Guest Post by Danielle Heiny
“Brands increasingly use social purpose to guide marketing communications, inform product innovation, and steer investments toward social cause programs. And that’s all well and good when it works. But missteps are common, and they can have real consequences.” – Harvard Business Review
Let’s think about that for a moment. Why are these missteps so common? And why are we, as consumers as well as marketers and PR practitioners, the biggest cheerleaders for the campaigns that actually work?
I would say it comes down to three core elements that brands continue to struggle with: authenticity, community and impact.
“Social Good” Gone Bad
We all remember the epic fail of the Kendell Jenner Pepsi commercial, which sparked boatloads of backlash. Now *that* is a prime example of how *not* to approach social good, because:
1. It was attempting to sell with the false image of social good, instead of actually doing social good.
2. Pepsi was out of touch with audiences, communities and societal norms.
3. Why would anyone in the world put Kendell Jenner in that type of advert anyway?!
Consumers aren’t dumb. Today, companies have to not only sell them on a product, but also on what the company stands for and the sense of community it offers. If you’ve ever gotten stuck in the middle of an iPhone vs. Samsung battle over which one is better, you definitely know what I mean.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Ignored
With the rise of social media, advancement in technology and the repercussions of the recession, consumers have higher expectations for corporations than ever before. Notably in terms of transparency, social good and cultural sensitivity.
Let’s take a quick look at the once beloved brand Uber.
This one is beyond frustrating, because Uber is such an incredible product *yet* it has the most horrendous brand reputation. It got so bad last year that a consumer-community fueled #DeleteUber campaign swept the nation as a response to Uber’s actions during the taxi strike at JFK International Airport in New York City.
On top of that there are sexual assault scandals and mass corporate firings making headlines. What a mess!
But Uber’s new Chief Brand Officer might be able turn things around. *I’m rooting for you Boz!*
Social Good Rising
Check out the slogans below:
Uber: Your personal driver.
Lyft: Your friend with a car.
Pepsi: Delicious. Refreshing. Pepsi.
Coca-Cola: Taste The Feeling
Microsoft: Empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.
Intel: Experience What’s Inside.
Google: You can make money without doing evil.
Now which ones do you think drive the strongest connection and sentiment among consumers?
Corporate Social Innovation Done Right
Technology companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Google are paving the way in creating impactful change for individuals and communities while finding solutions to the world’s problems.
One way they are doing this is through Corporate Social Innovation and public-private partnerships.
For example, in an effort to close the gender gap in STEM, they partnered with Girl Up and the U.S. Department of State for the Women in Science (WiSci) STEAM camp, which “…empower young women with the knowledge and skillsets to be competitive with their male counterparts during a time of rapid, technological development, providing them with access to high-tech resources, like-minded peers, impactful business connections and inspiring mentors.”
During a panel discussion, Gabriela A. Gonzalez, Deputy Director of US & Latin America Corporate Affairs for Intel, beautifully explained how Intel’s “philanthropic heart” chooses its CSR programs.
Our #CSR is driven by the heart of our employees, where we can help the most, and who is most in need. –@intel on partnership & #WiSci2017 @GPatState @GirlUp #WiSci2018 pic.twitter.com/NsL9vw1660
— Danielle Heiny (@DanielleHeiny) January 12, 2018
As I learned more about the program and watched the film I Am A WiSci Story, I discovered a multitude of communities that are cultivated and interconnected in such a partnership that strengthens brand, innovation and societies.
Just think, what if more brands got it right and could impact the trajectory of girls like Javiera, Aisha, and Clara?
Can you imagine how much sooner we’ll be able to cure deadly diseases, solve global environmental problems like water scarcity and close the gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic gaps we see today?
As the U.N. Day for Women and Girls in STEM is just around the corner and we head into Women’s History Month in March, consider how you and your brands can authentically embrace community to make an impact.
Image: Anthony DELANOIX via Unsplash, Creative Commons CC0
Danielle Heiny is a success-oriented brand manager, who helps mission-driven organizations achieve explosive growth by harnessing brand potential, connecting the dots, and optimizing bottom-line results. Based in Washington, DC, she’s worked with the U.S. Department of Education, the International Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of nonprofits, government agencies, and international organizations. To learn more about Danielle, connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter and check out her blog on branding, empowerment, and cross-cultural communication.
What a tremendously impactful and insightful article! I loved how you broke it down to the three core elements of authenticity, community and impact. You really drove home how important it is to be authentic about your social responsibility initiatives. It’s really easy for the community to tell the difference when you are being authentic or not. This is a reminder to all brands to just speak their truth. Great post!
Thank you for your comment, Kelly! I LOVE that you said, “this is a reminder to all brands to just speak their truth.” Isn’t it the worst when a brand is “trying too hard” when it’s rather simple: listen and be authentic.
I think that if more companies saw their target audiences as individuals and humans first and consumers second, then they’d be able to tap into what’s important to them and drive it home. It’s about finding and developing that authentic connection.
Danielle, I just LOVED this post! First of all, you made me smile, with your infectious, no-nonsense tone. I think you hit the nail on the head, especially with “respect” – if you don’t respect your audience and your community, it doesn’t matter how fab your product/service is – it will fall flat on its face.
I’m so very happy you wrote for WUL. I hope you’ll be back soon!
Shonali, I’m so thrilled you enjoyed the post! Thank you for the kind words and the opportunity to contribute to one of the best blogs out there!
I have another one in the works, so stay tuned!
Shonali, I’m so thrilled you enjoyed the post! Thank you for the kind words and the opportunity to contribute to one of THE BEST blogs out there!
I have another one in the works, so stay tuned!