From my time in the social entrepreneurship space, I have seen much confusion between the roles of purpose and social impact for a brand. In this article, we will address the following questions:
- What is purpose?
- What is social impact?
- Does a business need to have a social impact program to be purposeful?
- How can brand purpose be used to create authentic social impact programs for startups & small businesses?
What is purpose?
We’ll start with the dictionary definition here. According to Dictionary.com purpose is defined as
- the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
- an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
For this article, we’ll run with the reason and desired result.
Reason is the value proposition of a brand – touching upon the needs it solves, the product it offers, and its competitive advantage.
The desired result is the core of what you're trying to accomplish by selling your product or service. Additionally, purpose refers to the desired outcomes of the business beyond shareholder return and profits.
What value is really added to the world?
What is social impact?
Again, let’s begin with a definition. According to csi.edu.au, “social impact can be defined as the net effect of an activity on a community and the well-being of individuals and families.”
Essentially, social impact is the change made on someone’s life. It doesn’t always need to be positive. Harm would be an example of negative social impact.
In business, social impact is typically defined as the impact made on those in need or standing for a social cause. An example of a business with a social mission is Warby Parker, who provides eye exams and glasses to those in need.
Does a business need to have a social impact program to be purposeful?
This is a debate.
Businesses inherently add value to our economy and to customers by fulfilling their needs. Back to Warby Parker – they’re providing eyewear for $95 and completely revolutionized the industry. I couldn’t argue that they were not fulfilling a purpose or reason for being beyond profits.
On the other hand, social impact is the true indicator of authentic purpose. This is because it takes time and money to implement a do-good or corporate social responsibility strategy. By putting time and resources towards social causes, customers understand the legitimacy of a brand’s purpose and will resonate more with that one than one that merely states its purpose.
Here’s my opinion – for marketing, stated purpose is real purpose and it does not need to have a social impact program attached to it (for now). I do think that as brands continue to engage in purpose-driven marketing, customers will strictly gravitate towards those who demonstrate authentic purpose and give back. For internal purposes, purpose with no social impact strategy is often unauthentic.
To sum it up – stating your purpose is a step in the right direction, but the future will only become more competitive, and people will see right through unauthentic marketing gimmicks.
How can brand purpose be used to create authentic social impact programs for startups & small businesses?
When designing social impact campaigns at Supur, we start with brand purpose and value proposition. How is this company adding value to its customers?
By cultivating purpose, a brand can pinpoint where to put its do-good efforts. For example, if a shoe company identifies its purpose as helping people move safely, they could support an initiative to add streetlights on a dark road to make driving safer.
I see the relationship between brand purpose and social impact as crucial – for authenticating purpose and for designing appropriate give-back strategies. At Supur, we leverage authentic social impact to elevate brand equity and cultivate brand purpose. Learn more here!