Brands committing to social good in today’s business climate are finding it a worthwhile investment in business success. But it wasn’t always that way. When TOMS shoes launched in 2006 with its “one-to-one” business strategy, many business leaders around the country likely wondered how the company would ever stay in the black. Its model of giving one new pair of shoes to a child in an impoverished country with every TOMS pair of shoes sold seemed crazy. After all, it’s hard enough to make profits in today’s marketplace. It’s even harder when you’re giving half of your profits away.
But after an article highlighting TOMS’ new business model ran in the Los Angeles Times, something crazy happened. The company received orders for nine times the number of shoes they had in stock. Some 10,000 pairs were sold in the first year alone. Fast forward to 2018, and TOMS doesn’t just sell one-for-one shoes. They sell eyeware, bags, and coffee, all of which share a portion of profits to support relevant charities. Turns out customers really like the concept of socially responsible companies, and brands committing to social good and corporate success really do make beautiful music together.
Brands Committing to Social Good — Brands Taking a Stand
According to a recent report by Deloitte, more and more customers are pushing for companies to take a stand on the issues most important to them. Millennial consumers in particular are drawn to brands committing to social good, and who stand for things or support issues they believe in. Young people also feel companies have the responsibility to share profits, rather than sit on them. As such, “doing good” has become big business in today’s new marketplace. Brands committing to social good and business success are no longer the exception like TOMS was back in the day—it is rapidly becoming the norm. Want to explore how you can build a culture around doing social good that’s not only good for business, but also good for your employees? Let’s take a look.
Bring Social Issues into Your Brand
It’s no longer enough for companies to offer annual donations to local charities or endorse certain political candidates. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends study found that customers are looking to businesses to help solve today’s problems. That’s a sentiment also expressed in the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study, which showed 50 percent of customers buy based on belief, and 30 percent say they make more belief-driven purchases now than they did just a few years ago. The report also showed 60 percent—more than half—of Millennials are belief-driven buyers, so brands committing to social good especially resonate with that demographic.
Just as TOMS made world poverty a part of its brand and mission, companies today should consider how social responsibility plays into their overall brand and culture. Yes, it may turn some people off. But as my colleague Daniel Newman shared in his Forbes column recently: Brands That Take a Stand: Lessons in Attracting New Customers, there’s an upside. Brands that take a stand often gain more customers than they lose by putting their name behind something important. In fact, the Edelman study showed that for belief-driven consumers, brands staying silent on issues is often not an option.
On the flip side, taking a stand can pay off—which is why I say that brands committing to social good and corporate success are a winning combination. Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents bought a product for the first time because of the brand’s stand on a specific issue. That’s a big number, people.
Brands Taking a Stand on Political Issues
We are in the midst of some interesting political times here in the U.S. and that can be a slippery slope for brands committing to social good. Taking a stand on political issues is dangerous, as you know you’re never going to please everyone, and it’s inevitable that some portion of your customer and prospect base is going to be unhappy with whatever stand you take. In the wake of the recent immigration crisis enveloping the country, brands like United Airlines have stepped up, taking a stand on the side of refusing to be a part of separating immigrant children from their parents, which is a brave step.
Make Transparency Part of Your Process
According to the Edelman report, nearly 60 percent of consumers are buying—or boycotting—based on a company’s stand on social issues. We saw this in action just recently when consumers started boycotting businesses due to their association with the National Rifle Association. In today’s world where information is plentiful, who your customers are, what they believe in, what you believe in, who the company leaders support politically—all of those things and more are information that is easily available. That’s why it’s easier—and smarter—to simply make transparency the foundation of your brand. Equally important, if a brand is going to talk the talk, it’s critical that it walk the walk. That means it’s important to commit, live, and link your beliefs. What does that mean? As you can see from the chart below from the Edelman report, committing time, money, and influence is important, as is truly living and practicing those beliefs. That means they should be evident in every part of your organization, from the employees, to the day-to-day activities, to sourcing and manufacturing, and also in advertising. Lastly, linking those beliefs to the brand plays an important role. Belief-driven buyers will know and trust a belief-driven brand, and over time, your brand will be personified by those beliefs.
When it comes to brands committing to social good, transparency in all things is critically important. Transparency shows where you fall on issues of diversity, fair wages, executive compensation, fair business practices, and expectations of business partners. When customers know where a brand stands and that they can trust your values, they’re more likely to be loyal to you as well. Yes, it takes work and commitment. But it also gives buyers faith in your products—and values.
Bring Your Employees into the Fold
Consumers aren’t the only ones who want your company to stand for more than profit. Research shows that 88 percent of Millennials want employers to play a role in alleviating social concerns, and about the same amount said “success” should be measured by more than profit. Along similar lines, a Nielsen study found nearly 70 percent of employees prefer to work for companies that are socially responsible. Clearly, brands committing to social good resonates with more than just consumers, it plays a role in talent recruitment and talent retention, too. It stands to reason that if you want to attract passionate, loyal employees, finding common ground on an important social issue is a great place to start.
Make no mistake, for a brand, it’s scary to take a stand. It’s much more attractive to simply play the middle and be a friend to all. But that’s not quite so easily done today. Values matter to consumers. Politics matter to consumers. Social good matters to consumers. Brands committing to social good and corporate success can be a winning combination, but brands have to go down that path knowing that not everybody is going to love them, and they need to ultimately be okay with that. The upside is that by taking a stand, by making a commitment to social good, brands will attract customers with like values. those customers will likely be more closely connected to the brand, be more loyal, be more likely to be brand advocates, and stay around longer. Those things? Not a bad upside to brands committing to social good.
Is your brand committing to social good or perhaps considering doing so? This is the perfect time for companies to do it because there are still a relatively small number of companies doing it well. Take it slow. Think it though. Make sure you invest time and research in considering how doing good aligns with your brand’s mission and culture. Ask your employees for their feedback. Ask your customers for theirs. Make a commitment to doing good a part of every work day. Think of ways to involve customers in your doing-good mission rather than watching your work from the sidelines. A multi-channel, multi-layer approach to connecting with consumers is almost always a win. When you add a commitment to common values—you’re golden.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”