How to Build a Brand That Contributes to a Greater Cause
Having a greater cause behind your brand matters — not just for consumer perception of what your brand does, but for your ability to do good in the world. A social impact edge isn’t for every company, but when you give back or align your brand with helping the world, people notice. Research from Zeno’s 2020 Strength of Purpose reported that when consumers perceive that a brand or company has a strong purpose, they are six times more likely to defend or protect the company if there’s ever a misstep. They’re 4.5 times more likely to recommend it to their friends and family and become a champion behind it.
But despite this research, Carole Cone on Purpose shared that only 24 percent of their business respondents reported having a purpose embedded in their business. And while it’s true that you shouldn’t add purpose or social impact for the sole purpose of resonating more with consumers, it is important to assess: What does my brand stand for? How do we help the world? How can I connect my profit with a greater purpose? Here are some things to consider in that assessment.
1. How can your product truly help others?
Sure, your product is a great help to customers — that’s why it’s doing well. But there’s a deeper consideration here. Can you extend the use of this product to those who need it most? This is similar to the TOMS model of thinking, where one pair of shoes is donated for every pair purchased. The shoes "help" the customers that buy them. But even more so, on the social impact end, they help underprivileged children internationally who don’t have shoes.
Another powerful example of an entrepreneur using their services for good is real estate developer Christopher Senegal, who is tackling gentrification in a Houston neighborhood called Liberty Square. “Gentrification is always a sensitive topic in neighborhoods that are changing," Senegal shared via email. "I’m facing the topic head-on. Not by protesting or trying to stop it but instead, identifying ways to be involved in the process." At 33, he began developing middle-class townhouses in the neighborhood when he saw the development patterns in surrounding areas.
“I realized that doing so would keep the culture of the community intact while improving the neighborhood and increasing tax dollars, which would improve schools,” he shared. “I made it a point to not only bring those that are originally from the area back from the suburbs but also only hire from the neighborhood and build a team of successful African American professionals around me. My construction team, realtors, preferred lenders, insurance agents and inspectors are all from the community.”
2. How can you raise awareness about causes that matter?
Your social media or ad campaigns are an ideal opportunity to show what it is that you stand for. For example, P&G created an ad campaign called “We See Equal,” which made its stance on gender equality in the workplace clear. However, they walk the talk, too — 45 percent of P&G’s managers and a third of their board are women. Make sure to put your money where your mouth is, and go beyond the ads and social media posts to show how you’re actually trying to make a difference.
Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group recently posted an article about brand activism and how consumers are now "voting with their dollar." Simply put, “consumers expect more from brands nowadays.” This should include actions such as using brand awareness for positive impact, participating in social movements and displaying brand values proudly on websites.
Related: Cause Marketing Matters to Consumers
3. How can you implement social advocacy within your business model?
How you do business matters, too. Just like your ability to walk the talk alongside raising awareness is so critical, you need to make sure that every step of your business practices aligns with your purpose. An example of this is the online clothing company Everlane, which is working to improve transparency about how they make their clothes and even the details behind how they determined the prices. They do this by sharing “behind the scenes” footage of their factories and production processes, and the exact costs involved in making each piece of clothing.
With unjust conditions in many international garment factories, a stand like this proves Everlane’s commitment to the cause and their desire to raise awareness about the right way to do things. This may seem hard to implement if your business model has already been running like a well-oiled machine, but consider little things you could do like banning unpaid internships because they’re inherently exclusive for those with socioeconomic disadvantages or ensuring that your products are cruelty-free and proving it to customers. They’re watching how you do everything you do. Prove they can trust you to abide by your greater cause.
Ultimately, these questions should lead you not to what your customers most want your brand to stand for, but what you as a founder deeply care about. How can you prove this through your business? There are countless ways — and you don’t have to be a social impact business to begin.