5 Ways to Make Your Social Good Great

It’s no secret that people often define themselves by the brands they buy and love. Apple, Whole Foods, Starbucks—you can identify whole demographics by how people shop and use products. What’s more, consumers want more than just good stuff from their favorite brands—they want to feel good about their choices.

That feel-good factor goes beyond what the brands provide. There’s a social dimension to them. People who buy groceries at Whole Foods want ethical sourcing; Apple devotees like to think they’re hip and were heartened when CEO Tim Cook came out as a gay man. Corporate commitments to the big picture confer a halo that transcends commerce.

"When crafting a social good campaign, shift the focus from your brand to your community; tell those genuine and impactful stories that will inspire and connect your audience,” says Tod Plotkin, principal of Washington, D.C.’s Green Buzz Agency, who’s created award-winning social good video spots. “Avoid partnering with an organization that doesn't share your company's key values."

So how do you get that halo? One of the most common—and effective—ways is via a CSR campaign. Your brand stakes out a position and brings attention to a cause, or good works that people (or your employees) are doing, and consumers will connect your brand with the community good. But your commitment has to be real, it has to be genuine and believable before that connection works. Here are some tips:

Pick an issue, but not just any issue. You should have a connection between your brand and what you want your campaign to say. A bad choice will not only be laughable—consumers will sneer at, say, a coal mining company’s commitment to wind power—but it will mark your brand as desperate and unauthentic. That last bit will turn millennials off for good.

But don’t push the brand explicitly. Remember, a social good campaign is all about rising above mere commerce. It aspires to higher goals and seeks to connect your customers with your values. A connection, sure: You sell women’s health products, and you want your campaign to address women’s harassment issues in the workplace, for example. Skip the product placement for this one.

Who’s talking? Just like you carefully vet influencers you hire to tweet and participate in corporate-sponsored events, you need to make sure that the people you choose to convey your message have a connection to the activities in your campaign, and are the right people to convey your message.

You don’t need pros. Remember, this is all about identity and getting consumers to feel a connection. If your campaign is about clean water, show a community and its people where clean, bacteria-free water made a different. Let the people speak and connect with your people.

Be deliberate about partisanship. This last one is especially true as the U.S. presidential campaign swings into high gear. All social good campaigns are political in a sense—they address a societal issue—but avoiding hot button partisan issues may be best. Unless, of course, your company and brand explicitly want to take a stand—Patagonia’s stand against energy companies who want to drill on public lands comes to mind—and advance an issue you feel strongly about. Some of your customers may stay away, but if you’ve identified the bulk of them who will stick by you even more, then go for it.