Keeping the World in Mind: Branding for Social Impact

3 min read

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As should be obvious by now, people are worried about the state of the world. With the increasing dangers of global warming and climate change, the damage wrought by the multifarious forms of systemic inequality, and the simple desire for one’s personal choices to help rather than harm the world, a rapidly growing movement of consumers are refusing to separate their purchase and investment choices from their values.

So, what should a business do? The answer: Do good. Social impact branding can be a win-win for any company. Doing good, and doing it right, provides brands with a certain level of credibility and sincerity that consumers desire. According to statistics, consumers are now making their choices based on the social responsibility of the companies from which they buy.

This is especially true among younger generations, who have grown up online and can see and understand how their individual choices and actions ripple out through the rest of the world. For them, a company’s efforts toward corporate responsibility must be genuine, and foundational. Ideas of equality and social justice are paramount, and growing evidence suggests that it is good for the bottom line as well.

How To Do It Right

The general rule for corporate social responsibility, or social impact branding, or whatever you wish to call it, is to be people-oriented. While investors still wish to make money, of course, they don’t wish to do so at the expense of others’ well-being. This has grown to the point where many are more than willing to divest from companies that don’t reach that standard.

The actual application of socially responsible standards, however, is more complicated. It has to be applied to choices that companies make both in-house and on a business-to-business level. Here’s a very basic question, for example: Are your company’s events accessible to the disabled and impaired? This can involve basic logistical accessibility such as wheelchair ramps, or having a sign language interpreter for those with impaired hearing.

Furthermore, your brand should be ready to respond to current events and issues of concern to your employees and customer base. This isn’t about ‘political correctness’ or taking a stand on hot-button topics in the public discourse. It is about being accountable to your stakeholders; if your employees want to know how you are responding to the climate crisis, you should have an answer for them.

Good Practices Make Perfect

What does your company do in-house to make things better? Do you, not just in your promotional materials but in your hiring practices as well, encourage diversity and the representation and promotion of members of minority communities? Are they just a token or placeholder, or someone with a real voice that can actually influence decision-making? It has repeatedly been found that diverse teams with a variety of points of view provide better answers and create better outcomes. So, this benefits the world, your business, and your brand too.

Does your business partner with other socially-responsible businesses? To promote the widespread adoption of better ethical and social standards, companies need to encourage each other to take up and maintain good practices.

Most of all, you shouldn’t be afraid of change. Too often doing the right thing is seen as disruptive, or it interferes with a business’s ability to make money. The truth, backed by data, is that consumers are no longer tolerant of that attitude. Businesses can’t just make money anymore if they want to retain customers. Consumers want to see them do good.

No Faking, No Cheating

Consumers are also sharply aware of, and deeply cynical about, companies faking it. They have been through the routine of businesses putting out statements that burnish their environmental credentials or declare their focus on diversity, all while never actually changing their practices and policies. They can see it coming a mile away. There is a running joke in the queer community, for example, about companies enthusiastically adopting queer iconography for pride month (check out that rainbow logo!) and forgetting about it the moment the month is over.

Companies must accept and understand that consumers are well-aware of the game, and they don’t want to play it. More and more are willing to do the research, to find out which companies are taking actual action, and which ones are just paying lip service. Increasingly, this perception is the deciding factor of who gets the customer’s money.

The easiest way for companies to avoid such accusations is to, you know, actually commit to social impact. The cure for suspicion and cynicism is sincerity. Aligning a brand toward social impact is about branding and public perception, and the best way to guarantee your PR is in line with reality is to make social responsibility your reality. Some say, “fake it ’til you make it”, but why not just save yourself the trouble and actually make it?


It is important for any brand seeking to identify itself as socially responsible to recognize it not as a one-time thing, a switch to flip and be done with, but as an ongoing process. Admit to yourself that you might commit mistakes, make the wrong choice, and have to make up for it. But that’s alright because a consistently people-oriented business will earn the goodwill to address the problem, correct it, and do better in the future.

It may feel overwhelming to the leadership of any business to reorient itself towards responsibility, but the benefits are too great to ignore. Employees working for a company that they feel contributes to the betterment of people and the world are happier and more productive. Customers are more loyal to brands that share their values. And most of all, the brand will be making the world a better place. And that is all anyone can ask for, if you think about it.

Demos Parneros Demos Parneros is an experienced and innovative retail and e-commerce leader, helping Staples grow from a startup to a Fortune 100 company, serving as President of North American Retail and E-commerce businesses. He subsequently took on the role of CEO at Barnes & Noble, leading a focused transformation plan, which eventually led to the sale of the company. In addition to previously serving on several high-profile company boards, Demos now leads CityPark LLC, where he has invested in 15 companies, including several leading-edge retail tech startups.

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