Impact for Innovation: A Guide to Building a Mission-Driven Brand
By Aliyah Powell, program manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Iterable
We live in a world that is obsessed with results and measurement. Results matter because they are a very tangible measure of success. Importantly, they help drive important business decisions; it’s easier to defend input when you can point to tangible output, like increased pipeline, revenue growth, or share of voice expansion.
With this obsession with results, it should come as no surprise that, when raising the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), business leaders first ask if the venture is worth the investment.
Identifying a Market Gap
Michelin’s stars make or break restaurateurs. Forbes’ “40 Under 40” recognizes the up-and-coming corporate superstars around the world. Forrester is the competitive judge of the SaaS world, assessing nuances in competitive competencies. The same rating and ranking exists in the world of CSR, the Havas 2021 Meaningful Brands study, which measures brand ‘meaning’ in functional, personal, and collective terms, reigns supreme.
In 2021, the study reported that, according to consumers, less than half of brands are seen as trustworthy (47%) and 75% could disappear and would be easily replaced. The study reveals a growing sentiment of consumer cynicism and brand disconnect.
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Looking closer, it identifies an expectation gap in consumers’ relationships with brands and businesses; consumers seek authentic, meaningful, and sustainable action for the good of society and the planet, but are feeling sorely let down by empty promises. It’s an open casting call for brands and businesses, who lean into their social responsibility, to capture consumer hearts and minds, and market share.
When you boil it down, marketers have a fairly simple task: make customers happy. Consumers today don’t just want to buy a brand, they want to buy into a brand. They want to identify with a brand. They want to feel good about where they choose to spend their money. They want to understand what a particular company cares about and how it behaves. In a poll of 1,500 consumers conducted in the US and UK, Iterable found that eighty-seven percent of consumers said they’re more receptive to a brand’s messages if they know the company’s beliefs and values. As to why this resonates so well in consumer psychology, respondents said knowing a brand’s beliefs and values make them feel more trust toward the brand (62%), better know the brand’s authentic identity (44%) and better believe the brand’s purpose (34%). Through this greater expectation of consumers lies a unique opportunity for business to emerge as a stabilizing force and a force for good.
When CSR initiatives are an authentic reflection of a company’s core beliefs and principles, and individuals feel like those align with their own, they find it easier to trust a brand. Ultimately as trust builds, so does brand loyalty. Brand loyalty goes beyond the dollar amount a customer contributes to your bottom line—brand loyalty is about the relationship your brand builds with each individual customer. Telling a story and eliciting relatable feelings in customers builds a bond stronger than a transactional message. While rational thought may get customers in the door, the story and personal connection is what will keep them coming back.
The answer to the question “Is CSR worth the investment” is an unequivocal yes. By placing purpose at the core of the value proposition, brands can build loyalty today that will provide intrinsic value to its business, community, and employees.
Building a Impact-Driven CSR Strategy
Creating and running a business rooted in purpose, with actions firmly entrenched in a structured CSR program, is a life-long commitment. To effectively tackle our evolving social and environmental issues (and circumvent customer doubt) brand promises must be backed by action, and approached like any business challenge: define the strategy, execute the process, define roles and responsibilities, and select tools and approaches.
It’s important to document your organization’s definition of sustainability and your high-level sustainability strategy. Outlining clear goals and defining ownership for sustainability within your organization is essential. As you move, deploy processes that ensure transparency with suppliers, monitor for progress, and prevent behaviors that introduce risk to your organizations.
With a process-first approach, an organization can pinpoint the right inputs, outputs, and choice points; empower employees to make sustainable decisions and informed trade-offs, and collect metrics to know what worked and what didn’t, so they can turn promises into action.
Partnership For Maximized Impact
Do not overlook the significance of a collaborative approach with your employees and wider community. Greater diversity equals greater creativity and a unique approach to maximizing impact. Think of The Avengers; for maximum possible results, aren’t many forces better than one?
Internally, businesses can think about creating cross-functional teams of employees with diverse perspectives, informing giving and technology investments. Involving your employees in the decision-making process at as many intervals as you can is essential, as it brings clarity and assurance to your team while creating greater opportunities for innovation.
Most importantly, have an open dialogue. Come from a place of humility and ask questions to ensure that your gift is culturally relevant, inclusive, and accessible. Don’t make assumptions. Always ask your external and internal partners how you can best support them and respond accordingly.
Once you have built out a process-driven program with standardized practices and reporting and assembled your diverse team of internal and external partners, you’ll want to spread the word and advocate.
Sharing content on philanthropy and volunteerism is the second wave of impact. By driving meaningfully curated content across mediums about partnerships, community needs, and employee-led initiatives, businesses create a ripple effect that informs and inspires potential givers. This allows us to multiply our impact and build wider communities of giving within and across industries. The more we collaborate, the greater impact we can make.
The Value of CSR
Nearly a decade ago, Sir Richard Branson shared, “The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.” Branson was before his time in this statement, but his commentary has never been more relevant. It’s the impact-driven brand that fuels an impactful business. Start building and revitalizing your CSR strategy now to set yourself up for success in the future. Remember that when building an effective and impactful CSR strategy, it is most important to lead with value alignment. Utilize the data to inform how you give, but don’t let the data determine whether or not you give. I guarantee you’ll make the world a better place along the way.
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