The Social Dilemma: How to Choose the Right Cause for Your Business

Apr 22, 2021

Businesses that give back in some way have been around for decades, but those that put their social purpose front and centre are taking things to the next level. And it’s a smart move – not only can it deliver genuine benefits for your product, get it right and it captures customer loyalty, too. Not sure where to start? Here’s what you need to know.

These days, consumers care. And they’re not only willing to put their spending dollar behind brands that do the same or have social purpose, more and more of them demand it.

While a recent global survey of 350,000 people in 31 countries shows that 77 per cent of consumers buy brands which share their values, other research shows nearly nine out of 10 consumers would actually switch brands to one that’s associated with a good cause – up from six out of 10 consumers in 1993.

Plus, according to market research conducted here in Australia, 87 per cent of us think businesses have a responsibility to do social good. In fact, one in two consumers think companies have a more important role to play than governments when it comes to creating a better future.

Introducing ‘social purpose’. Forget the odd donation to charity, a business with social purpose is a company whose long-term reason for being is to create a better world. In a nutshell, social purpose businesses are an engine for good.

Following a trip to the Caribbean, Bennetto Natural Foods Company founder Lucy Bennetto realised her business needed to be Fairtrade. The New Zealand-based owner travelled to the Dominican Republic to see how the cacao beans used to make her brand’s chocolate were grown.

Bennetto Natural Foods Co. Chocolate

An initiative that changes the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and empowering farmers and workers to have more control over their lives, for Bennetto, it’s a win-win.

“Sourcing cacao beans from certified Fairtrade cooperatives gives me assurance that farmers are not only getting a fair price, but that they – and their families – are also being given access to training and education and have the opportunity to be part of a supportive community,” she says.

“Plus, the simple fact is the quality and the flavour of the cacao beans is better because they’re nurtured and looked after by small-scale farmers using traditional methods and in harmony with the land they’re native to.”

Finding a Social Purpose for Your Business

Experts say a social purpose is a must-have for brands in 2020 and beyond. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Do your research

From larger, centrally organised initiatives such as Fairtrade to throwing your weight behind an individual project, there are a huge variety of social purpose avenues to explore. Proof? Australia is currently home to approximately 20,000 social enterprises, and they’re definitely not all supporting the same handful of causes. Start researching and make a shortlist.

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  1. Choose a purpose with some alignment

While some brands get their start in life from people striving to fulfil a social purpose (think Thankyou water and Who Gives a Crap toilet paper), for most brands, businesses and products, it works the other way around. And while you’re free to choose whatever social cause you like, gurus in this space say it makes sense to align your social purpose with something about your brand – whether it’s your identity, goal or mission.

To reinforce that point, consider the findings of a recent Edelman Earned Brand study, designed to explore how brands can earn and protect consumer-brand relationships. It shows that 65 per cent of belief-driven buyers will boycott brands that stay silent on an issue it has an obligation to address. So, while a chocolate brand supporting the welfare of cacao bean farmers is a natural fit, a chocolate brand supporting something to do with, say, ensuring people around the world have access to toilets, may be less so.

  1. Make sure your heart’s in it

Otherwise it can come across as ‘brandstanding’ rather than genuine concern and an authentic desire to make a difference. “Don’t do this purely for face value,” says Bennetto, who doesn’t remember a time when issues around social injustice and disadvantage weren’t on her radar. “I’ve always felt strongly about disadvantaged people, while at the same time being very aware of my privilege being born in New Zealand. I’ve also done a lot of travelling to countries where people don’t have a lot, so in starting a business – any business – I’d never want to take part in anything that would have a negative impact in that regard.” But apart from anything else, Bennetto believes that when you choose a cause you’re not personally invested in, consumers can smell it. “That’s because there’s normally some kind of mismatch in the product.” Which leads nicely onto the next tip…

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  1. Go the extra mile

Bennetto chocolate bars are not only Fairtrade, they’re organic, too. “To me, it’d make no sense to be committed to being Fairtrade but to then use non-organic ingredients,” says Bennetto. “That’s not authentic or genuine. The whole point of Fairtrade is supporting farmers, so I don’t want to buy ingredients where I know producers living in third world countries are having to use chemicals that they may not be educated about or have the right gear to protect against. Choosing organic is just another layer of protection for the people producing our ingredients.”

  1. Make it official

To some extent, the ability to obtain a certification relevant to your social purpose will depend on the cause you’ve chosen to support. But experts agree external verification builds consumer confidence and helps you stand out as more and more brands start ‘being social’. And regardless of your social purpose, becoming a certified B Corp, which includes businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social performance, is always an option.

“Consumers are becoming more and more savvy,” says Bennetto. “I know with Fairtrade, some brands try to cash in on it by using words like ‘fairly traded’ or ‘fair trade’, but consumers are cottoning on to marketing tricks like that which don’t have the authentic certification to back them up. It’s only a matter of time before that won’t be acceptable any more.”

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