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The Impact Of Purpose-Driven Design + Branding With Eric Ressler

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When you’re striving to create an impact with your venture, you need to have consistency in presenting your business. Having purpose-driven design and branding is key to effectively communicating what you’re doing and how your customers can lend a hand. So how do you do that? Today’s guest has the answers you need! Eric Ressler is the Founder and Creative Director at Cosmic, a Social Impact Creative Agency. He joins Corinna Bellizzi to discuss the importance of having a clarity of purpose in the social impact space. Eric shares tips on how you should go about building your brand and constructing your website to optimize your reach. Tune in and get great insight to help you care better!

About Eric Ressler

Eric Ressler is the Founder and Creative Director at Cosmic, a Social Impact Creative Agency. Cosmic empowers social impact organizations to catalyze real world change by helping them nail their impact story, build brand awareness, and inspire action.

 

Timestamps:

0:00 – Introduction

2:16 – How Cosmic started and its mission on social impact

4:53 – Social impact organizations

8:29 – Separating genuine companies from greenwashing and purpose-washing organizations

11:21 – Fairtrade certification

15:28 – Snickers, TOMS Shoes, Bombas socks, and Patagonia

24:35 – Optimizing marketing dollars

28:07 – Investing money on digital media

31:17 – Building a coherent resonant brand in the modern age

38:52 – Maintaining a real legacy

41:29 – Avoiding a state of apathy

43:38 – Cosmic’s mission on creating a healthy working environment

47:32 – Conclusion

 

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The Impact Of Purpose-Driven Design + Branding With Eric Ressler

You’ve landed right where you should be. If you’re looking for a great conversation about what it means to be purpose-driven, you are in the right place. On this show, we often talk about voting with your dollars so we can collectively do more good but you may not already know how to identify when a company is authentic if they’re greenwashing or purpose-washing. In this episode, we’re going to dig into that as I’m joined by a branding expert who spends his work-life working with socially driven companies and not-for-profit organizations.

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It’s my pleasure to introduce you to a fellow do-gooder from Santa Cruz. Eric Ressler is a Founder and Creative Director at Cosmic, A Social Impact Creative Agency. Cosmic empowers social impact organizations to catalyze real world change by helping them nail their impact story, build brand awareness and inspire action. Eric, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me on.

Let’s talk about what was the catalyst that drove you to start Cosmic. First, what fires you up and second, why Cosmic?

Since a young age, I’ve always been compelled and driven through acts of creativity in many different forms from music, stop motion animation, videography and traditional art. Growing up, creativity is always an important part of my identity, life and passion. As I started to move into a career path, that started to crystallize in the discipline of design and digital media.

I started freelancing doing consulting work with clients, mostly on digital experiences, websites and brands. That organically built over time through freelance work and then another firm that I started and ended up moving on and then ultimately, led to me creating Cosmic. Cosmic has been around for years. We were born out of a coworking space that you probably know called NextSpace here in Santa Cruz.

The demand for the work that I was doing grew to the point where it became necessary to bring other team members on to help and expand the services and offerings. When we first got started, we were open to doing almost anything for people that were building businesses, startups, B2B and B2C brands. We always took projects that we were motivated by but a lot of them were very driven by profit, growth and the traditional ways that you think about with companies.

We did that for a long time and we cut our teeth doing that work with Silicon Valley startups and enterprise brands. Alongside that also are some non-profits and social enterprises. We grew as an agency and learned a lot. We started to think about our positioning, niche and how we wanted to stand out as a firm. What we wanted to do is spend our days doing as an agency and as people.

It’s not necessarily true that the only way to do good is through being a nonprofit. There are situations where a market-based approach or an innovation-based approach are equally effective, if not more.

Years ago, we took a hard look at that and decided we wanted to focus our efforts only on doing work in the social impact space and put a stake in the ground around that work. Deepen our expertise, experience and offerings to those types of organizations. We made the call, shifted the brand and only looked forward from there.

Do you have any examples that you think are great bastions of what it is that you do?

There are so many that come to mind for me. We’re lucky and this is an intentional thing but there are other firms that focus on doing work only for nonprofits. We made a very conscious decision to use the terminology of social impact organizations. That’s more of an umbrella term that encompasses also social enterprises, funders, foundations and philanthropists because we don’t believe that the only way to do good is through being a nonprofit.

We do think that there are situations where a market-based approach or an innovation-based approach is equally effective, if not more effective in certain situations. I can list a few from those different categories. We’ve done a lot of work with an awesome organization called the Romero Institute. They have a number of different programs that they’re doing around social justice and climate justice.

In 2020, we launched a campaign with them called Let’s Green California. That is a climate justice campaign trying to bring more climate action to the forefront in California from a legislative approach. It’s an awesome campaign. I’d highly recommend that everyone check it out because it’s meant to serve as a model for how we can start to make some meaningful action on this urgent issue of climate justice and action. That one comes to mind. We’ve done other work with them as well.

On the other side of things from the social enterprise side, we wrapped up some work with an organization called Wind Harvest that has an awesome technological innovation in the wind space. When you think about wind energy, you think about these massive turbines that you see driving out on the highway and the rolling hills.

They’ve developed a smaller wind turbine that’s called a vertical-axis turbine. Instead of it spinning like a pinwheel, it rotates parallel with the ground. It’s tapping into this previously unutilized energy source of near ground wind that traditional turbines can’t leverage. It’s an interesting technological innovation, which we believe is a very important part of the larger solution to climate action.

They have invented this cool technology that is going to open up all of this new energy and resource. That’s going to be critical to solving some of these issues and can serve in some new niches that wind wasn’t a possibility for. It could also expand these wind farms by leveraging more of the wind power that’s already being funneled through them. That was a fun project to work on as well.

With the added benefit of not damaging or killing birds of prey who fly through because that has been one of the problems associated with the larger traditional wind turbines that you and I are used to seeing on the sides of the highways. The number of deaths each year of birds that serve the ecosystem was pretty ginormous.

The truth is it’s not perfect but they are significantly less impactful on wildlife, birds of prey and other wildlife as well. It’s a good point and it’s good to hear that you’re informed on the issues.

CMBB 42 | Purpose Driven Design
Purpose Driven Design: There are all kinds of companies trying to leverage cause marketing and greenwashing to try to attract that demographic of conscious consumers.

Animal activism is the next big dive I’m going to take. I’m focused on where we’ve been with regard to social impact and sustainability but that animal activism is alive and well in my heart. We’ll get there. Before we get into talking so much about what your agency does and how it helps companies achieve the results in front of them, I’d like for you to provide your personal take on how you identify and select companies that you want to support with your dollars. How you can tell greenwashing and purpose-washing from the real deal? I imagine doing the work you do, you’ve gotten pretty good at that.

For me, it comes down to the word authenticity and that can mean a lot of different things to different people. In my life, I’m always looking for companies that are responsible and sustainable but come through on their promise. What we’re seeing is that as this next generation of conscious consumers grows and grows and becomes more and more important to tap into as a brand, there are all kinds of companies trying to leverage cause marketing and cause messaging.

Greenwashing and cause-washing to try to attract that demographic of conscious consumers. The space is getting quite noisy and there are a lot of promises being made that are not kept. You’re seeing cause-washing campaigns coming out of ExxonMobil for example. Not to say that they can’t improve and make some progress on the work that they’re doing and shift their organization but at the same time, what are they sweeping under the rug, what’s their history and their ethos been as an organization.

When I’m assessing a brand in my personal life, I’m looking at what they say and I’m looking at what they do. That sounds very simple but if you can do that authentically, dig in and start to assess organizations from that lens, it can help a lot to try and figure out who you should support and who you shouldn’t support.

I spend a little bit of time when I’m assessing a new brand. I start by digging into their website. It’s a good place to start but I’m also looking at other sources because when you look at these brands, they have complete control over the narrative on their site. If you start to do some lateral reading and look at other sources of information, whether it’s news articles from the press that you trust or there are other vetting groups that are out there that will do write-ups on organizations and assess their impact from a sustainability and social justice standpoint, that’s a good approach that I’ve learned that’s effective versus only digging into their marketing efforts. It’s a good place to start, to look at reports and things like that on their site but I would highly recommend looking at other sources to judge organizations in terms of their social and environmental impact.

I’ve seen a few examples that are incredible. Fairtrade organization is doing a lot of work to make sure that people are fairly paid for the quality of material that they produce. However, there are some companies that are seeking to best those standards and don’t see the same value in paying for Fairtrade certification. They’re doing a lot of additional work to try and educate their consumers about how they’ve raised the bar. At the same time to a consumer, they might be skeptical of that. Is it marketing? How have you documented it? Can I look at that? That’s the value of that third-party certification.

In an episode, I interviewed Mokhtar Alkhanshali of Port of Mokha Coffee. That’s one example where he’s paying the farmers far more than a living wage, which would traditionally be in Yemen. With that, he hasn’t yet gone out and got specifically that Fairtrade certification. There was another company I studied in graduate school. I’m forgetting the brand but they were doing chocolate from Brazil and exclusively working with some of these interesting locations where they were besting organic and Fairtrade practices.

I get a little skeptical often when I see these marketing spiels because I know how much work goes into documenting them. It’s a lot of work on the part of the consumer to assume that they might do that. If we can even look to buy a Fairtrade coffee and chocolate that’s organic certified, we are generally going to know that the quality is better.

I do think that there is a need for a new social impact certification that can rate companies based on what they’re doing a little differently. If a company, for instance, is giving back to local shelters in their environment, local communities or something along those lines, it could be ratified from the outside the impact that they’re making in some way. Do you know of anything that’s in the horizon in that area?

The closest thing that comes to mind for me other than the examples that you already referenced with regards to Fairtrade and certified organic would be the B Corp system, trying to operationalize and standardize what it means to be a benefit corporation. They’re a nonprofit themselves. It’s an interesting and fascinating topic.

Coffee was the very first thing that pops into my brain when you were talking about this because I know of a number of coffee brands that aren’t Fairtrade certified but best the standards set by Fairtrade. They do that from a perspective of quality first but by striving for optimal quality, you also need to treat everyone in the supply chain in a humane way.

It’s an interesting topic. My thinking immediately goes to these third-party certifications and processes like that but there’s a slippery slope there too because they aren’t able to always be a seal of trust or accurate across different segments of the market in these specialized ways. In short, I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here. If the closest thing to a silver bullet is going to be around everyone having values around these things, being committed to supporting the right organizations, being willing to do a little bit of research, thinking about their choices and how they’re able to vote with their dollar, which companies they support and which companies they don’t support.

By striving for optimal quality, you also need to treat everyone in the supply chain in a humane way.

With that said, that’s also somewhat a privileged thing. Not everyone has the time to do that and not everyone has the money to support these organizations. I do worry a little bit about putting too much personal responsibility on the consumer or the everyday person. Showing my cards a little bit about how our systems need to change, I do think some of these need to happen at the policy level as well.

If we make it easier for them to better understand. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that in the chocolate case, for example, not everyone is going to go out there and buy a $10 bar of chocolate but part of the problem is that they see it as a candy like Snickers you might buy for a $1 The chocolate that we’re producing in this Fairtrade way or even a bested Fairtrade capacity uses more cacao and a single bar than you would probably see in ten Snickers bars. If it gives you a different perspective on what you’re consuming and how being a little bit more mindful about the choices and purchases you’re making and the quality that you’re getting that is far different from what you see from a Snickers bar.

You’re not even comparing apples to apples. It’s a totally different product.

It’s a completely different field. We need to change our headset. One of the things I find a little frustrating is that sometimes a brand as big as, for instance, TOMS Shoes, made a name for themselves in the social impact space. They would do a buy one, give one. You buy a pair of shoes and they would give a pair of shoes to somebody in a community that would need them.

A lot of people perceive that that’s still happening and it’s not. They’ve shifted how they do their cause partnerships to being more aligned with what good they’re doing in the world and other ways. You’ll see the founders and also the people leading TOMS defending that choice and saying, “It’s because we could do more good in more communities in these ways than by giving shoes and shoes weren’t always something that was needed or wanted.”

However, the challenge there is that they haven’t adequately communicated that change with the public. They still get used as this example consistently by people like, “TOMS Shoes is that one for one shoe company.” That’s an interesting challenge too. Maybe what they’re doing is better but they’re not very good yet at communicating that change with the public.

We wrote an article about this exact topic. That was fun to write. TOMS carved out a niche and a name for themselves and are credited with pioneering the buy one, give one model. There were other brands doing it before them but they were one of the most successful, at least in getting the PR around it. I am very intrigued to see how this plays out. It’s a relative change in their business model. One of the reasons why it’s been difficult to communicate this change is because they have such a strong reputation for their old model. It’s built into the public understanding and to some extent like the zeitgeist of who they are. It’s an easy story to tell.

That’s the power of that buy one, give one model for social enterprises. It’s very tangible, clear, emotionally charged in a good way and it’s a simple message from a brand messaging standpoint. That is great and has a lot of benefits to it. What I applaud TOMS for is they started looking at the impact around that model. Was it the right thing? They got a lot of criticism around, “You’re giving folks shoes. They don’t have water.” That’s more important.

There are other issues. It wasn’t always water because they’re serving a number of different communities. In our article, that’s not the only reason. They were also facing a lot of financial difficulties. A lot of other folks were trying to adopt the same model and do the same thing. Sell shoes for cheaper or give back more than one pair. They were running into obstacles from a business operation standpoint. I don’t think it was only out of the goodness of their heart that they made the shift. I do believe that they have an authentic, purposeful mission in their organization and have a track record of making solid choices. The challenge then is it’s a much more difficult brand story.

It can sound a little convoluted because they’re doing water projects in one spot and something else somewhere else. They’re trying to make a system where their consumers can play in and have a bit of a choice in how they’re using their dollars. However, it’s not one cause so it’s not a clear message anymore.

That’s a huge challenge from a branding perspective, which I don’t think means you shouldn’t do it. If that’s what you believe as a business leader thinking about the executive team at TOMS, how they’re making choices around their business model and how their marketing supports that, I don’t think that because it’s hard, you shouldn’t do it. If you think that’s the way, you’re going to be able to make the most impact as an organization.

What’s interesting to me from an ethical perspective is who’s setting these agendas. It’s their leadership team. Yes. They’re listening to their consumers but this starts to get into an ethical dilemma around how you make choices around prioritization when there are so many urgent issues across the country and world. How do you choose what cause to support? How do you take dollars earned through selling goods and distribute them to those most in need? How do you set priorities?

CMBB 42 | Purpose Driven Design
Purpose Driven Design: If you’re unclear on your purpose, unique strengths, or niche, you don’t really know how to craft the right marketing message or brand story, how to invest dollars, where, for who, and what you’re asking people to do.

My understanding is they essentially sat down as a team and it was probably informed by consumer research. They looked at what do we think are the most pressing issues, the most accessible issues in terms of consumers understanding them? We’re going to prioritize supporting those initiatives. That’s an interesting concept. I’m curious to see how this plays out for them and to see if other organizations similar to TOMS take a look at this and move away from the buy one, give one approach.

Another good example is Bombas socks. They chose the right partnership. I see that one lasting because socks aren’t incredibly expensive and homeless people are always going to need new socks more than one pair at a time. It feels like something that has depth and breadth that can grow and be scalable with time.

Scaling is the big problem that TOMS faced because you’re essentially doubling your cost for an item that’s already somewhat expensive to make. You create new shoes and then you’re creating high heels. Are you giving a pair of high heels to somebody in Africa and some village? That doesn’t exactly make sense. What is it going to look like going forward?

It’s such an interesting communication challenge. One of the brands that I follow closely is Patagonia. It seems so clear and simple that they would protect and preserve open spaces. It works towards climate activism because they’re an outdoorsy company. That’s the lifestyle they’re promoting. It all lies in. They did make some political choices but ultimately, it feeds their business. That’s a company to keep an eye on.

They’re always a go-to example for me especially because they’ve been able to make it work so well for them and it’s a win-win for everyone. When they make choices that are framed around activism, it impacts their bottom line in a good way, more so than when they’re selling products. I feel like they are a brand that understands its audience and ethos and has incredible integrity as an organization.

What’s interesting tying this back to the initial question is that it’s easy to tell that they have integrity through their choices, actions and communications. There are other organizations that it’s not so easy to tell. I feel like at some level as a consumer, if it starts to feel murky, dig into that and there’s probably a reason for it. The reason might be that they don’t have a very good marketing team. That’s not great to not support someone because they haven’t nailed their marketing in the same way that an organization like Patagonia has.

I would listen to your intuition around those things. Patagonia has done an incredible job. Not even from a marketing perspective but from a brand strategy perspective and an operational perspective, having integrity around the choices that they make and how that supports their purpose and ethos as a brand.

They’ve stayed committed to that same perspective for a very long time at this point. Hats off to Patagonia. Keep doing the good work. Worn wear. Normalizing used clothing. That’s huge. If they’re talking about regeneration, it’s another huge topic. One foot in front of the other. I want to get to a topic around crafting that message and using time. Let’s talk about the how of what you do at Cosmic.

There’s a new social platform. Companies often feel overwhelmed, particularly as they startup. If you’re talking to a new business trying to get their legs, they’re overwhelmed. When it comes to where they need to focus, how they get their message out and ensuring that they have an impact with each dollar spent with limited resources at our fingertips and want to do the most good with every one of them, the marketing dollars that we do have. How do you guide your clients through all these challenges?

It’s a big question. I’m going to do my best to keep it concise. The general perspective that I have on this starts with this concept of the attention economy, which is something that some of your readers may be familiar with. The short version of the attention economy is that most folks in modern culture are overwhelmed with information.

Information is no longer a scarcity like it’s been in previous cultures and time periods especially because we’re so connected digitally. The scarcity is how do you capture people’s attention especially through these digital channels and with all of these new platforms coming out all of the time. One of the things that we believe strongly in is we want organizations that are focused on social impact to understand this concept, at least at a fundamental level.

They’re playing in this space whether or not they accept, realize or understand it. We believe that understanding this concept of the attention economy is a prerequisite that shapes the rest of the work. That’s one big element of it. We can go on and on about that but I don’t think we need to go much deeper.

The second element of what we think about is what we call defining your niche in the ecosystem. In the business world, this would be referred to as positioning and differentiation. In the social impact space, we like the niche ecosystem metaphor especially because some of the organizations that we’re working with don’t have traditional competitors in the same way to the business would.

There’s power in that buy one, give one model for social enterprises. It’s very tangible, clear, emotionally charged in a good way, and it’s a simple message from a brand messaging standpoint.

You’re fighting for resources but you’re often working synergistically with other partner organizations. The way that we think about this is, “What are your unique strengths and offerings as an organization that no one else can claim to the same level that you can and getting super crystal clear about that?” If you don’t do that, all of your marketing efforts are going to be lackluster and shooting in the dark at some level.

If you’re trying to hit too many audiences, if you’re not clear on your purpose, unique strengths or niche then you don’t know how to craft the right marketing message and the right brand story. How to invest dollars? Where and for who? What you’re asking people to do? Nailing that, those two concepts to me are the two key core pillars of the rest of the strategy.

Once you get those, you can start to get clear about what the right choices are with regards to what platforms you use. What content you produce? Who the contents for? What you want people to do after consuming your content or interacting with the brand? If you can get those two really clear, the rest starts to become much clearer as well.

To me, this leads to having a discussion about the optimization of digital media because there are so much. Maybe for some brands that’s driving more traffic to their website and having more of a concerted conversation through that website.Typically, a brand is going to choose at least one social platform to try to own in their space. How should we invest our resources of money and time in this digital world?

Context dependent is the short answer but another metaphor that we go to a lot is if you think about digital engagement, whether that’s digital fundraising or advertising for the purpose of sales if you’re a corporation or a social enterprise, it’s about building a flywheel or machine that you can invest in and build over time to engage your community.

If we look at that machine and we think about this metaphor of a flywheel, your website is the hub of that flywheel. The social channels, email, paid media and all of that are nodes that lead back to the website as the main hub. We want the website to be not your front door but your living room. It’s not necessarily where folks are going to come in and their first touch with your brand may be through a social post or a forwarded email from a friend or some piece of collateral in the real world even.

The website is the thing that you own. It’s your owned media. It’s the thing that you have the most control over. It shouldn’t be a place that your supporters or customers can come and engage as deeply as they want to at that point. We want it to be something that is the home base. It serves as a conduit to further nurturing and relationship development with your customers or your supporters.

How do you make the most out of all of this? You want to make sure that your website is set up in a way that’s going to allow people to engage more deeply. One of the big mistakes that we see especially in the nonprofit space, is they think of the website as being a place to tell their story. It should do that but it’s not the primary purpose of the website. Social enterprises especially eCommerce brands are a little bit better about this in general because it’s a little bit more intuitive.

Your website should be a place that tells your supporters or your community how they can get involved and engaged with what you’re doing. It needs to be framed that way. Certainly, there can be a place for storytelling but we see the website as being a tool that drives change in the real world and it needs to be thought of that way. Until the website is set up in that way, your investment in paid media is going to be stymied by the fact that your website isn’t structured properly. That’s critical to the whole machine functioning properly. If you don’t have that hub strong then it doesn’t matter how many great spokes you have attached to it.

I couldn’t agree more and I probably need your help with my website in that arena, to be frank. I have a question that maybe is too big for this particular conversation but I love your 30,000-foot view. How do you build a coherent resonant brand in the modern age and best get that message out there? Perhaps you have an example of a brand that you think is doing great work whether or not it’s your own.

This is another big question that there’s so much context that’s important. There’s not a silver bullet answer to this. To me, I do think it comes back to this concept of authenticity to bring it back to the beginning of our conversation. A lot of times brands are trying to grow. They’re trying to get to the next stage, reach and make progress, which is great. That intuition is important. You don’t want to be a stagnant brand.

If you don’t have a clarity of purpose, an authentic commitment, an internal, cultural alignment around that within your leadership team and staff and you’re trying to play and present yourself as being bigger or something other than what you are and what you believe in, it’s going to come through even subconsciously to your supporters, audience and community.

Brands spent more time owning who they are and being okay with that. It doesn’t mean you can’t be in a growth mindset to do that or you can’t make progress even rapidly. That’s a much larger issue than people realize it is. To me, that’s a very high-level answer to that question. In terms of how you roll that out, a lot of brand building is internal. A lot of times people think about brand building and marketing as an external effort.

It is important to do that work well externally and it has external return on investment. It’s an important element of growing the business but people don’t realize how important that brand building is from an internal perspective as well in terms of building a solid team that’s aligned around clarity of purpose, a vision that lives and breathes that and understands it clearly. It can’t just be the leadership team. It has to be holistic throughout the organization.

Let’s say a company has done all that hard work. They’re clear. They’ve got their message and they’re getting it out there but they don’t feel like they’re doing quite enough in the social impact space. I love your perspective on companies that choose a percent of profits or sales to a social initiative as opposed to other methods. If you have a leaning in your preference when you work with brands.

CMBB 42 | Purpose Driven Design
Purpose Driven Design: Your website should be a place that tells your supporters or your community how they can get involved and engaged with what you’re doing.

Compared to a buy one, give one model?

Yeah or maybe the product is the cause in some way.

It’s an interesting question because it comes down to this market-based approach to issues versus what would traditionally be called a charity-based approach. The thing that I think about is that with these large issues, these structural issues, these issues that have been unsolved for a long time that is getting worse or that we haven’t been able to solve these kinds of intractable issues, I don’t think there’s any one sector that’s going to solve it. I don’t think it can only be solved by the government, free market and nonprofits. These issues need to be solved structurally from a systems-level holistically. That often means these three different sectors come together and bring their unique strengths to the table.

Some issues need to be solved through organizations that are either nonprofits or government institutions that don’t have any commercial imperative in mind when they’re solving issues. Their only focus is on dedicating the right amount of resources to the issue and getting people involved to deeply care about them who have deep expertise in the issue. A commercial element or market-based element to it is only going to get in the way of that happening.

On the flip side, there are other issues, where having a market-based approach, having a need to make a profit or having some market-driven structure to the organization creates innovation. An example of this is there’s a lot of innovation being done in fashion. A brand that’s a favorite of mine, Allbirds, has done a lot of cool innovation around creating a more sustainable sneaker.

If you had gotten a nonprofit together to come up with that, would they have done it? I don’t know. Maybe but I do think there is something having to compete in the free market that can breathe innovation. I’m not personally a believer in free-market solving all things. I do think that there needs to be a balance between these three sectors. Where I see the social enterprise side adding a lot of value is that innovation. It’s because they’re able to be structured in different ways and they have to compete in the free market so it can breathe that innovation.

At some level back to your original question around the percentage of profits versus buy one, give one and versus other models, it comes down to the ethos of the brand. What I’m interested in is some of these organizations who start out as social enterprises selling products, will they start to move more and more towards a foundation style model where they’re making profits and they’re distributing those profits into causes that care about as TOMS has done?

It’s an interesting thing to see. The lines are starting to blur a lot between nonprofits and social enterprises. We’re seeing a lot of nonprofits trying to sell products or services as a source of revenue instead of only relying on donations and grants. There’s a single answer to the question but those are some of the things that I think about around that topic.

I’m even thinking about doing things like creating swag for the show to help promote it. It’s been a challenge because I’m trying to be as eco-minded as possible. If I look at everything through the lens of being mindful of sustainability and social impact, suddenly I’m like, “There’s almost nothing I could create that I feel fits the ethos of the brand beyond maybe a journal made out of apples.”

I saw one of those wasted recycled apples that have become a notebook. I’m like, “That’s creative and interesting.” It’s not made in some country that has slave labor as a challenge or something like that. There are so many industries where it’s very challenging to keep both of those things in mind and in a central frame where you’re creating a product to advertise a show even that is mindful of all of those things. It makes it very difficult to stay authentic with the brand and ultimately means that I don’t have swag yet.

That’s something that even our small brand has struggled with. We want to do swag for the team, clients and partners. It’s hard to source sustainably and ethically made products especially at a small scale. You can do it a little bit easier if you’re doing large productions. All of a sudden, it’s quite expensive and then you even want to think about it like, “Do we need to create more stuff?” You can start to spiral out pretty quickly.

When you’re in the social impact space, there’s a need to be attuned to culture regardless of your business model.

One of the things I got thinking about when we were having our initial conversation is how many brands have a real legacy following but might feel a little stale to the consumers and then start to lose some of the impacts that they’re making even if they’re doing great things? I wondered if you had a perspective on this if there’s a secret to staying fresh no matter the time that passes so it’s not necessary to do giant brand overhauls. Some of these legacy brands can maybe catch up with time by changing their approach.

I think about this a lot with some large nonprofits who’ve been doing good work for many years but are losing cultural relevance, especially as some of their core supporters are aging out. There’s a need when you’re in the social impact space regardless of your business model to be attuned to culture. Culture is rapidly changing especially in 2020 with a large digital transformation happening.

It means being attuned to the culture and bringing people on the team who look, act and are part of the communities that you’re trying to serve, which touches around diversity, inclusivity and hiring. By doing that, that will even go a long way because you’re going to organically start to bring in a culture of people who are more attuned to what’s happening in the modern world.

What we’ve seen is brands get comfortable. They have a way of doing things that worked for a long time until it doesn’t work. Then they get caught in this state of paralysis because they were not planning to have to make any large shifts around some of these things. What it comes down to is keeping your pulse on where culture is moving, how people are interacting with brands, supporting brands and getting their information.

Within reason, staying up to speed on where the world’s moving. If you can do that through research, through bringing in the team and staff members who are already organically attuned to that culture and making sure that you’re not getting too comfortable as a brand and doing things because that’s the way it’s always worked, that’s where we’ve seen even large brands make strategic shifts that have kept them culturally relevant.

Hire new people. Keep some fresh new perspectives in your realm. That’s critical too. As we prepare to wrap up, is there a question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had?

We’ve covered so much. This has been such a great conversation and a little bit different compared to some of the other podcasts that I’ve been on. I appreciate that. An interesting topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot that’s relevant to this is how do you stay motivated and stay in space as an individual, whether this is through your work or personal life and not get into a state of apathy as these issues become more urgent, pressing and larger in scale? We need to have a conversation in America and other countries as well around how do we protect our own health and sanity in a culture that seems to be speeding up with more and more information every day?

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot as a leader and human is how do I stay in a space of openness and of optimism when so much seems to be going wrong in the world with the pandemic and climate crisis? Sometimes it feels like you’re an ant trying to push a glacier on some of these issues. Some of that comes down to creating space for yourself around your own balance in life in a way that allows you to stay activated, motivated, healthy and strong versus crushed and apathetic, which is easy to do.

If you’re working on issues that are urgent and critical to the survival of life on earth, you can get into this mode of wanting to not stop and keep going. If you’re not careful, that starts to work against you. You can do a sprint but if you try and sprint the entire marathon, you’re not going to make it. Finding ways to stay balanced as a person is going to be a more sustainable approach. “What does that look like for you as an individual?” It’s something we spend a lot of time thinking about.

At Cosmic, we work a four-day work week. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure we’re not burning our team out, even though we work hard and we get a lot done. Creativity happens when you’re in a space of openness, curiosity and empathy. Not in a space of burnout and charging forward at all costs. That’s an important part of the conversation that’s not often discussed through the lens of social or environmental justice because that’s about fighting for what’s right and standing up. That’s an important part of it too. That needs to be counterbalanced with time to rest, relax and enjoy your time on earth as well.

We should all seek to have a little bit more balance in our lives than we presently do. If you’re working from home and also caring for your kids at home, even the four walls of your house start to feel like they’re creeping in on you. It’s important to get space when you can. I work from home, live at home and everything else. I’m going to the Seacliff Inn in Santa Cruz.

It’s up to us but it’s getting outside of the four walls of my home for a weekend with the kids to be at poolside. It’s not a lot of stress because I’m not getting on a plane. I’m not doing any of those things. We’re in our local area. We’ll go for hikes that are a little closer to there without as much drive time. We’ll go to the beach and walk around. It’s not going to be a huge investment but it’s also a welcome break.

That’s great in terms of rest and relaxation but even beyond that, just perspective-shifting, getting out of your routine. It’s good to have a routine but part of the routine should be getting out of the routine too. Oftentimes, that’s where your best thinking, ideas and new perspectives come from. I’m a huge believer in things like that.

CMBB 42 | Purpose Driven Design
Purpose Driven Design: People don’t realize how important brand building is from an internal perspective in terms of building a solid team that’s aligned around clarity of purpose and a vision that lives, breathes, and understands it clearly.

Quiet time. Some of your best ideas come when you’re trying not to think at all. What would you like to leave with us, perhaps a closing thought or a call to action?

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in these topics to visit the website at DesignByCosmic.com. We have a manifesto that encapsulates some of the larger thinking, philosophies and our perspectives doing this work. Even beyond that, we have a section of our site called Insights where we have a bunch of free resources, articles and opinion pieces but even more tactical resources that you can get for free on the site.

If you’re an organization doing this work or even a person that cares about this work, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy because we think it’s the right thing to do. Honestly, we can’t always work with smaller organizations. This is one of our ways of giving back and providing some of our thinking and resources for free. If this is something that’s interesting to you at all, I highly recommend checking that out on the site and hopefully, that adds some valuable perspectives in the work that you guys are doing.

Thank you, Eric, for all you do. I’ve enjoyed this conversation too. It’s been incredible.

Thanks so much for having me on the show.

If our readers want to get in touch with you directly, how should they do that?

Go to the site. There’s a contact form there. I totally welcome anyone who’s interested in connecting to email me at Eric@DesignByCosmic.com. I’m happy to set up a short Zoom chat with anyone who wants to riff on this stuff. We might be a good fit to help out with some of this work.

You never know where that inspiration will come from. I always try to take people up on those offers if I’m interested in what they’re talking about. I encourage my readers if you’ve enjoyed this conversation, if you think you could learn more from Eric, reach out to him. He’s given you that gift. Thank you so much.

Thanks for having me on. This is a great conversation.

Readers, I’d like to invite you to act. It doesn’t have to be huge. It could be as simple as sharing this show with those in your community that you think could benefit from it. You could visit Cosmic’s website. To find suggestions, you can always visit our action page on CareMoreBeBetter.com. I invite you all to join the community that we are building. You can follow us on Social Spaces @CareMoreBeBetter or send us an email to Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com. I want to hear from you. Thank you, readers, now and all ways for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more.

 

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  • Eric Ressler

    Eric Ressler is the Founder and Creative Director at Cosmic, a Social Impact Creative Agency. Cosmic empowers social impact organizations to catalyze real world change by helping them nail their impact story, build brand awareness, and inspire action.

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