Q: As a social venture start-up, what is the most effective way to incorporate our social mission in our branding strategy and client presentations?
Charlie and Joe Braman, Braman Brothers Real Estate
A: Because it has become so fashionable to make lofty claims about the social benefits that one’s business organization offers, it can be a challenge for true social innovators to stand out. I looked at your website, bramanbrothers.com, and saw that you are already taking some steps to market your social mission. You have a slogan about “giving back to the community with every transaction,” and you have an interactive graphic that seems to show the impact of a transaction, presumably on goods and services donated to affordable housing ventures.
If I am understanding that information correctly, then your potential clients might be motivated to work with you for at least two reasons: one is that it appears that a percentage of your profits are allocated toward affordable housing, and another is that it seems that you target your giving to communities in or near where your clients are buying and selling, improving their neighborhoods.
However, inquisitive clients will want to know more, such as your giving formula and whether you do anything to support your mission beyond giving money. Periodically publishing a report could help you measure and communicate your efforts to fulfill your social mission. It would not only convey that mission to readers, but also identify metrics by which to communicate your goals and progress against those goals. It could include a combination of quantitative measures and stories.
To be genuine, this kind of report needs to be honest about successes, failures, criticisms and challenges. For example, how do you balance the benefits to your clients of appreciation of real estate values with your goal of supporting affordable housing?
The substance and extent of your social commitment needs to be communicated so that your stakeholders can make informed decisions and so you have guideposts as you mature as a business. A true social venture does more than give money away; it lives its mission thoughtfully, in good times and bad.
Christopher Michaelson is David A. and Barbara Koch Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.