In today’s competitive market, being “just another brand” doesn’t cut it. Social impact marketing is one strategy that can help you stand out.
Think about it: Two brands offer you the same product, but one’s improving the planet with every purchase. Which one grabs your attention? Brands with a purpose usually lead the pack in the competitive race.
As shoppers are increasingly conscious of their impact, putting purpose over profit is key to attracting your target audience. Here’s everything you need to know for connecting with conscious consumers, whether in-store or online.
What is social impact marketing?
Social impact marketing happens when businesses sell products while making a positive change in the world. The practice helps brands connect with people who want to buy from companies that have a purpose beyond just selling.
For example, a brand selling T-shirts may donate a portion of the profits to a charity—this shows that the brand cares about making the world better, while promoting its products.
Social impact marketing doesn’t just showcase the best features of a product: it also shares stories about the positive social contributions that the company is making in the bigger picture. With social impact marketing, buying feels good, because you’re helping to make the world a better place.
The importance of social impact marketing
Today, shoppers aren’t just buying stuff. They’re also buying stories, beliefs, and values that resonate with them on an emotional level. People want more than just a cool gadget or a stylish t-shirt—they want to know their purchase makes a difference.
Social impact marketing makes customers feel good and shows that businesses care about more than just dollar signs. Giving back builds trust, loyalty, and a deeper connection with customers.
Being a socially conscious brand is no longer a nice-to-have bonus. Instead, it’s becoming an expectation. In a Salesforce survey of 14,300 global consumers, the majority (68%) said they expect companies to act with society’s best interests in mind.
Customers are more likely to buy from brands with a purpose, too. For example, 78% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen IQ said that a sustainable lifestyle is important to them, and 30% are more likely to purchase products with sustainable credentials.
Shoppers will also spend more––eight out of 10 consumers in a PwC survey said they would pay up to 5% more for sustainably produced items.
How social impact marketing works
One of the most important things customers will be looking for from brands is authenticity. Brand authenticity refers to the genuineness, honesty, and real value that a brand represents and communicates to its audience.
Authenticity comes first
Conscious and educated consumers increasingly demand more from retailers. In the past, brands that claimed sustainability efforts or made blanket statements on societal issues were perceived as purpose-driven.
Today, it’s no longer enough to stick a charity logo on a product. Consumers are taking the time to educate themselves on the actions that a brand takes to positively impact society.
Before anything else, a brand needs to figure out its core values. It’s not just about picking a cause because it’s trending: instead, brands must find a genuine connection between their mission and a social or environmental issue.
Brands can then share real stories about the impact of their efforts, showcasing real people and communities they’ve helped. This transparency builds consumer trust.
Create a 360-degree approach to social impact
Integrating impact efforts throughout your brand strategy enables consumers to gain a full picture of the good that you are doing and tells a clearer story of who you are as a brand and what you stand for.
Some brands team up with charities or nonprofits. These partnerships can help companies ensure that a portion of every sale goes toward a meaningful cause.
Social impact marketing isn’t a one-way street, though. Brands often involve their customers in the company’s mission. Maybe it’s asking them to vote on the next charity to support or sharing user-generated content that highlights the cause.
For example, for every purchased item, clothing brand Tentree plants trees. The brand has committed to planting one billion trees by 2030. It also creates all of its products with an “Earth-first” approach, meaning they’re made in safe, fair working conditions.
Make it easy for customers to get involved and donate
If you ask customers to donate or get involved in a cause, make the process as smooth as their shopping experience. Whether it’s a donation option at checkout or a dedicated section on the website explaining your chosen cause, customers’ experience should be intuitive and user-friendly.
Customers are more likely to get involved if they can see where their contributions go. Use visuals, stories, or even real-time counters to show the difference each donation makes. If 10% of their purchase plants a tree, show them the forest they’re helping to grow.
Not every customer will resonate with the same cause—so, if possible, offer them choices on where their donation goes. A drop-down menu with various charities or initiatives can empower customers, making them active participants in the giving journey.
While the primary drive should be the cause itself, a little nudge never hurts. Offer special deals, discounts, or badges for customers who donate or contribute. This creates a win-win scenario: shoppers feel good about helping and get a little extra in return.
By simplifying the process of involvement, brands can turn passive shoppers into passionate advocates and amplify their impact.
How to use social impact marketing effectively
Leaning into social impact marketing isn’t just about tacking on a cause to your brand. For your social impact marketing efforts to work, you need to weave social responsibility into every stage of the customer journey.
Here are some actionable tactics that your brand can use to engage your online and in-store customers through authentic social impact marketing campaigns.
Unless you actively promote your giving, consumers may not be aware of your efforts.
Use content marketing, like blogs, videos, and social media campaigns, to introduce potential customers to your brand’s values and mission. Highlight stories of success and communicate the real-world difference your brand makes.
As part of your social media marketing strategy, you could partner with influencers who resonate with your cause. Their collaboration can bring credibility and boost your reach.
Use social media to inform consumers of your social giving efforts and promote your brand’s cause alignment.
For example, jewelry brand Pura Vida Bracelets uses Instagram to share its latest charity partnerships. In a recent post, the brand promoted a new bracelet pack that directly benefits a suicide awareness charity, SAVE.
Pura Vida Bracelets donates 5% of sales of each pack to the charity.
Putting cause marketing at the forefront of your customer experience reminds shoppers of the opportunity to do good by making a purchase with you.
You can appeal to your in-store customer base with in-store print marketing that advertises your giving efforts. Key places include when they walk in the door and as they approach the checkout.
Online, you could try using quizzes or interactive web features to educate visitors about your cause, showing them the significance of their potential contribution.
Use a dedicated impact page to tell a story about why your brand supports a specific cause. Share details about your brand’s impact and efforts, including volunteer hours your company participated in and the amount of impact you’ve helped to create.
For example, apparel brand United By Blue produces an annual impact report detailing its partnerships, the amount of trash its efforts have cleared, and the sustainability of its packaging.
Offer options to add a small donation during the checkout process. This option should be hassle-free and clearly show where the donation goes.
For example, wellness company Neuro Gum lets customers round up their orders to a whole number with a charity donation.
You can also suggest that customers shop for products that have a direct link to your cause: for instance, selecting a specific design that contributes more to the cause than others.
You could also run a flash giving event that offers a 5% or even 10% donation for 24 hours. This option can encourage customers to make a purchase while they make a bigger impact for a charitable cause.
Regularly update customers on the progress and success of the social initiatives they’ve supported. This could be through newsletters, social media, or special sections on your website.
Bombas, a clothing brand that primarily sells socks and underwear, regularly promotes its “one purchased = one donated” philosophy. On Instagram, the brand spotlights local community initiatives it supports and shares recent milestones.
This year, Bombas reached 100 million donations. In an Instagram post, the brand thanked all its customers for enabling it to donate items to people experiencing homelessness.
To take your own loyalty offerings a step further, you could offer loyalty points or benefits for those who consistently support your cause, helping them feel valued.
Encourage happy customers to share their stories and experiences, linking it to the bigger picture of the organization or brand’s social impact.
Using referral programs, you can provide incentives for customers to bring in others who resonate with your brand values and mission.
For instance, through its ambassador program, Pura Vida Bracelets empowers fans of the brand to share their love for the bracelets and accompanying charitable causes. Ambassadors receive a unique referral code, and when others purchase using that code, the ambassador earns 10% of the sale.
Use social impact marketing authentically
Shoppers want more than just good products––they want to support good causes, too. This is where social impact marketing comes in. When businesses get this practice right, they sell more and make a real difference. First, consider your brand’s core values and then see how you could partner with a charity in your community. Combining business with helping out isn’t just a nice idea––it’s the future of shopping.
Social impact marketing FAQ
What is an example of social impact marketing?
An example of a social impact marketing strategy is Tentree. For every item purchased, Tentree commits to planting trees. Customers don’t just buy apparel—they also actively contribute to reforestation efforts worldwide. Plus, Tentree shares the impact of these contributions transparently, highlighting their environmental and social benefits, like job creation in planting communities.
What is a social impact strategy?
A social impact strategy is a plan developed by organizations to create positive changes in society. This strategy is designed to address specific social, environmental, or economic challenges and integrate solutions into the organization’s core operations and activities. It’s linked to the concept of corporate social responsibility––brands must embrace social change policies as a whole. Strategies focus on creating sustainable social and environmental change by aligning the organization’s goals with broader societal needs.
What are the four pillars of social impact?
- Philanthropy: This involves donating money, goods, services, or time to help achieve positive outcomes for society. Businesses often engage in charitable activities to give back to communities or support causes aligned with their values.
- Environmental stewardship: This emphasizes the importance of sustainable business practices that protect the environment. It includes efforts like reducing carbon footprints, managing waste responsibly, promoting recycling, and using sustainable resources.
- Ethical labor practices: A socially responsible business ensures that workers throughout its supply chain are treated fairly and ethically. This means providing safe working conditions, fair wages and opportunities for professional growth and respecting workers’ rights.
- Economic responsibility: This involves generating economic benefits for the communities where a business operates. It could be in the form of creating jobs, paying fair wages, supporting local suppliers, or investing in community development.
Why is social impact important to businesses?
Social impact is important to businesses for several reasons:
- Consumer expectations: Modern consumers, especially younger demographics, prioritize purchasing from brands that align with their own values. They seek out companies committed to making a positive impact on society and the environment.
- Reputation and brand value: Engaging in initiatives that have a positive social impact can enhance a company’s image, fostering trust and loyalty among customers, employees, partners, and other stakeholders.
- Employee attraction and engagement: Many employees, particularly millennial and Gen Z employees, want to work for companies that have a broader purpose beyond just profit. Businesses with a focus on social impact and service can attract top talent and achieve higher rates of employee satisfaction and retention.