• Transform magazine
  • November 14, 2018

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Opinion: Pairing purpose and profit: Building brands that make a difference

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Stuart Harris, Tonic International

Social enterprises – those companies that have social impact (such as improving education, providing access to clean water or, in some small way, improving the quality of life on this planet) built into their corporate philosophy from the get go – have an interesting time of it.

These are neither organisations that donate an annual percentage of their profits to charity  nor are they companies that decide, at some point, to contribute towards a particular cause or activity. These are businesses that exist to make the world a better place in one way or another. Social impact exists at the core of their belief system: every dollar spent increases profits and those profits improve the world around us.

Speaking to us as consumers in an age where we are asking bigger and more challenging questions of the brands we interact with (Are staff treated fairly? Is the organisation moving towards a greener way of doing business? Have they done away with animal testing?), this seems like a particularly compelling offering. By choosing one product over another we are helping to improve one or more of the bigger social issues.

And this is where it can get confusing. On one hand, you have a company selling a particular product. On the other, you have a business that needs to remain accountable for the social impact it is making.

And while the causes these enterprises stand for can form strong bonds between themselves and the audiences they are marketing to, it’s important for us not to forget about the products they are selling.

We need to build these brands on the purposes they stand for, but purpose alone isn’t enough. While purpose can give staff a deeper, richer meaning for coming to work every day, form long-lasting relationships with customers or even be the deciding factor between one customer choosing a product over another, without the product, the company cannot exist.

Social enterprises have a compelling, if not complicated story to tell. Cause – or purpose – is why these organisations exist, but it’s important to remember that they are competing with businesses that exist for other, different reasons and people will buy, first and foremost, based on individual needs.

Social enterprises need to be fully realised, regardless of the social impact they are making. Once a brand can compete on this level, social impact can become a business’s most powerful weapon, separating it from the competition through purpose, uniting staff around a common cause and creating life-long champions out of customers and community.

Stuart Harris is creative director at Tonic International

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Join Tonic International at The Middle East Brand Summit as they explore how brands with a social mission can communicate their values through the brand with the COO of Roshan Afghani, Altaf Ladak.

June 2, Dubai. Book here