Doing Well While Doing Good: The 4 Tenets of a Community-Minded Brand
In the beginning of the Notley Fellowship, we Fellows are charged with a thought exercise. How can we merge our skills and expertise in the private sector with the public, non-profit space? As a marketer, I believe both sectors have a lot to learn from each other. Just as non-profits should take on a strategic marketing lens, businesses should take a community-minded approach to their brand building.
Here’s an example – and why. Think of General Electric. What’s the first thing that came to mind? A blue GE logo? Thomas Edison? The word “innovation”? These images are brand associations. Like people, brands carry associations, which give us shorthand knowledge into who a brand is, what it stands for, what it does, and what its values entail. With the General Electric exercise, when you brought the brand to mind, associations came with it. Maybe you pictured product associations—based in functionality, quality, and design. Or, you might’ve thought of organizational associations—the global nature of the company, its concern for customers, or the way it treats its employees.
Beyond these associations, brands can also be linked to causes—known in consumers' minds as community-minded. An organization could be environmentally sensitive, have a strong corporate responsibility program, or prioritize a foundation—any of which could help build value around the brand as much as its products, global nature, or concern for customers or employees.
A brand’s perception around community might even eclipse its products. Take Life is Good, for instance. Life is Good did not create a mind-blowing innovation—they created t-shirts. However, the core of their business is their social mission, and they donate 10% of their net profit to kids in need. Although the founders started with $78 and 48 t-shirts, their story captured hearts, and now, Life is Good is a $100 million company. Likewise, Warby Parker, TOMS, Ben & Jerry’s, and Patagonia have built tremendously successful brands around their commitment to social and/or environmental causes.
It is of course difficult to calculate how much of such success can be attributed to a mission-driven core. Perhaps these companies had superior products or a competitive advantage, but it’s also clear that this community-oriented association—their values and programs—has differentiated their business, enhanced customer loyalty, and propelled brand awareness.
Does Social Responsibility Mean Brand Profit?
So, what does bottom-line payoff look like? While being a “good corporate citizen” can generate feelings of respect and admiration, does social responsibility translate to profits?
According to recent studies, the answer is yes. The Cone Communications Digital Activism survey found that 89% of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality. Millennials are particularly inclined to reward socially responsible companies. According to the Cone Millennial Cause study, they are 79% more likely to purchase products from a company that is socially responsible, and they are 83% more likely to trust the company.
Think of your own habits. How do you feel when you purchase TOMS shoes? Do you think differently about a brand once you’ve learned about its corporate responsibility programs? Would you prefer that your daily coffee comes from a company that proudly provides fair wages to its workers or one that doesn’t boast social responsibility? Would you be more loyal to the business with that community orientation?
Most likely, cause programs elicit positive associations from you—and for this reason, they also add visibility and vitality to the brand. So, how can you build a community-oriented association for your brand in an effective way?
4 Steps to Build a Community-Minded Brand
To capitalize on social responsibility efforts, initiatives and programs must build associations that help the company stand out from the crowd. Dr. David Aaker, a premier thought leader and consultant on brand strategy, believes an organization must obey the fundamentals of branding to do this. He outlines four tenets of success:
Have a focus. Building and maintaining a focused initiative enhances impact and visibility. As a global restaurant company, Yum! Brands’s mission is to feed the world. This goal includes those at risk of hunger, so Yum! has focused their charitable work on solving hunger both locally and around the world. They’ve developed relationships with community hunger programs, food banks, national Hunger Walks as well as a partnership with United Nations World Food Programme. Their relentless focus on eradicating hunger, whether through relief efforts overseas or through local pantry programs, has amplified their social impact and their branding efforts alike.
Be consistent over time. As with any branding effort, consistency over the long-term is key to allowing a brand association to generate a substantial benefit to a company. Rather than a scattered effort to solve every world problem or participate in a variety of efforts, the brands who have maintained consistent involvement in a specific cause gain impact and visibility. Ronald McDonald House has supported families during difficult times since 1974. McDonald’s consistent efforts to build, strengthen, and expand Ronald McDonald House over the long term has helped them protect their investment and build upon its recognition.
Link the program to the brand. Participate in a program or effort that is relevant to your business. For instance, aligning with a deeply patriotic cause, American Express supported the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. The REI Stewardship initiative focuses on environmental causes—the perfect connection for a brand that sells outdoor apparel and equipment. Choose a cause that has an authentic connection to your organization.
Be branded. Like a company with a strong brand, a branded program is more effective, memorable, and impactful. Tide created their “Loads of Hope” program in response to Hurricane Katrina, washing loads of clothes for those affected by the disaster. Using their materials, Home Depot created a “1,000 Playgrounds for 1,000 Days” campaign that turned vacant lots into safe playgrounds for children. Of course, adding a social media component, like Always did with their campaign #LikeAGirl, adds powerful amplification to the effort. Creating a brand around the initiative defines the meaning of the effort and enhances the impact of the program.
What are great examples of social responsibility programs, actions, and initiatives that you’ve seen? Have they followed these principles?