Maximizing Social Impact on a Corporate Scale: Q&A with Executive Chris Noble

The desire to contribute to something bigger than ourselves is steadily increasing amid a deluge of humanitarian and climate crises. As a new generation of consumers enters both the marketplace and the workplace, it has become incredibly important for organizations to have a clear mission with ties to social impact. Chris Noble, Head of Corporate Partnerships at and Chairman of the purpose-driven digital marketing agency Matchfire, sat down with Bliss to discuss everything from what makes a good social impact campaign to how companies can improve their imprint on the world. Below, we explore exactly what “social impact” means and the opportunities corporations and marketing professionals can seize to further it.

When Matchfire was founded in 2006, the team was primarily focused on influencer marketing. How has the agency evolved since then?

We still do influencer work, but we also do so much more. Matchfire consults with brands—and causes that are big enough to be a brand of their own—on overarching strategy of engagement and impact. We’ll craft really everything, soup to nuts, in terms of digital marketing execution and experiential marketing. Matchfire works with the brand to create the entire architecture of your social impact. How are you going to show up in the world? What’s your purpose? And based on that purpose, how do we then create the pillars that you need to support and activate?

For a company like LG Electronics, you need a principal mission. That mission should be rooted in your principles, right? LG makes a lot of screens. They understand the role of those screens and devices in society and the impact they have on teens. But they also know that they can have a positive role in helping folks learn about the science of happiness. Their goal was to bring the science of happiness to five million kids over five years. You bring in education partners who can embrace the thought leadership and extend it because LG isn’t the expert in the science. You bring in activation partners, which are nonprofits, to do the training and the teaching. You bring in the schools so that you can reach the kids in a safe way.

The other organization you’re involved with is, which is a large nonprofit. What is their mission?

Have you ever sent a care package to someone? The term “care package” comes from the organization. CARE started about 76 years ago, in the aftermath of World War II with regular folks, government rations and corporations like Coca-Cola coming together to bundle up physical care packages and send them to war-torn Europe. This last couple of years has been very busy with COVID, Ukraine and new climate disasters. More than a third of what CARE does is humanitarian relief. We reach about 110 countries every year and help a little over 100 million people a year on average.

Our systemic solution focus is women and girls, because if women and girls in a community are stronger, better represented and have access to money, nutrition and other things like that, whole communities become stronger. CARE works on nutrition programs and savings programs and all sorts of things to help strengthen women and girls around the world. Our savings and loans program has been running for around 30 years and about 12 million people have participated. We can show how communities that have those village savings and loans when they’re hit by crisis can recover faster. CARE’s mission is really to build that kind of global resilience.

How would you define “social impact”?

It’s going to be a moving target, right? I started getting involved with this in 2008 when we were really just talking about that last little consumer engagement piece, and it was called cause marketing. At that point, you saw folks like sustainable brands move from talking about the impact of solid waste on supply chains to engaging in climate change in a more holistic way. So, whether you’re calling it cause marketing, social impact, corporate purpose or the S in your ESG framework, it’s really simple: What does the corporation do to give back to their community and recruit or retain new audience members through visible social good activity?

With that in mind, what makes a successful social impact campaign?

The number one thing that makes a good campaign is a point of view that is driven by your employees, not just from the top down. What’s important to your employees and what’s important to your company should align. Good social impact campaigns are rooted in that sort of purpose exercise. Number two, find something that you can authentically and organically encourage people to act on. And number three is to find a way to put it at the center of your business. Two or three years into the Experience Happiness campaign, LGopened those same classes to employees. They saw the experience of happiness as being a brand extension of what’s good in life.

This is an important topic right now because we’re all citizens of the world and we should be doing as much as we can. It’s also true that there’s a self-interested reason. Your consumers and employees are demanding it and demanding that you do it right. Companies need a point of view, and they need to act on that point of view towards some social good. Gen Z and Millennials are your future inside and outside the company. They want to work somewhere that they feel good about showing up and feel like they’re contributing to a larger picture.

For companies and leaders looking to make a difference in their communities, where is a good place to start? What questions should they be asking themselves?

With clients, we always start by asking: What are you doing now? What’s a good outcome for the business and the consumer and the employee? What are your people interested in? What kinds of causes would people support if the brand endorsed them? So, if you’re just starting out—and there are a lot of giant companies that are starting out—the first thing is to engage employees and the second thing is to have an end goal. Have a strategy just like it’s any other piece of your business.

Do all of the things you do when you’re launching a new product line. Tell your partners. Tell your friends. Bring them along. Find industry experts that can amplify your point of view. Have a product launch. Have a timeline for how many you’re going to sell over X years.

How can marketers support the work both for-profit and non-profit organizations are doing around ESG, DEI and other social purpose initiatives?

As marketers, the biggest thing we can do is make the space safe for them. One of the great secrets of engaging in cause or social impact work is that it inoculates you from failure. So, for our brands, a lot of times, we are encouraging them to try new things. Do a cool blockchain campaign or a big outdoor experience. It’s a little scary for brands to be that cutting edge. However, because there’s a cause associated with it, it actually allows you to take risks. One of the ways we can pitch it as marketers is to say, “Do you want to try this new thing? Bring a cause into it.” Because as it turns out, journalists like to cover people doing good things in the world.

What are companies doing well in respect to social impact and ESG? Where are they missing the mark? What should they be doing to address these gaps? 

In general, they’re doing the things they do best and leaving the cause parts to the cause. The companies doing well recognize that they have the dollars and employee resources to move the cause forward but know that it isn’t their business to do so. They work with partners like Matchfire or CARE to deliver the social good. You don’t see big corporations suddenly getting into the meal delivery business if they’re not already in the meal delivery business, right?

The thing companies are still doing poorly is integrating social impact into their business. I’m not saying that every company needs to have a pet nonprofit. You don’t. But look at Google’s carbon neutral pledge. There’s a really good example of putting a stake in the ground of what matters to them. They commit to climate awareness among employees and talk about what being carbon neutral means as a giant global company right on the front of the website. So, they’re not aligning themselves with one nonprofit, but they’re having a point of view that can be integrated into their business. State it as simply as you can and just start living it. If it ends up that you’re donating to a nonprofit down the line, fantastic. They’re there to do the good work. But don’t just slap a label on it and call it done.

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