The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 also catalyzed calls for racial equality in the workplace. Companies will need to set specific target in order to deliver on their stated mission of self-improvement.

The marketing playbook for social impact has long been about engaging with the brand’s community by pushing out a TV ad or a few online messages about a trending cause and strategically fading back into business as usual. Such short-lived efforts have been about engendering goodwill with consumers during a tough time, and, consequently, driving sales. In the past, that bottom-line-minded combo has been OK.

Not quite the case anymore.

The COVID-19 crisis, Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements like LGBTQ rights have made it abundantly clear such a playbook is no longer authentic enough. It’s time for altruism, instead of brands trying to “win hearts and minds” by acknowledging their own social impact efforts with marketing. Social impact needs to entail one or all of — what I consider to be — the three pillars of charity: money, time and knowledge. If you are not giving back with one of those elements that can actually help and support the cause, you need to reevaluate what more you could be doing to participate.

In a recent chief marketing officer survey, marketing leads said “building brand value that connects with customers” was their number-one objective. Let’s look at brands that are actually achieving that objective by offering money, time and knowledge.

Supporting Community Over Marketing

After George Floyd was tragically killed by the Minneapolis police, the six-year-old BLM movement suddenly was many times more powerful. Brands responded with cash contributions. Walmart Inc. revealed it would contribute $100 million over five years to racial equality, and Target Corp. committed $10 million to Black causes. Rather than running more ads that attach to BLM, dozens of beauty brands like Sephora, Glossier and Anastasia Beverly Hills have instead contributed $1 million or more to social justice causes supporting the Black community.

On another social justice front, Dunkin’ Donuts struck the right tone in June with Pride Month, which coincided with the historic Supreme Court decision for LGBTQ workers’ rights. The coffee and baked goods chain donated $1 to hunger relief in June for LGBTQ youth organizations when a customer bought a Pride-themed gift card online.

All of the above brands hit on a key aforementioned pillar with this effort: they gave money. It’s something every brand should be thinking about as people financially suffer from the ramifications of COVID-19.

Amy Vale  Courtesy image.

Sometimes, if there aren’t additional funds to go directly toward supporting these initiatives, it can be as simple as investing dollars — that would otherwise go to above the line marketing — directly into customers’ pockets with cash back, which is being offered by dozens of retailers like Adidas, Casper and Sam’s during the pandemic. The cash-back approach, in particular, is a powerful tool for retailers to demonstrate their commitment to those within their community. Altogether, brands can move billions of dollars to millions of people.

Thinking Beyond Money

They can also give back to communities with another pillar of proper social impact — time — by promoting activism. To commemorate Juneteenth on June 19, Best Buy offered employees a paid volunteer day to engage in “peaceful protests, rallies and community service.” And Lyft provided Citi Bike users in New York City a complimentary ride if they were participating in the Juneteenth Solidarity Ride. While there were many brands that let employees off that day to reflect on racism and human values, credit to Best Buy and Lyft for going a step further by encouraging activism for social change.

Further, knowledge — another pillar of proper social impact — is power, and brands can help increase awareness in ways that help communities. On that note, kudos to subscription box seller Cratejoy, which highlights black-owned businesses with a standalone category. While such businesses still appear on their regular Cratejoy pages, the brand has made them easier to find by creating the space for them to shine on the site.

Standing on the Right Side of History

Indeed, it shouldn’t be hard for successful brands to take a small piece of what they are so fortunate to have (money, time, knowledge) and give it away. There’s actually little excuse to do otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong: Driving revenue is critical — but so is doing the right thing. If you are a cmo who needs to convince leadership to invest in the three pillars of social impact, start small — it doesn’t need to be a $40 million donation.

Yet, get started because humanity has surfaced as a truly powerful force for the bottom line in 2020. Social impact isn’t a box-checking activity — it isn’t a give-get. It’s a give-give. Being authentic with social impact means not forcing the promotion of it, whether it be expecting it via the cause you’re contributing to, or by buying media to do it yourself. It means just doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

The pendulum has swung, and the clock is ticking. Brands need to be on the right side of history, and they can only do so by giving money, time and/or knowledge rather than merely acting the part.

Amy Vale is chief marketing officer of Dosh. With more than a decade of industry experience, Amy has also lead marketing efforts for Mojivo, Spotify, Charity: Water and Quantcast.
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