I was recently at the Social Enterprise Summit in LA, where the topic of genuine communication was raised by one of the attendees who asked: how do we highlight the great work we do without being too self-serving or overly promotional?
For B Corps, social enterprises and other socially responsible companies, a focus on impact can set you apart from the competition, but it can also be challenging to find ways to genuinely communicate impact. Putting a stock photo of a child in need next to the “buy now” button on your website is not the route to go. So what can you do to let your stakeholders know about your cause without being disingenuous?
Authentic communication starts with authentic organizations.
Actions speak louder than words
There’s a reason why it doesn’t feel right when companies take stands on social issues that are misaligned with what they do. For example, when Audi put out an ad promoting gender equality, it immediately raised questions by the public given the company has very few women in leadership roles.
As a social enterprise, this seems obvious. You started your company with mission in mind. However, as consumers have grown increasingly socially conscious, more companies have adopted, or at least marketed, social causes in an effort to connect. To get above the fray, your impact should not just be showcased in everything you do, but also everything you say.
Mission has to be at the center of your communication
I took a look at Bombas Socks for inspiration. For every pair of Bombas Socks purchased, a pair is donated to a homeless shelter. Your purchase will support a good cause: according to the company’s website, socks are the number 1 requested item at homeless shelters. Besides the high quality of their socks, Bombas has also engineered a special pair of socks to meet the specific needs of the homeless population, a pair that is more durable and doesn’t have to be washed as often. If you don’t have Bombas, I recommend you pick up a pair. You won’t regret it.
Here’s the rub: in addition to all the great information about their cause and why it matters, on every page of the company’s website, it says, “Our #1 priority here at Bombas is your happiness.” It’s great they have a satisfaction guarantee. In fact, study after study shows social impact alone won’t drive purchasing decisions. Products need to be of equal or better quality and support a social cause to really move the needle. However, Bombas misses the mark by failing to communicate impact through the lens of social purpose. This misstep could be corrected by updating the statement to say, “Our #1 priority here at Bombas is making the highest quality socks for everyone who wears them.”
What can you do to authentically communicate your impact?
Share the specific stories of the communities or people you serve.
The most genuine way to do this is in the first person. Why? Because when it’s told from the first person perspective, there’s no interlacing of self-serving narrative. It’s direct and from the heart of the person impacted, and that resonates. Accompany that with real photography, not stock imagery. If you can’t get something first person, at the very least, aim to include a few, original quotes.
Make impact feel personal.
When I was in LA, I heard from Stephanie Cocumelli, the Vice President of Direct to Consumer Retail at TOMS. She talked about a program TOMS recently did that allowed people to select a country to donate a pair of shoes to as a result of their in-store purchase. They wrote their name on a piece of paper and walked it over to a jar with their country of choice written on it. I thought this was a really powerful example of how you can reinforce every customer’s role in your organization’s impact.
Let your product or service speak for itself.
When presenting someone with a purchasing decision, resist the temptation to showcase your cause. Your product or service needs to be strong enough that the person would purchase it, socially impactful or not. That’s how we’re truly going to create a world ripe for social change.
Want to learn more about communicating your organization’s impact with authenticity?
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