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Marketing 360® Blog

How to Use Social Purpose in Your Marketing – Tips & Examples for SMBs

Post By Scott Yoder | Case Studies | Social Media Management

Consumers today buy from brands they feel an affinity and personal connection with.  One of the most effective ways to create that connection is for your business to have a social purpose.  Here are some examples and tips that will help you communicate that your business is about more than profit.

When you go to to shop for shoes, clothes, or sunglasses, they don’t hit you with a message about how cool and trendy their products are.  Nor do they have a flashing banner that promotes their low prices.  They don’t even make immediate claims about the quality of their products.

Instead, you see this:

social purpose marketing toms

They prioritize a message of social purpose.  When you buy shoes or glasses from TOMS, they give a pair to someone in need.  Buying a pair of shoes from this website is like giving to charity.

At Oliberte shoes, you might be struck by the styles and high rated reviews.  But you’ll also know that you’re helping support workers in Ethiopia by buying from the world’s first fair trade shoe factory:

social purpose marketing

If there is any industry that’s guilty of running sexist ads, it’s beer.  That’s what makes Tecate’s campaign against domestic violence so striking:

For many of us, there is a much stronger connection to this message than a beer commercial that touts its ability to thicken one’s “beer goggles” and fill us with a false sense of sexual prowess.

Each of these brands are using social purpose as part of their value proposition and marketing message.


Why Use Social Purpose in Marketing?

The most obvious reason to have a social purpose for your business is to support a cause you believe in.  To give back to those less fortunate than you and make the world a better place.

But altruism aside, there is also the value that social purpose brings to brand messaging.  A well developed social purpose creates a connection that your consumer audience is seeking out.

More and more consumers – particularly millennials  – choose brands that say something about how they see themselves and how they want others to see them.  Consumers today, engaged on social media, feel a personal connection with brands they buy from.

This connection is not just about style or function.  It’s about the type of person we all aspire to be, and the organizations we want to connect with.

Simply put, nobody wants to connect with someone who’s selfish and all about personal gain.

Social purpose, as in the case of TOMS or a brand like Patagonia, becomes the essence of their brand story.  They founded these companies with their social purpose as part of their value message from the beginning.

Others, like Tecate, take a relevant issue they care about and have a connection with, and use it to give an air of humanity to their brand image.

Either way, it can be effective when it’s authentic and fits well into the brand’s overall story.


When Social Purpose Messaging Goes Wrong

Starbucks cares about the problems of racial tensions in our country.  In 2015, they started a campaign called Race Together where they put that message on their coffee cups to get people to talk about race while drinking their caramel macchiato.

The campaign didn’t go as planned.  It was widely criticized as being inauthentic and sanctimonious.  In some cases, people felt it put both patrons and staff in the uncomfortable position of having to discuss a heated topic when all they wanted was a hot drink.  But for the most part, people just thought it seemed more like a marketing ploy because it was an initiative that didn’t have the teeth to create any real change.

Or, take the difficulty Clorox had with its Green Works line of products.  Their market research showed strong support for a more environmentally friendly line of detergents.  However, they ran into problems because the products didn’t do as good a job of cleaning dishes.

As they progressed, they came up with a formula to improve the performance of the product but saw sales plummet because people now associated “green” cleaning products with inferior performance.

When they put the Clorox brand on the Green Works line to instill a sense of confidence that the products would do what they were designed for, people saw it as a marketing ploy.   To this day the product line has failed to meet sales projections.


Considerations with Social Purpose Marketing

If you want to create a social purpose campaign for your business, take the following into consideration.


It’s difficult to change direction.  The success of social purpose marketing depends on its authenticity.  Once you develop this as part of your brand image, you may not be able to change course.  Imagine, for example, if suddenly Obiberte started making their shoes in China for the lowest possible labor costs.  Their entire image would be shot.

It’s hard to predict and measure market potential and business growth.   This messaging is heavily brand focused.  It can be hard to measure customer behavior associated with campaigns (it’s often done using customer surveys).  You identify and target an audience that supports the brand’s purpose, but that support may not translate into buying behavior.  Even though you have a marketing agenda, you need to start with a real desire to do good, then hope that translates into the consumer behavior you desire.

Brands often get distracted.  Many of these types of campaigns start with the best of intentions, then fade without effect.  Other times, the social purpose message gets separated from main business needs, weakening the message and results.  This is why it’s best when there is a genuine connection between the social purpose and the business goals of the brand.


Purpose marketing is great for social media.  If you need to develop content for social media marketing and PR, social purpose campaigns are ideal.  Altruism is a great format for getting content shared and spreading a positive message associated with your business.

Social purpose personalizes your business image.  There are few ways to personalize a business image that are more effective than having a social purpose.  A face of caring is something everyone can relate to.  Today’s consumers are suspicious of what they see as ill-intentioned marketing designed to manipulate them into buying something they don’t need.  Social purpose takes the edge off of business advertising and shows you care about other people.  It’s a powerful way to humanize your image.

Social purpose is the right thing to do.  As individuals, it’s well known that giving to others is good for your mental health.  This carries over to organizations.  Everyone feels better working for a company that cares about the communities we live in.  The best way to start a social purpose campaign is to do it because you care and it’s the right thing to do.


Small Business Examples

For big brands that make millions (or billions) in annual profits, having a social purpose is not only good image marketing, it’s common decency.  At a certain point, the mega-rich must turn to philanthropy just to maintain the perception that they’re normal.

But smaller businesses can’t usually make such grand gestures.  Their purpose is often more personal.

Here are some examples of smaller businesses that have a positive social purpose.  Each has a page on their website describing what they do, making it part of their story.

Samples, a restaurant in Longmont, CO hires people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they can get get real world job experience, career opportunities, and competitive pay.  They also donate to organizations that support this cause. 

Build Academy integrated the cause of providing light sources to impoverished areas into their course work with their Liter of Light initiative.

Sword & Plough is an example of a small business that started with a strong social purpose.  They repurpose military surplus to make fashionable tote bags and give 10% of their profits to veteran’s initiatives.

A write up about them in Esquire magazine sums up what social purpose in business is all about:


Sorensen Roofing Company simply has a page about the charities they give to with a brief message about the importance they put on giving back to the community.  Simple yet effective.

Saddleback Leather turned their family experience with Type 1 Diabetes into their social cause and a part of their business story.



Proverbs 11:25 illustrates our point well:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

In your personal life, you make efforts to give and help others without expectation of being recognized for it.  Giving is its own reward.

But in business, it’s worth it for you to note how you give back to the world and make it part of your story.  People want to know that your business has a social purpose because they feel better about spending their money at a place that makes a point of giving back to those in need.

Social purpose is indeed a two-for-one deal, a win/win.

Marketing never felt so good.