Expressions of Social Impact: Are we changing course?

March 16, 2018

We’re insanely curious about how people view brands, how they act on those perceptions and how leaders respond. We know, you are too, so we’re bringing one of our team conversations to this forum for all of us to ponder together.

First, the data:

GOOD Research on Top Indicators of “goodness” defined by consumers

We surveyed our audience to let people tell us how they find, analyze and define “goodness”.  This is a conscious group, with 90% of them agreeing with attitudes about responsibility like "I believe that I have a responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society."

We wanted to know….
How do people judge goodness in a brand?
What do they care about?
What language do they use?

It is interesting to see what consumers emotionally attach to in a brand when thinking about goodness. Here are the top 6 indicators people described. And they are all about people... They are all human characteristics and things we might look for in our closest friends or most trusted colleagues:

  1. Treating people right - the brand has fair working practices for all vendors, factories, employees etc. (96%)

  2. Transparency - about where and how products are made (95%)

  3. Honest Leadership - about the business challenges associated with being and doing good (93%)

  4. Kind and human-centered culture (92%)

  5. Supporting the local communities of which it is a part (91%)

  6. Products are made sustainability (89%)

Kellogg School Research on Benevolence and Product Perception (full article here)

Alexander Chernev, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, and Sean Blair, at Georgetown University, showed that knowing that a company has behaved ethically can cause customers to perceive that company’s products as performing better.

Kellogg School Research

We all are familiar with brand lift studies attached to our efforts, but this product performance halo is different.  According to the research, when consumers are made aware of a company’s actions/donations, they internalize the knowledge and translate it into a perception that the product they are experiencing is actually better  (IF they believe them to be benevolent). “Consumers actually experience the product in a different way,” says Chernev.

Double halo anyone?  

Weber Shandwick on CEO Activism (full press release here)

In their second annual wave of CEO Activism research, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research conducted an online survey of 1,021 U.S. adults 18 years of age and older in March and April 2017, representing the general population of America. Here were a few results that intrigued us.

  • Nearly one-half of Millennials (47 percent) believe CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society, far outpacing the sentiments of Gen Xers and Boomers (28 percent each). An even larger six in 10 Millennials (56 percent) say that business leaders have a greater responsibility to speak out now than in years past.

  • CEO activism positively affects Millennials' purchase decisions. Half of Millennials (51 percent) say they would be more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with. This rate has increased since 2016 (46 percent).

  • Half of Millennials (50 percent) think CEO activism has an influence on the government compared to 31 percent of both Gen Xers and Boomers. Perhaps that is a strong reason for why they favor CEOs taking a stand.

Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods recently chose values over profits when he took a stand against gun violence (DSG is a client of ours though we had nothing to do with this personal decision by their executive leadership).  Lyft (also a client of ours) is offering free rides to people attending “March For Our Lives” events on March 24.  Both of them have set off a social experiment that will test the above research.

Dick's Sporting Goods will stop selling assault-style rifles

What does it mean?

All of this is informing two team discussions:

  1. Are we closer to the “do good” movement turning into a revolution?  The distinction?  A movement usually is led by specific leaders within a specific segment of the population and a revolution sprouts up everywhere and impacts all industries.  

Our answer: Yes.  We believe recent BlackRock announcements mark a milestone in this transformation.

  1. Are we witnessing a transformation in the way companies and individuals go about the social side of their CSR work?  The CSR industry is of course constantly shifting, but are we about to transform from a “fully built out CSR strategy complete with signature social cause program” to “spend the money taking a stand and giving up revenue opportunities” so as to do good and shift societal norms at the same time (not that you can’t do this by building programs).  Or, are we somewhere in between where companies spend their day to day building and maintaining signature programs, and stand up if/when an issue implores a leadership moment.

Our answer:

  • Start up companies focused on millennials and with less established CSR programs will focus on capitalizing on CEO leadership moments if they are inspired.  

  • Consumers will continue to demand transparency (remember that 95%?) and established companies with charismatic leaders and multiple generational constituencies will do both.  

  • Pragmatic leaders of large multi-generational companies will stay out of the CEO activist fray and focus on signature programs.

  • Laggards who don’t sell directly to the public will delay our collective progress by doing the minimum they can to comply with failing government policies. 

We’re grateful to do work with and witness amazing and growing leadership.  If you’re a leader who wants help navigating the roller coaster of social impact, we’ve got strategic insight to make the ride more fun. Email: