Leverage Social Impact as a Growth Lever

Socially-minded consumers are shaping eCommerce, especially as they question what companies stand for in the era of purpose-driven commerce.
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Tina Bou-Saba is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Verity Venture Partners, an early-stage fund backing the next generation of commerce innovators. Prior to Verity, Tina spearheaded growth for Victoria’s Secret, served as a Senior Research Associate on the retail team at Sanford Bernstein, and ran CXT Investments, her personal investment vehicle.

We sat down with Tina to learn from her long-time consumer experience and dive deep into her perspective as an investor on the evolution of corporate social impact. Topics include:

  • Why brand alignment is critical to deploy effective impact campaigns
  • Leveraging social impact as an untapped channel to boost user retention
  • How customer expectations for impact have shifted over the past decade

“In many cases, customer expectations are extremely high for today’s brands to stand for more than just a product or service. Tools like ShoppingGives exist to help merchants deliver on these expectations for social responsibility.” — Tina Bou-Saba

The Dramatic Shift in Customer Expectations

Throughout two decades in the consumer/retail space, Tina observed firsthand what she calls a dramatic shift in consumer expectations for corporate social impact and philanthropic programs.

In her work at Sanford Bernstein, she covered major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Costco during the late 2000s — when consumer considerations of labor and supply chain practices were far less prominent.

Tina also worked closely with Victoria’s Secret leadership during the company’s peak in the mid-to-late 2000s. At the time, the brand reflected a relatively narrow conception of beauty. A decade later, the company has had to dramatically shift its positioning to rebuild trust with consumers who strive to see body inclusivity reflected in the brands they support.

What Do Younger Consumers Want?

Tina attributes most of this immense shift — plus its acceleration throughout the 2010s — to a younger generation of consumers who both discover and dissect brands through social media.

These consumers often consider a range of company characteristics before choosing to support them, by asking questions like:

  • Who are the founders of this company, and do their values align with my own?
  • What percentage of this company’s employees are women or people of color? Are they treated fairly and respectfully?
  • How do their products stack up in terms of sustainability, transparency, and environmental impact?
  • What are they contributing to ‘XYZ’ cause, and are they doing so directly from their profits?

They’ve also established de facto standards for evaluating adequate responses (in both words and actions) to these prompts. Some examples include:

  • The Fifteen Percent Pledge — In which 28+ retailers have signed on to dedicate 15% or more of their shelf space to products by Black-owned brands
  • Clean Beauty — In response to the uproar against animal testing facilities, as well as the inclusion of harmful synthetic materials in products that go on your body.
  • Recognition & Celebration — It’s essentially a given these days, as Tina tells us, that brands are expected to (in some way, shape, or form) recognize and celebrate marked periods like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month.

Social Impact as a Hiring Tool

As a younger generation of consumers enters the workforce, Tina sees many employees joining certain companies, particularly independent and emerging brands, because they believe in the values of the founders and their vision for impact.

She calls it a double-edged sword: brands may feel pressure from consumers as well as from their own workers. For example, an emphasis on company values among workers can be a powerful tool for internal community-building and shared motivation.

However, it also sets a standard for leadership to be extra cognizant when making decisions that could potentially divide or upset their employees - who are, essentially, embedded customers.

“I worked at Victoria’s Secret when it was the most beloved women’s brand in America. New consumer values completely upended that within a decade.”

Keys to Efficient Impact: Alignment & Authenticity

For brands trying to enact their own social impact programs, Tina offers two essential reminders, in terms of ensuring positive consumer reactions:

  1. Tangible action — Today’s young digital consumer will likely expect tangible and measurable actions (e.g., partnerships, donations), instead of something which could be construed as basic lip service (e.g., only making social media posts).
  2. Authenticity — Although it’s a buzzword, Tina affirms the most successful impact programs across the board are those that truly resonate with their brand profile (e.g., founder, mission, category). In other words: don’t let impact work become a grab for clout.

She also gives examples from Verity’s portfolio, as well as her previous personal investments, of authentic, brand-aligned campaigns done well — proving there is no one-size-fits-all guidebook to thoughtful impact:

  • NOTO — The gender-fluid, clean cosmetics line regularly selects organizations in service of the LGBTQ+ community to receive a portion of their profits. Founder Gloria Noto herself is a well-known activist within the community.
  • Birdies — The women’s footwear brand sponsors the Angel City Football Club, Los Angeles’ first pro women’s soccer team, as well as partners with Soles4Souls, the organization helping women in developing nations sustain their micro-enterprises.
  • Kinship — The cruelty-free, clean beauty brand’s Direct to Community Program regularly diverts a month’s worth of their social ad budget and ad platform spend to uplift Black-owned beauty and wellness brands. Kinship also has a robust ocean plastic waste program for their packaging.

“Ultimately, I think consumers want to see a company put their money where their mouth is, and for those efforts to feel consistent with the values of the company and its founder(s).”

Where Does Social Impact Go From Here?

From both a personal and an investment perspective, Tina hopes and expects that we’re still in early innings of the age of corporate social impact.

On the consumer side, she anticipates this generation of young, socially-minded consumers to become major forces in shaping eComm, especially as they question what companies and their teams stand for and graduate into the workforce with more influence in their spending power.

Leveraging Impact as a Growth Lever

On the enterprise side, Tina anticipates social impact becoming a far greater focus for companies — especially due to significant moves away from traditional paid platforms and toward other tools for building sticky user bases.

These include influencer partnerships, affiliate marketing, and (of course) social impact through platforms like ShoppingGives.

The potential of social impact as a growth lever is also promising, Tina believes, because of the business benefits it can drive, including:

  • Building customer loyalty — Driving repeat purchase rates and retention by creating a sense of alignment between buyer and brand, while also driving down churn
  • Driving higher conversions — For instance, a brand runs a campaign in which they donate a percentage of the sales from a specific product line, which then prompts greater conversion rates and higher AOV.

“I’m very hopeful that we’re closer to the start of this age of social impact than the end, especially as this new generation of consumers gains spending power.”

How to Design an Effective Impact Campaign

Tina outlines the steps she’d advise any of Verity’s portfolio companies to take when beginning their own social impact efforts.

1. Listen to your customers

As with any major brand effort, reaching out and listening to your customer base (e.g., asking what causes they’d like to see you support) is crucial to enacting a program that doesn’t fall on a disinterested audience.

2. Ensure internal alignment

In addition to considering your company’s overall alignment with a campaign, make sure the teams within the company are ready to put their weight behind the cause.

3. Focus on deliberate planning

Like any initiative, a social impact campaign requires deliberate planning and disciplined, timely execution. Consider your goals and how you’ll measure success, as well as having an internal stakeholder who’ll own the plan and timeline.

4. Leverage the right tools

For a streamlined setup and execution plus an accountable platform, Tina recommends ShoppingGives as a vehicle to achieve meaningful, effective social impact.

“Effective social impact campaigns require discipline. If you approach it as a throwaway, one-off experiment, your strategy is unlikely to drive real results. Instead, a thoughtful approach, leveraging a user-friendly tool like ShoppingGives, is what we recommend to Verity’s portfolio companies.”

If you want to learn more about how your brand can leverage social impact as a growth lever through ShoppingGives, you can visit us below.

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