New Expectations for Social Impact

Mike Berland
4 min readNov 9, 2021


New expectations for Corporate Social Impact…

Pre-pandemic… social impact was called “corporate social responsibility”. The expectation was environmentalism & sustainability initiatives. Now those initiatives are table stakes.

The new Social Impact = Company Purpose. Social impact requires going a step further and having a story behind the initiative that connects to the company’s purpose and their consumers’ values.

To truly have social impact, brands & businesses need to go beyond announcing eco-friendly business practices and product benefits by telling a story that gives people a real reason to care.

WHAT’S UP: Momentum for Social Impact

One industry leading the future of Social Impact is fashion. High velocity, low mass streetwear startups (e.g. niche streetwear brands that have high levels of engagement and low awareness) are leaning into social impact to elevate their brands — standing for something societally more than just being green behind-the-scenes.

Three examples:

  1. Promoting cultural awareness: To promote a multicultural community, one streetwear startup brand called SLF, is creating clothing that represents all identities regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status. Founded in Canada by two Nigerians, Folarin and Tomiwa aim to create a multicultural space through its streetwear, accessories, sportswear pieces and by collaborating through every medium.

2. Storytelling to connect with micro community consumers (e.g. niche consumer groups with high engagement around a shared interest): By telling targeted stories, brands can become more relevant to niche audiences that want to feel seen. Take Crocs collaboration with Hidden Valley Ranch and Saweetie for example — this collab & content achieved engagement from a low mass, high velocity community of Crocs consumers and ranch lovers.

3. Tying tech innovations to social impact: New cyber-fashion brands are using tech to go beyond what’s possible for social impact in the physical world. Tribute Brand recognized that sustainable & inclusive fashion can only go so far in the physical realm. To combat this, the brand sells digital clothing that can be perfectly fit on anyone, regardless of gender, sex or size. “We want to create a platform that will change [users’] behavior to act sustainably, leading to decrease in demand, consequently production and usage of physical clothes.

WHAT’S DOWN: Claiming to be a “social impact company” to win customers.

Mainstream media thinks consumers want sustainable brands when it is really the human interest narrative that is driving consumer interest. Companies that tell authentic stories that connect their social impact initiative to their brand purpose & consumer values are the ones achieving momentum through social impact.


Brands across all industries can leverage the 5 Drivers of Momentum to fuel momentum through their social impact initiatives:

  • Social Impact: Initiatives need to go beyond sustainability — having a real impact means dimensionalizing the brand’s values / mission / purpose and connecting with consumers’ values.
  • Disruption: Social impact initiatives should help consumers think about the brand from a new perspective — challenging their expectations and making them rethink what the brand stands for.
  • Innovation: Consumers want the brands they choose to reflect their own unique & personal values. Connecting how the brand’s social impact aligns with consumer values will create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) with that targeted consumer group.
  • Polarization: Rather than 1 social impact initiative that appeals to all of your consumers, social impact initiatives can be tailored to appeal to and engage more niche consumer groups.
  • Sticky: Storytelling is the most important element of social impact — consumers want the social capital that goes along with repping a brand they see is making a difference in the lives of others they identify with.

Leading the way with the new Social Impact: Amanda Gorman x ELC, Global Changemaker

Pointing towards the future, brands are finding innovative and creative ways to achieve authentic social impact through ever more niche storytelling.

Beyond fashion, beauty leader Estée Lauder Companies is changing the way brands achieve social impact. Amanda Gorman recently signed on as the company’s first Global Changemaker. To achieve her goal of advancing literacy, equity and access, Gorman will work with ELC from within: not just as the face of the brand, but also on the corporate level in a partnership mostly driven by Gorman’s personal vision.

According to Jane Hudis, the executive group president of the Estée Lauder Companies, she called Ms. Gorman’s agent as soon as the poet walked offstage, and they first spoke within an hour of her appearance.

“I felt as committed and passionate about creating a partnership as I’ve been about anything,” Ms. Hudis said — and she has been with the group for 35 years. “We essentially came to them with a blank page, because we knew we could do something that hadn’t been done before.”

Best Days Ahead,



Mike Berland

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M