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NYC-based brand strategy agency Grounded is on a mission to help brands, retailers and nonprofits activate their purpose and close the stubborn consumer intent-to-action gap.
After more than twenty years in marketing — working with some of the biggest
names in the business — Phil White and his co-founder and partner, Heidi Schoeneck,
decided that “selling stuff” is not enough. Based on their firm belief that
making money and doing right by people and the planet are not mutually
exclusive, they founded their brand strategy agency, Grounded.
As a certified B Corp, their aim is to help brands, retailers and nonprofits
better articulate and activate their purpose, and accelerate impact at retail.
Working with like-minded brands and organizations, they have developed
innovative business partnerships that can support social enterprise and seek out
sustainable solutions to global problems — many of which are becoming
increasingly more urgent in the context of the current pandemic — as well as
being a founding partner of our own Brands for
We caught up with Phil and Heidi, who shared their company’s vision with us — as
well as some of the impacts of their work.
Phil White: We both used to lead strategy and creative, respectively; for a
global brand activation agency, here in New York. Our biggest client was
Unilever. We won awards for
marketing effectiveness ... and witnessed the power of purposeful
brand-building, but always felt that we could (and probably should) do more.
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
Making money and making a difference shouldn’t be mutually exclusive (that’s
where the name Grounded came from, by the way — the idea of having one foot
planted in purpose and the other in profit!). So, we became a B Corp in our
first year, because we wanted to show up knowing that we ourselves understood
exactly what it takes to use business as a force for good and maintain the very
highest standards in governance and social and environmental impact.
Over the past 24 months or so, with encouragement from friends at the United
Nations and great support from the Sustainable Brands™ community,
we’ve doubled down on helping brands, retailers and nonprofits better articulate
their purpose, activate their brands and accelerate impact at retail. We believe
that the way people shop and the brands they buy really do have the power to
change the world, and every purchase can be a step towards a more sustainable
PW: Well, as any shopper
will tell you, retail is where the rubber hits the road. That’s where brands get
bought and behavior can be influenced, changed and even ‘re-looped’ for the
However, there is still a huge intent-to-action
Although many people say they will buy and even pay more for environmentally
sustainable and socially responsible products — only a quarter actually do so.
Coming out of COVID, we’ve seen a huge shift in the way retailers engage with
their stakeholders and the broader community; along with many switching or
accelerating their efforts towards e-comm and omni-channel shopping experiences.
Recent research also reveals that 63 percent of
expect companies to continue efforts supporting social and environmental issues
during this pandemic, and 81
say that we expect brands to do the right thing. So, there is a tremendous
opportunity for reimagining what’s possible.
Heidi Schoeneck: If you can figure out what your brand uniquely stands for,
what the shopper wants and what the world really needs — that space in between
provides the ideal opportunity for a brand, retailer and nonprofit to
collaborate and co-create a social enterprise-based partnership. That solution
can then be scaled to generate sustainable revenue and impact. In other words,
the solution often lies at the intersection of brand experience, commercial
innovation and social impact.
One of the best examples that has stood the test of time, and is still held up
by the United Nations Office of Partnerships (UNOP) as best in class, is
the Pampers One Pack One
campaign. Phil was fortunate enough to be part of the team that helped build it
out and activate it at retail around the world. Even thirteen years later, 53
million women worldwide are still at risk from Maternal and Newborn Tetanus. It
is a fatal, yet preventable, disease. Yet, tragically, the life of a newborn is
claimed every 15 minutes! It’s a stark reminder that meaningful transformation
takes time and commitment that many short-term promotional or PR ‘marketing’
campaigns’ are ill-equipped to deliver.
It takes a combination of strategy, marketing, innovation, partnership-building,
creative facilitation and exponential thinking to develop solutions like these
that can build brand equity, remain behaviorally ‘sticky’ and stay the course
HS: We’ve been working with UNOP ever since we started. Ultimately, what
we’d love to do is create a global platform (which we’re calling the UNicorns
Assembly) that brings together purpose-driven brands, nonprofits and retailers
who want to collaborate, monetize and then scale their impact by innovating
breakthrough solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges (otherwise known as the
So, rather than celebrate startups that are valued at $1bn before they’ve even
turned a profit, we want to champion social enterprise startups that have the
potential to transform a billion lives. To borrow a line from Peter
Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize: ”The world’s biggest problems present
us with the world’s biggest business opportunities.” We couldn’t agree more.
In fact we’ve always said (often to raised eyebrows) that “Social Innovation is
the new marketing and Brand activism is the new sex! What we mean by that is
that when brands, retailers and nonprofits join arms to solve consumer needs and
global problems and have the courage to take a stand, they will win hearts,
minds and wallets. And if we can help create scalable partnerships and solutions
to genuine market opportunities that deliver sustainable revenues for everyone
involved, then social enterprise should become the most powerful instrument for
change the world has ever seen. Now that’s pretty sexy, isn’t it?
PW: Yes, of course! We’re developing a toolkit which will be available to all BfG
members — to help brands activate purpose at retail, close this intent-to-action
gap, and make sure the behavior change sticks!
Based on the Brands for Good lifestyle transformation roadmap and 9 key
with inspiration from behavioral economics, anthropology and the social
sciences), we are developing the ultimate suite of tools, tactics and training
to help partners and members better articulate and activate their purpose, and
accelerate impact at retail.
In fact, if you are a brand or retailer and would like to join us on this
journey — by contributing feedback, points of view, case studies and examples;
or even help shape the thinking and approach, then we’d love to hear from you.
Please do get in touch!
Published Jul 30, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.