Kate Baughman (KB): So, Ingrid, what can you tell us about your time working for Volvo?
Ingrid Vax (IV): I got my start in the marketing and advertising industry there. I worked on advertising campaigns for Volvo Cars of North America, in New York City. It involved a lot of late nights, but that experience had a profound effect on what I would go on to do.
Volvo started as a car company built to save people’s lives. They developed and sold products that saved thousands of lives every year. That resonated with me — every decision they made stemmed from their stated purpose. As I age, doing work with companies focused on making the world a better place and improving the human condition feels more important than ever.
KB: What did you learn during your time there?
IV: The automotive market is very competitive. Back then, there was no internet, no digital marketing in the way there is today. You need to make sure people understand your mission clearly. While I was there, we spent millions of dollars annually to change the impression of Volvo. At the time, they were known for being a boxy car. As they introduced new product lines with sleeker designs, we were tasked with changing that perception. But the safety message was always priority number one.
KB: My first car was a Volvo. I loved it. Totaled it, but loved it. (And walked away from that accident with a single scratch). Did you ever drive a Volvo?
IV: I drove 17 different Volvos while working for them. I don’t drive one now, but I wish I did.
KB: Me too. Is Volvo Cars an impact company?
IV: Yes. They are a founding member of the UN Global Compact. Like Bullhorn, they use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as their guide, making a specific commitment to 5 of the 17. Their parent group is also heavily involved in sustainability and impact work.
KB: What does the word ‘impact’ mean to you?
IV: It means that you are thinking about how you are contributing to society and that is equally as important as the profits that you raise for your stakeholders. Brands have a strong platform and they can leverage that platform to make a difference. I think I’ve always been inspired by brands that make purposeful commitments – to improving the environment, keeping people safe, treating people fairly, or helping the underserved.
I was just looking at our case study about AppHarvest. They’re creating an entire marketplace in Eastern and Central Kentucky. They’re providing desperately needed food to people, there and all across the country. That is impact and that is what inspires me.
KB: What do you think — do only the brands who embody impact or sustainability or purpose in an extreme way get to call themselves an impact company? Who gets to use that term?
IV: Impact companies are those who put their work for society over profit. Studies have come out revealing that 75% of consumers want the brands they support with their money to take a stand. I believe that starts with an executive’s recognition that taking a stand is a brand’s responsibility.
KB: That is a staggering statistic — but I can’t say I’m all that surprised.
IV: It really is. But there is something there. Brands have tremendous voice, leverage, and buying power. There are so many problems in this world that we need to solve — and brands can do that. There’s a greater gain when companies are looking at real people and how they can help.
KB: Does it have to be all or nothing?
IV: I think you can do both — work for the greater good and for a profit — but ultimately, something is going to take priority. At the end of the day, why do you exist? The companies I admire are the ones that see by helping people, by being an impact company, that there’s something bigger there — a greater gain for society.
KB: What is something you think we’ll be seeing in the impact space in the next couple of years?
IV: The impact space is becoming increasingly crowded, which is a good thing. But Bullhorn has been doing this type of work for a long time. We’ve helped hundreds of clients. Our job is to help make the impact movement something permanent, part of the way business is done, not just a marketing effort.
We can help brands navigate that change. We step in at the beginning of their development or at the point when they recognize they have a voice. We can help define a category, or who they are — and then communicate that to the world.
KB: What makes you excited about what’s to come?
IV: More agencies are recognizing that brands need to take a stand, be purposeful. And, more executives are realizing that they have the opportunity to create impact. I’m an optimist, so I have hope that all of this will play out positively for the greater good. I’m excited to see that.