The Key to Getting Social Impact Right Is Defining Authenticity for Your Brand

Fox & Hare co-founder Ben Fox discusses the role of strategy and planning in the social impact world, and how they’re helping brands fast-track their creative efforts.

As purpose continues to rise to the top of consumer priorities across both B2B and B2C marketing, brands are looking to social impact strategies as a means of encouraging business health and longevity. LBB caught up with Ben Fox, co-founder/ strategy and planning director for creative consultancy Fox & Hare, helping brands #MakePurposePriority, to talk about the role of strategy and planning in the social impact world, and how they’re helping brands fast-track their creative efforts.

Little Black Book > So, what role does social impact have at Fox & Hare?

Ben > It’s everything to us and it’s the reason why we started the agency. We wanted to work with brands across the entire spectrum of positive impact – big brands that need convincing, the small brands that need extra team resources, and everything in between. Looking at my role in the company, it’s bringing together my two specialisms and passions; strategy/planning and social impact. I see myself as the point of connection between the client and the creative team, building the evidence to support creativity and ensure that our work always aligns with the client’s business and marketing objectives – and enable our campaigns to speak to audiences and drive tangible results. We’re now part of the B Corp community, which means we’re having to work just as hard as our clients – which gives us all an even sharper focus on how we operate as business in every single aspect.

Little Black Book > What’s the best part about your job?

Ben > Honestly, it’s being able to work with brands that I care about. I’ve always felt that strategy and planning are the most underrated department in an agency – often being pigeon-holed as researchers who shouldn’t be client-facing. And while creatives are the rockstars (always have been, always should be) in a creative consultancy, my role is to give them everything they need before they get too far down the wrong route! And as a co-founder, it’s building an agency that challenges what it means to be an agency. It’s the small things, the collaborative culture, the open-mindedness and passion that we put into our work because we live and breathe social impact – it’s our lifestyle when the office doors close at night.

Little Black Book > Do you believe that brand longevity is somehow correlated to social impact – can you talk about the value this brings to brands? 

Ben > Broadly speaking, there’s now a lot of evidence that highlights how consumers are demanding genuine social impact initiatives from businesses. It’s no longer enough to just say something and sit back. Brands have to prove more and more that they are doing good – doing nothing is no longer an option. Brands are acting now to remain on their customer’s radar every single time they put their hand in their pocket. If your business won’t make changes to fit into the new way of thinking, eg) caring about impact and your footprint on the planet, another business will. We have spoken to brands from every sector under the sun, there are several challenges that come up time and time again. 1) Fear of legacy getting in the way of progress 2) Differentiating from other brands in the industry 3) Proving that social impact can have a measurable impact on the bottom line That’s where strategy and planning can help to bridge the gap between the unknown and getting started. Research, insight, understanding and evidence all help brands to understand where they should really be putting their marketing efforts in a meaningful way for their customers.

Little Black Book > You talk about creating ‘genuine stories’ – what steps can brands take to successfully integrate them into their long-term strategies? 

Ben > Firstly, a business has to be honest from the beginning. There is no hiding anymore – if you’ve done something negative in the past, own it. There won’t be any progress if you hide behind a false truth. It might sound dramatic, but it massively helps to understand exactly what we’re working with before we get too far down one path! As a strategic advisor, our role is to uncover authentic impact stories that will inspire consumers to choose your product or service, so we need to be more convincing than our rivals. A non-genuine approach will tear the whole campaign apart before it even starts.

Little Black Book > How do brands with legacy and history authentically move forward on their social impact journey? 

Ben > Well, accept that you haven’t been perfect for starters. Positive social impact manifests across the whole business, not just one department in the company. A good starting point is understanding where your business has fallen down in the past and why. Once you know the reality, you can start to engrain your social purpose across the company through your employees. It’s key that senior management buys into this, of course, for investment reasons (money and time), but having the populus believing and living positive social impact in the workplace is essentially the make or break situation. A negative legacy will naturally mean more work is required with employees, customers and consumers, but it is far from impossible. When a new brand enters the market they have an advantage in many ways – but what they usually don’t have is the ability to impact on a mass scale. Newer firms will have smaller resources and customer bases, so generally their influence on the market, specifically referencing social impact, tends to be lower. A giant organisation, while it may take longer to turn the ship around, will have the power to do more good in the long term.

Little Black Book > At Fox & Hare, you’ve talked about social impact being a ‘point of differentiation’ – can you explain the value of this for brands who might be on the fence about dipping their toes into the water with social impact creative? 

Ben > The reality is that social impact has always existed. Issues such as climate change, youth unemployment, elderly isolation, societal diversity, financial wellbeing, workplace health etc., have always been there. And it’s great that businesses are talking about these key topics. But when everyone else is doing the same it can be difficult to stand out. That’s why we work with clients to develop their genuine narrative and focus on the areas where they have the most authority. In reality, there’s just no point in a soft drinks producer focusing all of their creative efforts on mental health, for example. The idea that soft drinks and mental health are linked is thin – coupled with the idea that there are thousands of similar conversations taking place in more appropriate scenarios. As an experienced strategist, I work with my clients to find their area of expertise and their reason for being, then match this with a clear differentiator in their marketplace. Only after serious development will we build the roadmap for success. My best advice here is for brands to take their time, build something worthy – not just jump in because everyone else is doing it.

Little Black Book > It feels like social media and social impact have a lot in common when it comes to the ways brands view them. Have you found that this is the case, and how? 

Ben > Absolutely, when commercialised social media burst onto the scene, it quickly became popular with brands who saw it as a new touchpoint with their customer – in many ways, purpose and social impact have been used in similar circumstances. And just like social media, brands are falling all over themselves to get out to their customers with their latest take on global issues. Mistakes have been made (and will continue to be made) in recent times – who remembers a popular soft drinks brand weighing in on the riots in the States, for example? Countless others exist too. But we can learn a lot from those errors. – The first learning being that social impact done properly was never going to be a ‘first past the post’ effort – It will never going to deliver results without any real thought or planning – Social impact is a long-term game, not a short-term fix – it’s also not crisis comms – On a similar note, positive social impact is not a one-time idea, it will evolve as time goes on, just like social media has – so be prepared – If your brand is not being genuine, you won’t be able to hide behind your purpose for long

Little Black Book > What’s the final piece of advice you’d give to our readers as we screech towards 2021? 

Ben > This is a simple one – get in touch with Fox & Hare to find out how we can support your journey in the social impact space – our specialists are equipped with experience, expertise and all the passion in the world to devise, develop, produce amazing work – and support you the whole way. Plugs aside, I’d say that businesses should use less corporate jargon and technical blabber. Always communicate in a way that speaks directly to a customer. Be human.

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