How Target Built a Brand Story That Benefits Employees, Customers, and Community

Many large corporations find themselves in a difficult bind. They are fully aware that their customers want them to be more socially responsible. Specifically, the Cone Communications / Echo Global CSR Study found that only 6% of global consumers believe corporations have no responsibility towards social or environmental issues. At the same time there is persistent distrust of marketers that share the story of their good work. In fact, Edelman Trust Barometer Report found that consumer trust in owned media (paid for by a brand) was as low as 44% in 2014.

Consumer cynicism towards well-intended marketing is not without cause, given the multiple incidences of greenwashing, causewashing, and local washing during a period in which consumers have become more media savvy and fluent in social media marketing.

The onus then falls on the brand to authentically invest in social impact work that reflects its core values and tell those stories honestly. A great example of this balance is the work of Target.

The scale of Target’s contribution towards education is significant. In 2013 its employees contributed over 1 million volunteer hours, in 2012 United Way Worldwide and Save the Children granted more than $2.2 million on behalf of Target to NGOs in 16 countries, and they recently announced plans to give $1 billion for education by the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

When it comes to telling the story of this contribution here are three things that Target does well:

1. Let your employees share their voice: Rather than speak with a disembodied corporate voice, Target allows their employees to speak on behalf of the brand and personally express what their contribution means to them.

2. Invest for the long term: If a corporation is truly committed to meaningful social impact it designs a solution that could live on beyond the company. Target has a long history of investment in education and has been consistently modest in its marketing of this contribution, demonstrating its authentic commitment to providing a lasting solution to education challenges.

3. Humanize your brand: Every time employees connect with customers through a social impact program they deepen the goodwill, loyalty, and trust towards that brand. What’s more, they inspire potentially cynical or distrusting customers to see the real investment a company is making in community well-being.

The impact of such community work is felt as much by employees as by those whose lives’ it affects, and the benefits to the corporation are many including:

1. Unlocking the human being in employees: Every employee likes to feel good about where he works and wants to feel that her contribution is meaningful. By allowing employees to contribute through volunteering, donation matching, or mentoring, employees get the chance to bring their best selves to their company and find fulfillment through the combined efforts of other employees.

2. Reminding employees why they work there: Every opportunity to contribute in service of the core values of a brand is a reminder for why an employee works there and a chance to deepen the bonds. These factors impact employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity, all of which offer bottom line benefits to the company.

3. Connecting the company with its community: By witnessing the impact of their programs on people’s lives, employees come to understand the importance of the values, quality and reputation of the company in its category and marketplace. This in turn inspires them to defend the brand to promote the company and become a passionate advocate for the brand.

Edelmans Trust BarometerIf we return to Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report we discover these results are more important than ever because consumers now trust employees more than a CEO, academic, or media spokesperson in terms of building trust.

In this light, Target’s commitment to education is not only significant and impactful on the lives of students, but also reveals the benefits of listening to what your community needs and giving employees the chance to fulfill it. As both the company and community benefit, trust is built and loyalty established that will pay dividends over the long-term for the company and the lives of countless children.

Join us Oct 7-8 at the 2014 We First Brand Leadership Summit for two days of hands-on training on how to define, frame and share a brand story that empowers your company to lead business, shape culture, and inspire communities.