LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Fox & Hare founders Ben Fox and Craig Hares about what it means to be a social impact business and why it’s important going forward.
LBB> The marketing world has been talking about the importance of brand purpose for years now. What's new in that debate? Are there any insights that you don't see brands acting on enough?
Ben> Nothing is ever truly new. The business landscape has been talking about corporate social responsibility, in some form or another, for over thirty years. And whilst social impact communications is by no means a new form of marketing, the increased speed at which we consume information has created the urgency for brands to express their genuine purpose.
Movements such as #BLM and #MeToo have highlighted consumers’ demand to be at the forefront of social change, personally and by association. Covid-19 has resulted in people returning to an ethos of ‘shopping local’. Consumers want to engage with brands that take a stand and are held accountable for their business decisions and culture. They want to know how and where their products are made, and at what cost to the environment.
What’s new to the debate is a sense of shared identity that stems from authenticity. We’ve moved past a period of individual action and into an age of community and global responsibility. To survive, brands must no longer view social responsibility as an obstacle or requirement, but as an extension of their core values.
We see a lot of fragmented approaches to CSR and impact – some companies use “greenwashing” or external “sustainable initiatives” as a PR ploy, whilst others have contributed to social causes for years yet don’t actively share this with their customers. It is essential for all brands to build an integrated impact strategy that links into their wider business objectives and not one that simply sits on top of existing marketing initiatives. Those who have the courage and take the time to delve into the roots of the business to uncover their social advantage will not only have the upper hand but might discover untapped value and opportunities in the process.
LBB> What's the best example you can think of a brand's values impacting its bottom line drastically?
Craig> With ESG portfolio investments rising by 53% in 2019 alone
, it’s not enough for an organisation to measure growth based solely on profit. Looking at organisational performance going forward, we base our evaluations on the triple bottom line: profit, people, and the planet.
A classic example of a brand harnessing values for increased prosperity is eco-warrior Patagonia. Last year, the Patagonia team launched a Black Friday campaign pledging to match user-generated donations through their Action Works initiative, resulting in a combined £15.3m in donations over just 17 days
. This campaign (five times more effective than projected) brought in £7.6m in sales, 24,000 new customer sign-ups, and certainly made for a nice tax write-off. The “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign they did in 2011 led to a 30% increase in revenue for the year
. They often use their values to involve their communities, increasing lifetime customer value and loyalty.
Over the years, there have been several examples of companies that failed by allowing poor values to dictate company policies, such as Enron and Wirecard. More often than not, we tend to see something a little more nuanced than outright fraud: ESG initiatives that backfire, impacting long-term profitability, purchasing consideration, and brand perception. The Volkswagen diesel emissions test cheating scandal of 2015 cost the automotive brand £25.4bn in recalls and damages to date. The brand reputation, whilst on the mend, has yet to return to its original scores five years later, resulting in a total rebrand
and £39bn commitment to investing in the future.
Now more than ever, brands need to be careful of greenwashing simply as a means of gaining public favour. Social advantage must be carefully considered and integrated into the very heart of the business.
LBB> What broad lessons can marketers take from these examples?
1) Aligning ESG strategies to core business values will result in increased funding and growth opportunities
2) Advocating for your social advantage will help strengthen your communities and increase customer loyalty
3) Social impact communications should be integrated into branding strategies
4) Authenticity will always outweigh showmanship
LBB> I feel like there are still some very successful brands who don't give a flying fuck about anything but their bottom line. Why should they care when they're making so much money?
Craig> The ground on which we trade is increasingly unstable. Now more than ever, consumers have the power to make or break a business with as little as a negative tweet. As the distance between brands and their communities decreases, we as business owners need to adapt to the new landscape which demands accountability and transparency. That means monitoring and improving supply chain operations, employee well-being, and community impact to improve your triple bottom line.
Those who remain in the era of “profit-at-all-costs” be warned: your customers already see through you and will eagerly jump in bed with a competitor who will help them feel like they are using their purchasing power to make a difference in the lives of others.
LBB> You're hoping to gain B-Corp status soon. What does that mean? Why is it so important to your business?
Ben> Certified B Corporation describes itself as a collective of businesses “that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” What it means for Fox & Hare is that we are putting our money where our mouth is. There is no point in use telling people about social purpose if we don’t embody it ourselves. It means that our clients, employees, and communities all know that we strive to create a positive impact with each project we undertake.
It also helps us implement a practice of continual learning on how we can improve as a business. Ultimately it boils down to being the best version of ourselves, to #MakePurposePriority – which is what our clients expect to see from us on a brand level and within all of the work that we do.
LBB> With all this in mind, what pieces of work are you most proud of doing recently?
Craig> We're excited to be situated in the social impact space, which feels relevant for the times and allows brands to still market to consumers in a way that is tasteful for the times. We love nothing more than using creative for the power of good. Recently, we launched #ChallengeImpossible
on Twitch for CLIC Sargent, with a focus on gamers and streamers raising vital funds by using the power of technology and creativity for children with cancer. And #TheBigMissYou
campaign we did for The Big Issue encouraged supporters to subscribe or support with a one-off payment to combat the effects of COVID on its vendors.
At the end of the day, we are proud of all of the work we do that helps brands and their teams produce commercially-driven and measurable work. Our passion is helping brands establish their voice in a world that can be overwhelmed by negative noise, and take all opportunities to help them make their strongest impact.