As an entrepreneur, building your unique brand is one of the most essential parts of launching and growing your startup. As a startup, you might not be in a position to pay for branding support—nor is it necessarily the best thing to do as this post suggests—but we can learn something from the way leading agencies approach it.

More and more, big companies not originally built with values of sustainability and social impact want to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Tweet This Quote

In this post, I interview a senior strategist from a New York City-based brand and innovation firm that works with multinationals and other large companies that have plateaued or are struggling. Below is a snapshot of what entrepreneurs can learn from how some of the world’s experts on “branding for impact” are working with a variety of companies to help keep their brands authentic and alive.

Q: Can you give us a short explanation of your company?

A: Our mission is to create brands of enduring value—ones that are going to be relevant to the next generation and resilient in our changing world. For example, we dig into the marketplace through ethnographic research and national surveys. If a company has plateaued, we help them take a step back and clarify their brand’s purpose. Once we have identified that purpose, we tie it back to their business by exploring the development of new products, services and experiences.

Companies are moving away from just creating something that someone can buy to building a brand that empowers people to be something. Tweet This Quote

We work with global nonprofits, foundations, and smaller mission-driven companies that are looking to scale. But more and more, our work is with large companies that were not originally built with the values of sustainability and social impact in their business models. They see shifts in the marketplace due to changes in our natural environment and resources, so they are looking to adapt.

Q: If you had to boil down the philosophy and approach towards branding and marketing, what would it be? What single paradigm shift do you help your clients make?

A: The most important paradigm shift is recognizing the opportunity to move away from just creating something that someone can buy, to building a brand that empowers people to be something—part of a community that shares their values.

We use a methodology called the Triple Value Proposition, and it’s all about bringing together the three types of values that are necessary for creating a truly enduring brand.


Practical Values answer the question: “How does this brand improve my life?”

Tribal Values answer: “How does this brand connect me to a tribe of like-minded people, who share my ideals, aspirations and interests?”

The final piece is Societal Values: “How does this brand make a difference for society or for the environment?”

For a long time, when entrepreneurs and companies were considering branding and marketing, they focused on just the Practical Values, like convenience and functionality. More recently, there’s been a shift towards considering “The Emotional Quotient,” or “Brand EQ,” which is about how to connect with your customers on an emotional level.

A truly powerful brand is one that has carefully considered and aligned these three worlds: practical, tribal and social. These brands connect the individual’s needs to the community needs to the broader societal needs.

Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the early stages of building a business and growing a brand?

When growing its brand, a company should always start by crafting its core purpose around a real need. Tweet This Quote

A: Start by identifying your core purpose. To do this in its simplest form, identify a need. Not just a frivolous or materialistic want, or something that would be a nice bonus. Rather, identify a deep, fundamental need you’re addressing—whether on an individual human level, an environmental level, or a societal level.

If a company starts from crafting its core purpose and brand around a real need, it builds the kind of foundation by which the brands of the 21st century are really going to be measured against.

Q: What trends do you see among the multinational corporations and brands you work with in terms of their attitude and mindset about social impact? How has it changed in the last five years?

A: Across categories and markets, the incumbents and leaders are recognizing that the landscape is shifting faster than they have ever seen. Five years ago, social impact and environmental work was very siloed and thought of as a Corporate Social Responsibility program or a section in the annual report.

Aspirationals, one-third of the global public, unite loves of shopping, social status and sustainability. Tweet This Quote

But today, the idea of connecting human values and ideals has made its way toward influencing not just the image of a brand, but also the actual products and services. It’s the core strategy.

The larger brands don’t exactly know how to do it yet, but they’re on the right path. If they’re going to stay relevant in the marketplace, they can’t afford to let it stay isolated in a little department or initiative.

Q: What are the most important trends you see among consumers today that impact-driven companies need to be aware of?

A: This is really at the core of our research. We have been conducting a global study on the intersection of social and environmental values with shopping behavior, looking at global data from 22,000 consumers across 22 countries.

Aspirationals are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, shaping new cultural norms. Tweet This Quote

The most important trend we saw is the emergence of a type of consumer we call Aspirationals—one-third of the global public who unite a love of shopping, social status and sustainability values and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Representing all age groups, cultures, geographies and income levels, Aspirationals are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, shaping new cultural norms toward authenticity, wellbeing and purpose.

The key takeaway is that by developing a deep understanding of Aspirationals, companies of all sizes are going to be more successful in driving sales, building customer loyalty, growing market share, fostering innovation and engaging employees.

Q: Can you share some specific tips on how brands can better engage Aspirationals?

A: From our perspective, these are the five key principles for entrepreneurs to explore—from messaging and social media presence to developing products and services—with this emerging consumer:

  1. Design for quality, durability and ongoing resourcefulness while rewarding consumers who use, repurpose and recycle their products to get the most out of what they already have.
  2. Embrace a new level of transparency, welcoming honest conversations, revealing challenges and inviting consumers into the process to help solve big challenges together.
  3. Celebrate our common humanity and unleash the power of people to help each other live better.
  4. Help your consumers be, do and have it all, liberating them from either/or choices and false boundaries.
  5. Connect every act of purchase with a larger purpose that drives more participation and impact together.

Pay close attention to the values your customers hold, and reflect those values back in everything you do. Tweet This Quote

Chipotle is a great example of a company that embraced transparency and used imperfection to its advantage. Chipotle is known for its commitment to responsible sourcing of ingredients.

But when auditors discovered a supplier violating the company’s animal welfare standards, Chipotle stopped serving carnitas (a popular item made with pork) in many of its restaurants.

Instead of trying to hide this incident, they put up signs in their restaurants saying, “Due to supply constraints, we are currently unable to serve our Responsibly Raised pork. Trust us, we’re just as disappointed as you.”

They bravely admitted it when their operations contradicted their stated values and were open with their customers about it.

Help your consumers be, do and have it all, liberating them from either/or choices and false boundaries. Tweet This Quote

To truly connect with Aspirationals, entrepreneurs should think more specifically about their own ideal customers when crafting their brands. Pay close attention to the values your customers hold, and reflect those values back to them in everything you say and do.

This interview was conducted with Briana Quindazzi, senior strategist at BBMG.

Shane Rasnak

Author Shane Rasnak

Shane Rasnak is an Unreasonable alumni and consults with leaders of impact-driven companies, helping them acquire customers by improving their websites and online marketing. Learn more about his work at

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