Weaving social altruism into a business is becoming an increasingly popular trend. From seeking certification as a B Corporation -- in which a for-profit company meets certain standards of social and environmental performance -- to pursuing impact investing, many executives are examining whether they should integrate a social mission into their companies’ core business strategies.
Business leaders shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon of incorporating a social mission simply because their competitors are doing so. If they are going to be successful, they need to understand how and why adding an altruistic component will take their business in a positive direction.
These questions will certainly take time to answer, but the following considerations can serve as a helpful starting point.
Related: 5 Social Entrepreneurship Essentials
Align with your brand’s identity to build legitimacy.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to create a TOMS equivalent -- a social purpose for a business can take a variety of forms. Overall, though, it will be most effective and clearly legitimate if it matches the identity of your brand as a whole.
Aligning your social purpose with the identity of your brand will give it vital credibility. Some companies attempt to draw attention to themselves with social good projects that are often flashy or superficial, basing them on a momentary fad or the personal interests of the company's leader, for instance, without taking the extra time to weave them into the core mission of the brand. In the long run, that strategy is actually more likely to turn customers away as the projects come to a close and their insubstantiality is revealed, rather than keeping people engaged for the long run. By ensuring that your proposed purpose matches your brand's overall mission, you will create a stronger, more legitimate project.
For example, a key facet of H2O+ Beauty’s brand relaunch involved establishing a more concerted social mission. Since the company's overall goal is to help everyone’s inner beauty shine by inspiring confidence in their own skin, the “Making Waves” initiative developed as part of the relaunch is just another way to make that goal a reality. The initiative hinges on supporting Girls Inc. of Alameda County, an organization dedicated to helping underserved girls and women realize their own personal, educational, and professional potential, with a volunteer requirement for all employees and a portion of the proceeds from H2O+ Beauty’s best-selling product going to Girls Inc. The direct connection to the product, in particular, allows the initiative to be effective in a variety of ways: as part of recognizing the product’s 25th anniversary, for example, H2O+ Beauty is ramping up its donations to Girls Inc. and bringing more awareness to the mission.
Build deeper, longer-lasting relationships.
Establishing a social purpose encourages customers and employees alike to connect more meaningfully with your brand. If the purpose is constructed such that everyone can contribute to a common cause, you will instill a strong connection both within and without the company by reinforcing the concept that each person is doing good simply by working at their everyday job or purchasing a product or service.
Getting the entire internal team on board with the brand's chosen purpose obviously helps it to be as effective as possible, but there are benefits to the other side of that equation as well. In giving each employee a way to become personally involved with the mission -- whether through fundraising, volunteer initiatives, or a different altruistic aspect -- you offer another linking point between each team member and the greater company. This is likely to give them a greater sense of commitment to the organization, as the social purpose adds a new, more personally appealing interpretation of the brand mission that is outside the routine of their daily work.
This is true for consumers, too. It can be hard for an individual to relate to a company if their only connection to it is through products or services, but by welcoming them as a participating member of a team working toward a common social goal, you’re showing that the business stands for more than just the bottom line and benefits from their individual contribution. This is not only admirable, but can also help to humanize your organization, which will likely deepen loyalty among target customers.
It can benefit the bottom line.
When executed well, the social mission can have marked financial benefits. A social mission that is integral to the brand's identity and encourages participation from both employees and consumers will draw public approval and can grow your customer base. Recent research shows that people will go out of their way to support a brand with a genuine, inclusive social purpose: according to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 90 percent of consumers would shift their purchasing habits to prioritize a brand associated with a social or environmental cause.
In short, establishing a meaningful social purpose for your brand can have a variety of positive effects on both your business and the world around you, if you do so in a thoughtful way that aligns with the overall goals of your company.