Innovator Insights: EVERFI’s Lauren Bernstein

Innovator Insights: EVERFI’s Lauren Bernstein

Having spent more than 10 years working in ad agencies on major client campaigns, it’s fair to say Lauren Bernstein knows a lot about marketing. She also knows that, no matter who you are, there’s always a lot still to learn – such as how best to weave social impact into the marketing that brands do. 

At EVERFI from Blackbaud, the leader in powering social impact through education, Bernstein serves as Head of Enterprise Partnerships for its Corporate Impact team. That means she works with brands looking to drive positive and sustainable change among audiences ranging from the customers of large businesses to non-profits and students. 

The scope of what “social impact” can cover varies widely. Depending on the nature of a brand’s mission, vision and values, for instance, EVERFI can offer education and training programs that speak to diversity and inclusion, career readiness and mental health. 

Bernstein, who originally joined EVERFI as a marketing manager in 2013, said she’s noticed a significant shift in how brands evaluate the opportunities around social impact and the depth at which they participate. 

“I think a lot of companies have realized that social impact has to be a foundational pinpoint around what they do, who they are and their storytelling,” Bernstein told Brand Innovators. “It’s not just a one-off thing that they do, like a black tie fundraiser. Those events can be helpful, but there’s now an understanding that brands can have much more of a longer-term, deeper-rooted commitment.”

Aligning social impact with brand relevance and customer context

Of course, brands like Patagonia and TOMS shoes are well known for their social impact work, but some brands might understandably wonder if they can – or should – follow in their footsteps. 

Bernstein suggested that, depending on the category, brands should look to issues that naturally align with the interests and pain points of their target audience. 

Think of this as a Venn diagram with the brand’s corporate interests in one circle, what consumers ask of the brand in the other circle and the customer’s needs in the middle. A bank providing education around financial literacy is a good example. 

“Creating a more financially responsible consumer means that they are actually going to have the knowledge and the wherewithal to invest in your products and services,” she said. “And you can actually leverage financial education as a means to connect with them at key points in their life.”

A financial literacy program could help students who are preparing to save for college, for instance, while parents might value education in developing a more robust savings plan after they have children. This becomes a way for brands to build trust and can even serve as a “bridging mechanism” to the more overt work they do to market their products and services, Bernstein added. 

Using technology to scale social impact
Sports is another category where developing a relationship with fans based on authenticity is critically important. Bernstein noted that there is a lot that sports leagues can do to support their social impact goals while people are gathered in stadiums and other venues, but digital channels can extend that reach considerably. 

Since 2017, for example, the NFL has been working with EVERFI to offer “Character Playbook”, a program that teaches middle and high school students how to treat others with respect and resolve conflicts, among other topics. 

“That was something where the NFL came to us and said, ‘Help us figure out something we can do at a league-wide level,” she said. “Technology lets us bring those stories to life at an individual level where we can actually bring players into the classroom virtually to deliver a really powerful message.”

Brands like HCA Healthcare have taken a similar approach, working with EVERFI to offer an ”Understanding Mental Wellness” course that has reached more than 120,000 students at close to 600 schools.

Measuring the full return on investment from social impact marketing

Brands often track digital campaigns for the number of impressions or app downloads. In the social impact space, however, there may often be another set of metrics about what kind of change the brand is helping make in terms of the issues consumers value. 

As a result, Bernstein advised marketers to think as holistically as possible about how digital education can be used to elevate social impact in a way that is felt across the entire culture. 

“It becomes something that is just a part of the ethos of the company,” she said. “I think the brands that do well don’t just stick social impact in a corner, but ensure it’s embedded in all parts of the organization.”