On the heels of Mother’s Day, how many companies will we see this week post campaigns about their commitment to working mothers and advancing women at work? A lot, I’m sure.
And while it’s always great to see companies promote gender diversity, the real question is— do they mean it? Are they committed year round to using their business as a platform for good?
In today’s climate, it’s expected that business and greater impact go hand and hand. According to Global Strategy Group’s Business and Politics report, more than ¾ of Americans say that CEOs have a responsibility to bring about social change on issues facing society and believe that taking a stance could be good for the bottom line. Just this week, Jennifer Hyman, cofounder of Rent the Runway, announced new workplace benefits for all her employees—not just the ones with corporate jobs. She admitted that until now, hourly workers in their warehouses were not privy to the same family medical leave policies among other perks. She recognized she had the power to change the conversation—and many people’s lives.
It may also help her company’s business goals. Studies show that consumers are willing to pay more for businesses that are aligned with their values. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Z, where roughly 72 percent are willing to pay extra for products and services for companies that are dedicated to social and environmental change. This is particularly notable as Gen Z will comprise more than 40 percent of all consumers in the next two years.
So what does impact look like?
For starters, impact is no longer reserved just for the Global Fortune 500, who collectively spend around $20 billion a year on CSR activities through sustainability initiatives, corporate foundations, employee volunteer programs, and donations to charity. These companies have the budget to launch huge giving campaigns that improve their corporate reputations. But consumers are wise to inauthentic impact—they can tell when a brand is just hopping on a bandwagon or using money to make themselves look good. True impact is when social good philosophy is embedded into the threads of your company.
Today’s most innovative companies are redefining the connection between business and impact in three main ways:
Business Product For Good: These are the companies where the very existence of their innovation (be it a product or service) serves to tackle a larger societal problem. Whether providing access to an underserved population, streamlining a current process to make it more efficient, connecting people in a new and meaningful way or better preparing people for some aspect of the future, when these companies succeed, we all win. At their core are driven to do well by doing good and are typically thought of for their double-bottom line when it comes to impact (ie. generating measurable social or environmental returns alongside a financial return). From healthtech to edtech to fintech and beyond, we’ve seen many entrepreneurs embrace this model when it comes to connecting their company purpose to a great macro issue.
Business Model For Good: In recent years, the one-for-one model—where for every product purchased, one is donated—has emerged as a way to revolutionize retail goods. Toms shoes was first on the scene, but many emerging companies have followed suit, like Yoobi school supplies and Bombas socks, baking social good right into their P&L.
More recently, we’re seeing companies with a stronger commitment to transparency as part of their business model. Everlane, for example, is committed to price transparency and on every page of its website explains why that item is priced as such and also raising awareness about factory conditions for workers. Honest Company rose to fame as the company that shed light on the toxic chemicals typically (and perhaps unknowingly) found in baby and household products. And skincare company BeautyCounter publishes the Never List, which are 1500 harmful or questionable ingredients that the company never includes in products. In this category, it’s not just a point of view—it’s a shift in how business is being done.
Business Platform For Good: This is the newest category that we’re seeing emerge on using company policies to reinvent how work gets done and sets the standard for others. One element of this, is what strategy and innovation consultancy Luminary Labs has called Human Company Design, a new business imperative to make for a stronger more sustainable vision. It’s how Jennifer Hyman just stood up for warehouse workers, or Patagonia has a long-standing tradition of impact through its environmental-first policies. It’s about using a brand voice to advocate for a new way of thinking, such as Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global (“It’s about ending the delusion that in order to succeed you have to burnout”) or monthly subscription clothing service DIa & Co aimed at plus-sized women (“this market goes largely untapped”) or about using a brand platform to advocate for change, like the companies who joined the boycott of the NRA earlier this year or how Lyft showed support for March For Our Lives this spring by offering free rides. These are the companies that are setting a standard on a way that work is being done and using their collective brand voice to drive meaningful change.
So how do you begin telling a new story? Unless you’re starting a new company, or open to changing your business model, look to number three and start to authentically build your beliefs or causes into your brand platform. Be clear, talk about WHY it matters to you and your leadership team and how are you committed to the values your company purports to hold.
Inauthenticity costs big (think last year’s Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner). So before you try to tie your brand to gender diversity and Mother’s Day, remember weaving a cause into your company’s story is more than a one-off, well-liked tweet: In fact, it’s imperative to be part of a broader (and genuine) business strategy and communications plan.