A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of keynoting at the annual ACCP conference, the Association of Corporate Contribution of Practitioners. This event brings together corporate responsibility and Foundation leads from many of the country’s largest F500 brands and the topic of discussion was how to build the business of a brand by sharing the story of its good work more effectively so it can increase those social impact efforts.

ACCP Slides in Las Vegas – We First from Simon Mainwaring

I encourage you to download these slides and share them with your team, as I am confident that in order for a brand’s social purpose to truly have impact its storytelling must be integrated on three levels:

1. Company Brand and Product Brand Storytelling: Many corporate brands, which are often referred to as “house brands” with a series of product brands underneath them, wrestle with whether or not they should tell the story of the parent company’s social purpose. Each year, we see more and more inspiring examples of this being done effectively. Most recently, we saw this with Unilever’s sustainable living and ‘Project Sunlight’ (B2C), and GE’s ‘Ecomagination’ efforts (B2B). What these examples reveal is that a company’s and its brands’ storytelling is far more effective when the two are aligned. This does not mean interfering with the independent marketing being executed by the product brands, but rather ensuring that all product brands’ efforts are all pointed in the same direction that is consistent with the parent company’s storytelling. In the case of Unilever, for example, brand’s like Lifebuoy and Dove have established their own high public awareness, but at the same time characterize “acts of sunlight” as laid out in the overarching Unilever story of sustainable living.

2. For-profit and non-profit integration: In many companies, there is still a separation between social impact efforts made by the for-profit side of the company through the lens of sustainability, corporate communications, or community relations, and the non-profit side typically housed within its Foundation. One of the most important shifts we’re seeing today is to realign for-profit and non-profit efforts around the company’s core values. For example, the core values of ‘Smarter Planet’ for IBM, show this unified approach, rather than siloed messages from its corporate communications, sustainability, or Foundation divisions.

3. Internal and external story integration: For a long time brands have had the luxury of controlling their image through advertising, irrespective of what was going on inside the walls of the company. The increase in transparency that’s now being transposed on them by government regulation, the media, and consumer activism means that brands must ensure that their own house is in order. To achieve this, they must align their existing internal employee efforts with external story-telling through marketing and PR. The benefits of taking this approach are many, including employee satisfaction, retention and productivity and an engaged internal community of brand advocates.

Aligning a brand story on these three levels is no simple matter, especially since the verticals, silos, and matrices in companies, developed over decades, now compete against such a reframing. Yet without it, brands rob themselves of a singularity of messaging that builds greater brand awareness, marketing optimization and cost efficiencies, and employee and consumer engagement that inspires both parties to promote the brand. This process can take as much as 2-3 years, but once a company is purposefully aligned it is positioned to be a success story in the social business market place.