When brands win hearts and minds they have nothing to lose


Sometimes the transformative effects of social media need to be seen to be believed. Yet often they don’t look like a P&L sheet or metrics report. Sometimes the most powerful demonstration of what social media can achieve is best read on the faces of people.

‘Help Portrait’ launched by Jeremy Cowart is one such example. It was a simple idea of taking some one’s portrait to improve their self-esteem that grew into a movement.

The success of such a project begs the question as to how we measure such “success”? Or more specifically, how would a brand justify its support of projects like this when you can’t break down, round up or hit projected numbers.

Companies need to open their minds to the metrics of human nature. When brands promote self-esteem, inspire learning or catalyze fun, they stop treating people like a customers and start acting like custodians of community.

The returns on this approach are many and varied including HR,  CSR, PR, IP and R&D benefits. But perhaps the most important returns are the feelings they inspire in the people they affect. Those feelings engender loyalty (“I will continue to by your product”), goodwill (“I will recommend your product to others”) and purchases (“I want your product or service now”).

They also include equally intangible shifts within an organization. CEO’s, executives and employees feel better about how they spend their days and the companies they work for. Again, shifts in feelings that are difficult to measure but that results in clear financial benefits.

Social media provides the connective tissue that creates organic, self-sustaining communities. It enables companies to act “for the benefit of society” as well as “the profit of shareholders” (hat tip to Adam Smith). As governments struggle with historic debt and philanthropies make the most of diminished resources, the private sector has an unique opportunity to capitalize on playing a larger role in social transformation.

Economists can debate the merits of such a mindset but the only justification a brand to adopts it is the wants of their customers. And report after report by the likes of leading cause marketer Cone Inc. and the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman,  bear out consumer desire for brands to drive social change (especially among Moms and Millennials).

Pepsi, Starbucks, Ford and Walmart are just a few of the major brands who have embraced this role because its good business. This week’s launch of the Proctor & Gamble’s Give Health Clean Water campaign is a powerful example of this mutually beneficial marriage of profit and purpose.

It’s time for more brands to enable projects like ‘Help Portraits’. The lives of countless hard-up individuals and our society at large will not improve until they do. In the meantime they are robbing themselves of the benefits of embracing their role of community architects and custodians. And by doing they threaten their own survival.

Do you think companies owe any duty to society at large? Or is their only responsibility to shareholders?