about you. It’s about positively impacting the community, customers and causes around you, each day, through decision, actions and core values.

This week’s Analyst Picks offer guidance to brand marketers to help them understand social impact, make the case for social impact in their organization and tap into the right approach to social impact for their brand. The headlines highlight brands and businesses that are doing social good, offering examples. These examples aren’t intended for marketers to emulate. You’ll need to find what works best for your brand and authentically aligns with your organization’s core values. They’re intended to provide inspiration by showing the power and potential of brands that answer a higher calling.

2 Comments
  1. September 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm
    Richard Fouts says:

    Thanks, Jennifer for a thoughtful, and beautifully written piece. Your POV is simple: taking a position in conflict with the values of constituents, whether they be buyers or board members, presents risk.

    For friend and ally, Marc Benioff, the fight against Indiana’s widely criticized religious freedom law was personal. Benioff became a leading voice in the codified discrimination inherent in Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — noting that his advocacy was an effort to help his employees and customers whom the law might have affected, something he describes as being key to his personal philosophy. It was a risky position (many customers complained, many threatened to leave) but as Benioff said later: “I’m all for a healthy mind and a healthy body, but I’m also about having a healthy planet and a healthy country and taking care of others that don’t have as much.”

    Clearly many of his partners and alliances agreed, and followed suit. Benioff continues to lead in today’s era of social impact — in so many ways.

    I hope more brand assessment firms take note of your advice and start including social measures in their algorithms. I suspect that brands with good products and service, that also take responsible social positions, have higher NPS scores.

  2. September 7, 2017 at 11:05 am
    Elanora Brown says:

    the area covered in the article is valuable.The three factors such as The community your company serves
    The core values of your organization
    The causes your customer care about
    are ewll explained. Lot to learn from this blog

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