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What Is Social Branding? And How Does It Work?

Social branding and sustainability brand article

Social branding also known as a sustanability brand was once the domain of nonprofit organisations. At the time of writing social branding is equally utilised by socially-conscious businesses that are making a positive impact on society, while also turning a profit.

What is a Social Brand?

A social brand is much like any marketing brand. It should reflect your business values and marketing message like your conventional branding message would. The major difference is that a social brand will reflect your company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Going beyond mere profitability, a social brand will signal to your stakeholders that you have a serious, relevant, authentic message about your community and the world at large.

Social branding is branding for social change. Social branding involves harnessing all marketing and communication tools, from print advertising and PR, to social media, and making them work for you to spread your organisation’s socially responsible message. There are several factors that play into the success of social branding. In order for you to get the most out of your social branding efforts, you could consider concentrating on the following activities and strategies:

  • From the start, identifying and committing to causes appropriate to your community and environment that will enhance your community and the environment.
  • Recognising goals, monitoring progress, and reporting successes to track effectiveness over time.
  • Finding partners to work with that share your corporate social goals – this can mean working with other for-profit companies, nonprofit organisations, grassroots groups, and so on.
  • Pinpointing the methods that will work best for your organisation to publicise your social goals and results. You want your community and your stakeholders to know of your successes and what you’re doing to enhance human lives and the environment.
  • Staying committed to a holistic approach to incorporate your social efforts into as many aspects of the business as possible.
  • Measuring Social Return On Investment (SROI). As an indicator of how well your constituents understand your social branding and success a bringing about positive change, the SROI will help you decide the value of your efforts and gives more information for communicating your company’s effectiveness.

Developing a social brand will help to make your company or organisation a positive force in the world and is sure to increase loyalty for your employees, customers, boards, community members, and so on. And of course, with greater loyalty comes greater profitability. People want to feel like they are part of something bigger and better than themselves. By creating opportunities for them to contribute to a cause, you’re not only bringing joy to your stakeholders, you’re helping to increase awareness of social issues.

Social Brand Capital, a Measure of CSR

The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is relatively new in the last decade. Before the idea hit the mainstream, there were only a few intrepid companies branding their marketing with social messages, such as Patagonia with their eco-friendly outdoor clothing and Starbucks with their Fair Trade coffee. At the time of writing, CSR messages are popping up all over the Internet, and none more so than in social media portals. Big name companies like Ben and Jerry’s, Newman’s Own, and Seventh Generation are all working with social media to advertise their company’s commitment to improving the planet and human society.

In the process, these companies are increasing their Social Brand Capital (SBC) which is essentially the value attributed by the a company’s stakeholders to the its brand because of its CSR message. The larger a company’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability and the more verifiable the reputation, the greater the SBC. But in order to fully capitalise on your social brand capital, you’ll need to work on meeting several milestones:

  • Make your CSR actions part of your everyday business activities from the very start and not as strategic add-ons as the market changes (a socially-conscious business plan helps here).
  • Use your CSR to brand your company as different and set apart from your competitors.
  • Convey a transparent, relevant message that’s easy to understand by your constituents.

No doubt a strong SBC is nothing without a solid business structure and are providing a valuable service or product to the community. But if one ingrains CSR into their daily business activities and then uses social branding to get their message out, they could be able to increase their SBC.

Great Social Branding Campaigns

Here are a few outstanding social branding campaigns to give you an idea of what’s possible when corporate social responsibility and social branding come together:

  • Stonyfield: This company is committed to the environment and their community and it shows in all that they do. They stress eco-friendly packaging, energy conservation, organic agriculture, health school food, and Menus for Change – all messages that demonstrate their social and environmental commitments.
  • Ben & Jerry’s: From start to finish, this ice cream company has been working on their social image from nearly day one. Not only have they done amazing things with living wages, they use cleaner freezers (hydrocarbon coolers), support family farms and sustainable agriculture, donate to peace projects and support other community activism projects.

There is also the danger of companies which sell toxic products, and then greenwash their activities with social branding or a sustainability brand. For example, the electric car sector with their so-called zero-emission intiatives. Did you know that most electricity gets produced by burning fossil fuels at the time of writing? Hence all electric cars do is change the geolocation of the places getting polluted – from major cities to rural towns, at least until the sustainability of electricity itself grows through solar, wind and other sources of sustainable energy.

Another greenwashing example is the acidic and sugary drinks sector, they sell harmful products for the human health and the environment, yet they boast about their CSR initiatives, as if it changes the fact that they are indirectly responsible for the serious health problems of millions of people across the world including obesity, cancer and even death.

As far as socially responsible companies go, if you are working on your business’ social message you’re in good company. If you need more inspiration, check out sites that are now rating companies based on their social commitments such as GoodGuide or RankABrand. By providing scores for individual products, this website endeavours to educate people about the kinds of products they’re purchasing and whether the businesses are committed to producing healthier, more sustainable, and socially responsible goods. Get on board the social branding movement and no doubt you’ll see a boost in employee morale, increase in sales, and a smile on your own face!

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