|Marie de Foucaud|
As brand-builders, we are all by now familiar with the importance of purpose-driven branding. But seemingly on a daily basis, companies are still getting it wrong: in too many cases, social impact marketing falls flat, is ignored or, in the worst cases, generates backlash.
A lack of authenticity is a typical diagnosis when an effort doesn’t land, but there is so much more to a company's purpose than whether or not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort seems on-brand or not. Even if a jewelry house establishes transparent sourcing practices or a fashion house reduces material waste, the effort must go beyond making sense on paper—it must resonate with the human audience we seek to inform. To get it right, we must look outside a brand’s doors.
Marketing is a field of value creation. To position brands in the marketplace, we must not only identify the value in the brand’s product or service, we must imbue it with merit. Influencing sales is no longer enough in our field, impact must be synonymous with the brand, and this is where purpose comes in. Ten years ago, merit could have been based merely on usefulness or beauty to the end consumer. Today, a brand is only as useful as it is virtuous, providing for the common—and not just individual—good.
But it isn’t possible for most brands to execute on its purpose based on its own inherent knowledge. Even with clear purpose, a brand’s comparative advantage is its product or service. The concept of trading for what we can’t produce on our own is not a new one, and it is just as applicable to corporate social responsibility as it was to cloth and wine. To create value beyond a product or service, win-win collaborations between companies and stakeholders are key.
If we take our hypothetical jewelry house as an example, how can that organization begin to map out a supplier program that truly impacts at-risk communities? The answer is with external partnerships. Trusted NGOs, local community leaders, and even multilateral organizations are eager to weigh in with their geopolitical and development expertise about the best way to engage, and their expertise is not a resource we can afford to let go to waste.
By bringing stakeholders to the table in the beginning phases of a project, companies can ensure a better understanding of the issue landscape and set themselves up for success. Outside expertise can illuminate blind spots, uncover landmines and be the shortcut on the path to impact. If a second-tier supplier is using child labor in its mining operations, the wrong move by the jewelry house can have life-or-death consequences. If they consult with the right people beforehand, not only can they avoid catastrophe, they can potentially identify a solution that is more valuable than the Hope Diamond—the kind of impact that today’s marketing is truly about.
In addition to win-win solutions, developing stakeholder relationships from the outset helps to garner the kind of buy-in that will ultimately feed the success of a brand initiative. This is another opportunity for brand-building to do its magic.
Assuming our hypothetical jewelry house has met with relevant NGOs and identified a partner who can bring expertise to the table, the opportunities for win-win collaborations are seemingly endless. From a marketing perspective, the NGO’s seal of approval has tremendous value, as do jointly-developed materials such as opinion pieces and social media. The partner organization can also benefit from the in-kind brand communications support, which helps raise awareness of the issue it is championing. Now, beyond a pet project, the jewelry house has a valuable, purpose-driven effort that goes beyond lip service, it has an impactful partnership that plays to its strengths.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what true brand authenticity is all about?
Marie de Foucaud is a brand-building expert with decades of experience leading efforts to improve the reputation and brand identity of discerning and globally-recognized clients. She has served as vice president, global communications at Richard Attias & Associates and headed up worldwide communications for Boucheron-Kering Group.