Social impact during Covid-19 can determine your brand’s future

At the end of March 2020, Mike Barry of A Blueprint for Better Business wrote a post for Ethical Corporation outlining how businesses can help shape a sustainable world, post Covid-19.

In it, he observed, “Post-COVID-19, we will not see a blind eye turned as it was to the banks in 2008-2012 as they crept back to the old ways on the back of taxpayer support. The companies that prosper in the next decade will be the ones that have taken the management-speak of ‘purpose’ and turned it into reality.” 

The ‘purpose’ Mike refers to is your reason for being and what you stand for above all else; what you’re doing to make the world a better place – your social impact. 

There’s been a growing trend of consumers turning toward brands with a purpose for some time. In 2018, a study by Nielsen showed that 81% of global consumers say it’s extremely or very important for companies to implement programs to improve the environment. And 73% say they’ll either definitely or probably change their consumption habits to lessen their impact on the environment. 

Now, though, in the middle of a global crisis, people are paying even closer attention to what brands are doing around social impact, as was evident with the unwanted media attention for Wetherspoons and Kroger in the U.S, and the positive attention for Gary Neville and his move to donate 176 hotel beds to NHS workers

While social impact should never be implemented as a short-term measure to capitalise on the fact all eyes are on you during a pandemic, it’s a good time to think about marketing not as a way to generate sales, but a chance to tell the story of your long-term purpose. 

A good example of a brand striking the right tone during the time of Covid-19 is Nike. At a time when our daily routines were taken away from us, Nike helped unite people while sticking with its theme of inspiration and determination to get customers active. 

It’s Play for the World campaign was accompanied by practical ways for people to workout at home. 

At the same time, the brand has pledged support to grassroots organisations through its ‘Nike Community Impact Fund’ and helped healthcare workers by manufacturing PPE.

Why does it work? Because Nike has kept its message authentic and practised what it preached. 

And that’s what consumers want… for you to be part of the solution in a time of need.   

How brands act today, during the pandemic, will impact customer trust and loyalty in the future.

How will your brand look on the other side?

Why social media and social impact are the perfect partners for good

In 2011, the New York Time Consumer Insight Group conducted a study titled, “The Psychology of Sharing”. Its aim was to find out what motivates people to share information online.

Having carried out face-to-face interviews, a one-week sharing panel and a survey of 2,500 online sharers, the study revealed five primary reasons motivations for sharing: 

  1. To better the lives of others (94%)
  2. To spread the word about something they believe in (84%)
  3. To enjoy the feeling of having others engage (81%)
  4. To grow and nourish relationships (80%)
  5. To reflect their online identity (68%)

While social media is different to what it was in 2011, people aren’t. What motivated us then are the same things that motivate us now. 

These motivations for sharing help us build our social circles. They’re why we surround ourselves with people who share our opinions and like the same things. 

Brands find their way into our social circles by posting things we enjoy and agree with. Some also enter our circles for other reasons, by posting something we disagree with or find throwaway funny, but those brands never stick around for long. The brands that do stick around are the ones that fit our world view. The ones we like for what they offer as a product or service, but also for their content and message.

As a brand pushing a social impact message, motivations for sharing are tailor-made for drawing attention to your cause. 

And they’re backed by action. 

According to research by Cone/Porter Novelli, 73% of people say they would share information or stories about purpose-driven brands (brand’s whose reason for existing is focussed on helping people, the local economy and the planet as much as making a profit). 

They also fit with what a recent Sprout Social study showed consumers expect from brands: to be a positive contributor to society, to connect with consumers, to use their power to help people and to bring people together toward a common goal. 

Image: Sprout Social

By using social media as a tool for social impact marketing, you’re giving people content they want to share to better people’s lives, spread the word and engage with others. 

And with every share, your message spreads a little further, you become a part of new social circles and you bring people together. 

You become a brand that people want to support.
If you’re interested in learning more about social impact marketing, we’ve created a guide you might find useful. You can read it here.

Five ways to measure the success of social impact marketing

In an era of conscious consumers, where 81% of people want brands to address societal issues, it’s a good time to be a social impact brand.

It’s also a good time to market your social impact brand – global studies show that 91% of consumers say they would switch to a brand that supports a cause if it offered similar price and quality and 92% say they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit. 

Social impact marketing helps your company grow and the more you grow, the greater your capacity to do good and affect change.

But you can only grow if your marketing resonates with people. The way to ensure that’s the case is to measure the success of your campaigns. By measuring, you can see what works and what doesn’t and continually tweak your marketing to keep people engaged.

Regardless of whether you want to build awareness, increase traffic to your website, promote a specific cause or generate sales, here are five ways to keep tabs on the success of your social impact marketing.

(Each of these metrics can be measured using Google Analytics, social media insight tools such as Facebook Insights, Instagram Insights and Twitter Analytics and social media management platforms.) 

1. Reach

To build meaningful connections, people first need to see your message. Reach tells you how far your conversation has spread across social media and how big your potential audience is. The more people your content reaches, the more chance you’ll have of it succeeding. 

Look at the reach of your posts, hashtags and events. Then compare them with engagement…

2. Engagement 

Engagement looks at how many of the people you’ve reached are taking part in the conversation. 

How many likes, comments, shares and clicks you receive will determine how many more people see your message. They’ll also determine how visible your content is. 

Google and social media platforms like popular content. The more popular it is, the more they’ll favour it. For things like blog posts and landing pages, this means featuring prominently in search results. For social content, it means sticking around in people’s feeds for longer. 

The type of engagement to track depends on what your goals are. If you want as many people as possible to see your message, look at how many shares and comments posts are getting. If you’re more interested in visiting your landing page, look at the number of clicks.

3. Earned media

Earned media is the content that’s created every time someone who’s not affiliated with your brand mentions you. 

It’s essentially free advertising. And it’s a great way to measure the success of social impact marketing. Because for people to talk about you they have to be aware of you and if they’re aware of you, you’re doing something right (or wrong…but hopefully not).   

Earned media can be a mention in a blog post, vlog, social media post or in the press. You can track mentions by setting up Google Alerts or using a free tool like Social Mention.

4. Sentiment

To know what kind of impact you’re having, you need to know what people are saying and how they feel about your brand. Sentiment measures the emotion or opinion of the mentions you’re getting.

Tracking sentiment will give you an idea of:

  • How satisfied your customers are 
  • How loyal your customers are 
  • How likely is it customers will engage with you in future

Tracking earned media mentions is one way to measure sentiment. The other way is to ask customers directly in surveys, live chat conversations and phone or face-to-face interviews. 

When gathering customer feedback, make it easy for them by using a scoring system like Net Promoter Score (NPS) (you’ll know these as the 0 to 10 scales that brands often use rate satisfaction, 0 being extremely negative and 10 being extremely positive). The more straightforward it is for people to answer questions, the more likely it is they’ll do it. 

5. Employee satisfaction

Social impact affects employees as much as customers. If they aren’t excited and engaged by your message, customers won’t be either. 

Your team is the voice of your company. They’re the people pushing your brand and championing your values. Make sure they’re fully on board with what you’re doing. Ask for their thoughts and use their feedback to improve.

Not everything you do with your social impact marketing will work. As the old saying goes, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” 

But you can please some of the people a lot of the time. With a message that’s true to your purpose and the right metrics to measure and improve, that’s enough for success.

Marketing your brand in a changing society

“Consumers know that brands have the power to effect real change, and they will place their trust in brands that use that power on their behalf.” – Richard Edelman

That quote is taken from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. And it’s a prominent feature in our new report: Positive Social Impact Marketing: A Dummy’s Guide.

We included it because it sums up the message we try to get across when talking to brands and marketers about social impact: consumers want to support brands that match their ideals. 

In its Rise of Mass Personalisation report, Deloitte says: “In the era of all things digital, consumers have higher expectations: they want their interactions with businesses and the products and services they buy from them to be personalised.”

Personalised marketing—tailoring social media ads, emails and web pages—has brought brands and consumers closer together. Brands know a lot more about their customers and customers know a lot more about brands. And knowledge is power. 

Brands know that they have to meet customer expectations and customers understand the power that they hold over brands. 

Customers may or may not know that it costs five times more for a brand to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, but they understand the impact that calling out a brand publicly or joining a boycott can have on a brand’s reputation and bottom line. 

So trust is everything. If a customer loses trust in the brand, they can easily find another brand to fill the void. But if a brand loses a customer, it’s going to have to work harder and spend more money to replace them. 

Earning and maintaining the trust of a customer comes from offering a great product or service and providing good customer care. It also comes from a brand’s purpose: the reason a brand exists beyond making money. 

This is where social impact comes in. 

Because customers know more about the brands they do business with, they’re clued up on things like purpose and care about it. Conscious consumers(which is what we’ve become as a result of knowing more so much about the brands we do business with) don’t care about profits. They care about the moral, social and ethical reasons for a brand existing. 

A recent study by Accenture showed that 69% of buying decisions are influenced by brands’ ethical values and authenticity and 72% of people buy goods and services from companies with beliefs similar to theirs. Another study by Triodos Bank revealed that 49% of people under 24 have avoided a product or service due to its negative environmental impact. 

Those stats make sense. 

In the face of climate change and the fall out of a coronavirus pandemic that’s changed how we live and think about the world, why support a brand financially that isn’t doing their bit to improve the situation we’re in? 

As a customer, why spend your hard-earned money on a brand that doesn’t agree with your social and environmental values?

On the flip side, why work for a company that doesn’t agree with your social and environmental values when how that company operates can make a real difference to people and the planet?

These are the issues people think about when choosing whether to associate with a brand; with your brand. 

Social impact is about doing the right thing. It’s about addressing social challenges. And it’s about future-proofing your business for the good of society and the environment. Social impact marketing is about showing the good that you do to the world.   

The Positive Social Impact report is a guide to get you thinking about, or building on, your social impact marketing strategy so that you can use your power to effect real change and earn the trust of customers. 
You can read it in full here.

5 hurdles facing brands moving into the social impact space

58% of people are more likely to purchase from a brand that they know practices sustainable habits. And 70% of young people will stop buying from brands that act unethically on issues they care about. 

Moving your brand into the social impact space isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment, society and human rights, in the socially connected and conscious world that we live in, it’s the best thing to do for business.

But it’s not something that can happen overnight. That would be too easy. 

Becoming a more sustainable and socially aware brand takes time. And there are a few hurdles to navigate to get to where you want to be…

1. Getting company people to buy into the idea

To become more socially responsible you need everyone in the company to want to do it. This means persuading people to fix something that isn’t broken, which isn’t always easy –  especially if business is ticking along nicely. 

Playing to emotions is fine, but for this thing to work it needs to make financial sense to executives and stakeholders. They’ll want to know how long the payback will take and how quantifiable the numbers are.

On top of that, you’ll need to convince your team of the cause and reassure them that changes won’t put jobs at risk.

Not every benefit of social impact is quantifiable, but you can show it makes business sense with a plan that covers:

  • Increased brand recognition and reputation
  • Projected increase in sales figures
  • Organisational growth
  • Operational cost savings
  • Easier access to capital
  • Ability to attract talent and retain staff

All of which are tangible benefits for social responsibility.

2. Addressing the supply chain

Social impact isn’t just about what you do as a business, it’s about who you work with. If you source products or materials from suppliers, you need to know that their practices are above board. 

Apple, for example, was accused of breaking Chinese labour laws at an iPhone factory in China. While brands like Adidas, Disney, ASOS and H&M have also been accused of having used sweatshops.

While making changes in-house, look closely at the ethics and sustainability of the businesses you work with.

3. Becoming sustainable

Sustainability can involve completely transforming the way that your business operates. Recycling more and reducing paper and plastic usage are obvious places to start, but you’ll also need to consider how much energy and resources your business uses, as well as considering how to produce products that last longer and looking at the pay and working conditions of employees. 

Start by measuring. Look at your current footprint and working practices and identify where you can make changes for the better. 

It takes time, but it can be done. And your business will benefit as a result. 

According to Neilsen: “Brands that are able to strategically connect (sustainability) to actual behaviour are in a good place to capitalize on increased consumer expectation and demand.” 

In it’s How and Why Sustainability is Gaining Momentum with Customers report it found that sales of sustainable coffee, chocolate and bath products all outperform non-sustainable products. 

4. Staying compliant 

Embracing social impact means being more ethical in the way you run your business. But doing the right thing isn’t always doing the legal thing. Compliance is following the law, ethics is doing what’s right regardless of the law. Here’s an example from Law.com:

“…various countries have environmental laws that require products to be labelled in a certain way and may include font requirements, placement rules, etc. Failing to properly label a product or follow some other technical regulation is not unethical or immoral, but it is noncompliant, meaning that the company may face fines, liability or other government action. By contrast, a government may not dictate whether a company makes its products more environmentally safe or easier to recycle, but doing so may be the ethical thing to do.”

In most cases, if you get the ethics right you’ll be compliant. But don’t take anything for granted. Make sure that the changes you make ethically, comply with the regulations in your industry.

5. Getting customers on board

73% of people believe companies should do more than just offer a product or service. But while you’ll not find any objection to becoming more environmentally aware (who could knock that?), doing social good may draw backlash for some customers. 

LUSH, for example, was criticised heavily for its anti-spy cops campaign, so much so they had to abandon it for the safety of its staff. And Pepsi’s “Jump In” campaign promoting unity fell flatter than a day old open can of Pepsi Max. 

You can’t please everyone, but if you stand up for something you believe in that’s true to the values of your business and communicate your reasons clearly, most consumers will respect you for it. 

So, yes, there are challenges and a lot of work involved. But the long-term benefits of social impact to your business make it all worthwhile. 

How to ensure your brand stays relevant in 2020

In September last year, consultancy firm Prophet questioned over 12,000 consumers on more than 235 brands to work out where companies ranked in their fourth annual Brand Relevance Index. 

Some of the brands you’d expect to be among the most relevant were there: Spotify, Netflix, Apple, Samsung and Google. But none of those were number one.

Topping the list was a brand a lot of people wouldn’t even consider a brand: the NHS. 

The good ol’ NHS is the most relevant brand in the UK. 


Because in uncertain times – times of Brexit and data breaches and discrimination and sexual harassment allegations – people want brands they can trust and believe in. 

The NHS is one of those brands. 

Talking about the index, Prophet’s partner and EMEA regional lead, Tosson El Noshokaty, said: 

“This year’s results are at once astounding and intuitive. The NHS’s increasing brand relevance speaks to a level of uncertainty for UK consumers that runs deep at the moment, resulting in a trend towards an even stronger appreciation for the very backbone of the nation.

“And with declining trust in some of the globally renowned brands, consumers want, and need, strong and stable services on which they can rely and depend.”

Trust attracts new customers and keeps existing customers. And any brand can achieve it… 

Be accessible to your customers 

Be available. Talk to customers, listen to them, answer their questions, solve their problems, put their minds at ease. 

And never assume you know what your customers want. Instead, form relationships and build a community that puts you in a position to find out from them what they want.

Be honest

Talk about your weaknesses in the same way that you talk about your strengths. Let customers see your journey. Honesty shows that you care.

Be reliable

The 2019 Edelman brand trust survey showed that 81% of consumers “must be able to trust the brand to do what’s right”. But ahead of that in importance was quality. 

85% of consumers expect quality.

Give customers quality they can rely on in everything from your product or service to your customer care to the way you market your brand.

Stand for something

A new entry to the top ten on the Brand Relevance Index was cosmetics maker LUSH, a brand with staunch principles that have won trust. 

66% of consumers in Sprout Social survey said it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. For all its faults, social media has made customers more aware of social and environmental issues. 

Standing up for something you believe in may alienate some consumers, but it will build trust and loyalty with others. You must truly believe in it, though. The Edelman study shows that 56% of people say brands overuse social issues as marketing ploys and just 21% say they know from personal experience that their chosen brands keep the best interests of society in mind.

Make what you stand part of your business mission and incorporate it into your company values. 
Steve Jobs once said, “A brand is simply trust.” Earning it is the best way to stay relevant.

Putting social impact at the forefront of your branding works

Research shows that 9 in 10 consumers expect companies to show they do more for society than make a profit. And 82% of UK consumer activists favour voting with their wallets by buying from companies who ‘do the right thing’.

But does what consumers say in surveys translate to business success? Does taking a stand on things you believe in really work? And if it does, who’s doing it?

It does. It can. And the following five brands are doing it.


LUSH is a brand that specialises in handmade vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics. Its ethical approach is at the centre of everything it does. The brand fights against animal testing, human trafficking and modern slavery and puts ethics at the forefront of everything it does. And it’s these principles that propelled LUSH into the top 10 most relevant brands in the UK.


Bumble has been described by its founder Whitney Wolfe Herd as a “feminist dating app”. 

And that’s exactly what it is. 

It was founded by Whitney after a crappy experience at Tinder, an app she co-founded. Unlike Tinder, though, Bumble empowers women to make the first move, shaking up traditional dating and gender norms in the process. “Women talk first to set an equal tone from the start,” says the app’s homepage. You can’t argue with that. And 55 million users worldwide don’t. 


Remember back in 2012 when all anyone wore was TOMS? The brand isn’t quite as popular in the UK now as it was then, but it still makes revenues of around $330 million a year, which is great because the entire brand is about improving lives. 

For every $3 TOMS makes, it gives away $1. For every pair of shoes it sells, it gives a free pair to a child in need. The brand is built on doing the right thing, which has resulted in customers helping the TOMS give away over 95 million pairs of shoes, 780,000+ sight restorations and 722,000+ weeks of safe water.  

Boomerang Bags

To describe Boomerang Bags as a brand doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s more of a community-driven movement that uses bags as a way to tackle plastic pollution. All of the bags are made by volunteers using materials gathered from their community for people to use instead of plastic bags. 

It was started in 2013 by friends Tania and Jordyn in Australia and has grown to become a . global movement of 1090 communities that have made over 485,000 bags and diverted over 169,000 kgs of waste from landfill.

It goes to show that, if your idea is good and your purpose is relatable, people will get behind it.

Who Gives a Crap

Who Gives a Crap has one of the best brand names around and one of the best ideas to solve the global problem of 40% of the world’s population not having access to a toilet. The brand sells 100% bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets for those in need. 

To date, it’s donated £1.5m to charity and done a lot of good for the environment in the process. Who Gives a Crap’s message is at the heart of its branding and it’s a done fun way – there’s nothing righteous or in your face about it. 

What’s also great about the brand is that founders Simon, Jehan and Danny crowdfunded the idea on IndieGoGo, which proves that consumers are willing to invest in companies that do the right thing, even before they have a product to sell.

Does putting social impact at the forefront of your branding always work? 

Not always.  

Nike, Pepsi and even LUSH have alienated some customers for addressing social issues in recent years. 

But what the brands we’ve talked about here show is that, if you believe in what you’re doing and communicate it in the right way, you can build a brand that is morally and financially successful.

Five ways governments can help save the planet

In 2006, Sir Nicholas Stern delivered his report to the British Government on the Economics of Climate Change. In it, he said it wasn’t too late to act, but not doing so would cost the world dearly. The British Government has been too slow in acting on his words and other governments worldwide have been even slower.

Global temperatures have risen to record levels, CO2 continues to be pumped into the atmosphere increasing rates, ice in the Arctic continues to shrink and plastic pollution is out of control.

Of course, we can all do more as individuals and a lot of us are. But us living more sustainably can only do so much. As Anders Levermann said in an article for the Guardian, “Personal sacrifice alone cannot be the solution to tackling the climate crisis.”

Global challenges must be tackled by institutions. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5C this century, carbon emissions have to be cut by 45% by 2030. Here are five ways governments can make this happen.

1. Start favouring sustainable goods and services

A report from the European Commission found that the UK gives 12bn euros a year in subsidies to the oil and gas industry – significantly more than the 8.3bn euros given to renewable energy. In total, the European Union (which Britain was still part of when the report was published) gives 55bn euros in subsidies to fossil fuels. The U.S. gives around $20bn a year

Rather than subsidise industries that jeopardize the future of the planet, governments should favour sustainable goods and services – make clean cars, sustainable foods and ethical products cheaper. Make good things, the most affordable things.   

2. Committing to investing in and developing renewables

Global investment in renewable energy peaked in 2017 at $326.3bn. By 2019, it had dropped by 14%, compared to 2018. 

One of the reasons for this is that solar and wind power is cheaper so less investment is needed for the same output. But 2018 was the first year since 2001 that growth in renewable power capacity didn’t increase year-on-year. According to the IEA, “new net capacity from solar PV, wind, hydro, bioenergy, and other renewable power sources increased by about 180 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018, the same as the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest data. That’s only around 60% of the net additions needed each year to meet long-term climate goals.”

More investment is needed in new and existing technologies, as well as clean energy applications such as smart electricity networks, electric vehicles, biofuels and water heat collectors.

3. Increase commitments to conserving land and water

To save the planet, “world leaders need to increase their commitments to conserving land and water and quickly” said this post by National Geographic. Talking about the Global Deal for Nature, NatGeo says that countries should double their protected zones to 30% of Earth’s land area and add 20%more as climate stabilization areas for a total of 50% of all land kept in a natural state. 

And this needs to be done by 2030 to keep climate change under the danger zone.

4. Be stronger in their NDCs

NDC stands for Nationally Determined Contributions, which are pledges each country makes to reduce its emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. Countries are allowed to set their own reduction targets, but not all are hitting them. 

While the EU, China, India are on track to meet set targets, countries including Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand are falling short. And other countries such as Russia and Chile have been accused of setting targets too low. 

5. Make plastic reduction a legal requirement

The UK government is making good progress on tackling plastic pollution and others can follow their lead on aiming to have eliminated avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. But campaigners have called on them to do more. 

Working with the Women’s Institute, Friends of the Earth have launched a Plastic Pollution Bill that commits current and future governments to stop the flow of plastic into waterways and oceans. Greenpeace also wants more commitment, asking for plastic reduction to be made a legal requirement, with targets like reducing single-use plastic by a minimum of 50% by 2025. 

By recycling, cutting down your carbon footprint and being a more ethically minded consumer, you’re doing your bit for the future of the planet. It’s time for governments to follow suit. 

The ROI of telling your customers’ and staff about your purpose

In 2016, Ernst & Young released a report on purpose in business. It defined purpose as the “aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.”

What that means is that a brand with a purpose aims to benefit society as much as looking after its self-interests. In 2020, this is exactly what consumers want. 

Studies show that 9 out of 10 consumers expect companies to show they do more for society than make a profit, while 82% of UK consumer activists favour voting with their wallets by buying from companies who ‘do the right thing’.

If your brand’s reason for being matches your customer’s ideals, they’ll buy from you. And not only will they buy from you, 78% of consumers also say they would tell others to buy from you and 73% would stand up for you if they heard someone speaking badly about your brand. 

A good example of purpose-led branding delivering a good ROI is Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’ campaign, which articulated the point of view that beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety for women.

The campaign earned the brand $4.42 for every $1 spent (4:1). 

Another example is Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’, which brought the issue of gender equality in India to the public, resulting in an ROI of 5:1. 

If your brand purpose sits well with your customers, there’s every chance staff will get on board with it too. 

A global study by LinkedIn found that purpose results in employees that are more engaged and fulfilled at work. They also outperform their peers in every way. Another study found that 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work and are more likely to stay at a company for longer. 

Employees who are fully invested in your brand’s purpose can also be a powerful ambassador. Research from Accenture shows that 65% of consumers are influenced to buy a product or service by the words, actions and beliefs of an employee. 

Your brand purpose is about who you are and what you believe in. But it’s also more than that. It’s your most valuable tool for attracting and retaining customers and staff. Shout it from the rooftops.