Building a Better Brand with The Responsible Brand Toolkit

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 10/19/2020 | 5 Minute Read

How do you create a responsible brand? 

Well, to start, you need to figure out what constitutes a responsible brand. Does it involve effective brand marketing that gets your message across? Or is it fostering a healthy working community for employees? What about focusing on social impact?

Yes, yes, and yes—which, of course, can seem more than a little overwhelming. But with something like The Responsible Brand Toolkit, creating a brand that’s responsible or working to make an existing brand more conscientious isn’t the daunting task it may seem.

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“The world we live in now is so complicated, and people need clarity and assurance,” said Teresa Coles, partner and president of Riggs Partners. She and Matthew Manos, the founder of design strategy studio verynice, co-authored the toolkit. “Being able to harness these practices and tools that we’ve used with clients over the years, and that Matthew has as well, and putting it into a toolkit has been a great project.”

They launched the toolkit on Reginald, a platform that Matthew created to bring consulting expertise that is often so guarded to the masses using a pay-what-you-want system. By making this content easily accessible, Matthew hopes that more and more brands will consider their impact and responsibility to their employees, their customers, and the environment.

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“It’s trying to get people to not just have the quick, catchy marketing tagline about the impact they’re making, but to really become more aware of the impact they’re not making and to do something about it,” he explained.

Teresa and Matthew connected because so much of their work aligns with one another. Riggs Partners has focused a lot on helping nonprofits become more business savvy and companies become more soulful; verynice is all about how businesses can equally prioritize impact and revenue. So to create The Responsible Brand Toolkit, they first had to determine what “responsible” meant. After all, it’s an easy term to throw around, but not all brands and businesses put the heart into what it means.

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“Consumers have gotten smarter about the signs of a brand that is doing it to be buzzy, to where I think it’s a big incentive for a brand to actually take this seriously at this point,” Matthew said. “There’s been fewer big accomplishments in the space of balancing that external impact with the internal impact of things like organizational culture. So the idea of a responsible brand, from our point of view, marries both of those things.”

“It's about helping a brand be intentional, above all else,” added Teresa, “and being intentional from the standpoint of formulating what that brand stands for and what its mission and vision and purpose is in the world.”

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The Responsible Brand Toolkit walks people through various exercises that explore the three main pillars of a responsible brand: organizational culture, business strategy, and brand marketing.

While all of them are vital for a principled brand, organizational culture plays a particularly critical part. The work in that section of the toolkit forces participants to look inwards at the way they operate, emphasizing that any issues that lie within a brand will crack the foundation on which a brand gets built.

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“When you say ‘brand,’ most people immediately think ‘logo,’” Matthew said. “It always ends in that, and it has to be communicated. But by forcing people to hold that mirror up first, it ends up creating something much more sophisticated at the end of the day.”

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And brands may not initially like what they see, but that’s the point. This is a chance to review places they’ve failed and, more importantly, look for ways they can improve and do better. Both Matthew and Teresa admit the toolkit will take time to get through, and the best way to tackle it is section by section—not all at once, which could be overwhelming. By taking things one at a time and implementing new procedures at a more doable pace, brands have a better shot at embracing responsibility.

It can be done, too. Patagonia, for example, considers who makes their products, the facilities they use, and how the environment is affected. Greyston Bakery, which provides the delicious cookie dough and brownie bites found in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, has a policy of Open Hiring—meaning that even incarcerated individuals have a fair shot at employment. A range of CBD gummies called Not Pot donates a portion of every purchase to bail bonds for those imprisoned on marijuana charges.

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“It’s a really cool business model decision on the responsible side where they did look inward at their culture,” Matthew said. “And not only their culture but their industry’s culture.”

Matthew admitted that, in an ideal world, a brand is started from scratch using this toolkit. But realistically, most of the brands who will use this have been established for a while and may have many areas where they can improve. But the goal is progress, not perfection, and the result will ultimately make a brand more aligned with its mission.

“It’s a good litmus test, in the end, to ask if the culture a brand espouses meshes with the business strategy,” Teresa stated. “And does that match with how they talk about the brand in the marketplace? So what appears to be on the surface a very simple exercise is the compilation of a lot of strategic work, and it should look effortless in the end.”

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