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Social Responsibility Isn’t Enough – What Good Brands Need to Stand Out

It’s time to face a harsh reality: social responsibility’s power as a differentiator for brands is waning.

This is due in large part to the fact that so many brands have embraced it. Most people wouldn’t care if 74% of brands disappeared yet consumers increasingly demand responsibility. Seeing the way genuinely good companies use social responsibility as a differentiator, it’s no surprise that brands have jumped on the social responsibility bandwagon.

With the growing number of genuinely responsible companies like B Corps and the proliferation of not-so-genuine goodwashers, 9 in 10 consumers now expect companies to do more than make a profit. That means that while consumers may favor your brand if you’re doing good, they certainly won’t view it as exceptional or different.

Social Responsibility Can Be An Add-On

These expectations from consumers are promising because they signal that buying responsibly is important to them. While they should theoretically prompt companies to adopt more responsible practices across their operations, many businesses get away with half-baked efforts because it’s so difficult for most of us to distinguish true responsibility from a clever marketing campaign or a CSR program with limited scope and minimal impact.

Instead of empowering conscious consumerism, these misleading practices cultivate distrust. When the expectations that marketing creates don’t mesh with the reality of the customer experience, it erodes trust in that company specifically and socially responsible businesses generally. Given the goodwashing that abounds, it’s no wonder that Americans trust only 22% of brands.

Consumers are starting to demand that companies back up their taglines and follow through on their guarantees. And companies are responding. Their bottom lines suffer when they fail to meet customer expectations and disappointment erodes trust and prevents loyalty, precluding profitable long-term relationships.

Purpose can help (Click to Tweet!).

The Power of Purpose

For many reasons in marketing and beyond, social responsibility is still absolutely necessary. But it’s no longer the differentiator it once was.

Social responsibility is largely focused on the actions and mechanics of a company — what a company does and how it does it. Purpose is rooted in the soul of a company – why it exists and the difference it makes. And that’s simply more meaningful to customers than disparate actions. (Learn more about social impact Purpose.)

What makes you stand out is what your brand means to consumers – how they interpret and experience your brand is what builds trust, affinity and loyalty. That’s where Purpose shines.

Is your company’s Purpose strong, weak or absent?
Take the 4-minute Purpose Potential Pulsecheck self-assessment to find out.

We Get So Emotional

The fundamental power of Purpose is that it introduces compelling values and emotions into the decision-making process. As Peter Noel Murray describes in Psychology Today, “When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering.” And neuro-imagery studies of consumer brains even show that the richer the emotional connection with a brand, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.

Why is this? We choose brands to reflect our own values, to symbolize our beliefs and to build connections with others. So when a brand stands for a certain Purpose, the customer choosing it is living that shared Purpose to create their best self. The choice is not necessarily about your product, your price, your sustainability, etc. It’s what your brand means to consumers: their interpretation of – and experience with – your brand narrative.

Purposeful companies can rejoice

Edelman’s 2012 Good Purpose study confirms that “The power of Purpose is that it helps to drive consumer preference in a world where trust in corporations is low and differentiation between brands is negligible.”

And brands that answer customers’ demand for meaning are reaping the rewards: 46% of meaningful brands enjoy higher share of wallet.

When integrated authentically and leveraged to its full potential, Purpose provides a strong foundation to

  • Strengthen your brand + bottom line
  • Pique widespread interest
  • Galvanize community
  • Create passionate brand advocates
  • Make the world a better place

Good intentions alone don’t create change.
Get Purpose Driven: How to Take Your Company from Intent to Impact.

For truly socially responsible companies, their Purpose is what led them to pursue socially responsible operations and actions in the first place. Yet only a few of them are using the power of Purpose to differentiate, engage and retain.

In a few years, Purpose’ power to act as a differentiator may also begin to wane. But like social responsibility (and unlike other fads in marketing), being a Purpose-driven company will never truly go out of style.

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Anne is a strategic partner to RoundPeg, offering consulting on select projects to figure out how to use marketing to help people make good choices. In her free time, she enjoys sampling obscure teas, spending as much time at the beach as possible and spoiling her darling rescue dogs, Molly and Phoebe. An impassioned communicator and people person, Anne enjoys bringing people together and offering advice to anyone who wants it [or doesn’t]. See more posts by Anne.
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