Last night, I mentioned to my husband that I want to buy a handbag from FEED. For those who are unaware, FEED is a fashion company that provides food for malnourished children with each purchase. Their brand mission aligns with my desire to feed people and I like handbags.
My husband asked me, “Why is this social impact trend so strong today? Does it even work?”
The answer is a resounding YES and this “trend” is likely here to stay for many years to come.
I have been talking to clients and colleagues for years about the increase and prominence of social impact marketing on today’s buying habits. Many studies show that when all else is equal – price, promotion, product quality, etc - companies that give back to their communities win at shelf, both online and in brick and mortar stores.
We have also seen a rise in these efforts among both large CPG companies as well as in small startup companies. Whether they are introducing new products or new programs, companies today are focused on more than ingredients, process, and profit – they are looking to make a difference.
How can your company successfully develop a social impact program?
1. Stand for Something
Many CSR programs fail to make an impact because they don’t make their purpose clear. Donating a percentage of your sales to a random charity that you picked out of a hat won’t mean anything to your consumers. Any give-back program you develop needs to align with your company values and your brand mission.
Ben & Jerry’s, for example, has never been shy about their views on politics or social issues. During the contentious election season last year, they released a new product: Empower-Mint, a delicious blend of peppermint ice cream, fudge brownies, and fudge swirl. That flavor may be appealing to your taste buds, but it also vocalizes the company’s support for the Voting Rights Act and increasing voter turnout.
Whether or not you personally agree with their views, Ben & Jerry’s successfully sells more ice cream because they are vocal about the purpose of their social impact programs and their customers identify with their message.
2. Communicate Your Efforts
Six years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the corporate offices of Johnson & Johnson and sit with the Chief Procurement Officer for lunch. He shared with me all the programs that Johnson & Johnson have in place, but I had never heard of them. They were clearly written in their annual report but not explained, promoted and delivered to the public.
Taking care of the community has, in the past, been more of a private endeavor for many large and small companies and it is now rising to surface.
If your company has a social impact program in place, support it with PR and get your message out there! For and CSR program to make any difference to your business reputation and your sales, people need to be aware that it exists.
3. Don’t Forget About Profit
A few years ago, I read a book called Evolved Enterprise by Yanik Silver. It outlines 11 social impact models and talks in detail about why purpose-driven business models are not only growing in popularity, but are becoming a necessity to connect with consumers. I highly recommend that you read it.
The book inspired me to create an initiative called Labels4Good, which I launched at the Global Sustainability Summit last summer. The program was designed to give grocery packaging a purpose by donating food and resources to community food pantries around the country with every box sold. Companies could opt into the program and promote their involvement with a label on their packaging.
The challenge, I soon discovered, is that social impact models cannot be purpose driven only. They must first and foremost deliver clear profit. If it doesn’t strengthen the bottom line either by building goodwill and brand equity, then it must also deliver increase sales and revenue. Labels4Good was a purely philanthropic endeavor that I created from my own desire to feed people, which at the end of the day isn’t enough to build a successful company.
I haven’t given up on Labels4Good completely, but it’s an important lesson to always remember that businesses need profit in order to survive, even if the philanthropic intention is good.
Overall, I love this social impact trend, the purpose and the result. However, I caution everyone, business owners and consumers alike, to be aware about how you engage and interact with them. They can help us tackle global challenges, spread the word about social issues, and make us feel a little better about our desire to purchase yet another handbag.
How has social impact marketing effected your purchasing behaviors? What companies do you admire most? We’d love to hear!