What’s Your Company’s Unique Superpower?

A true superpower isn’t really about what you can do; it’s about how and why you do it and the effect it has on other people. In business, a superpower is that impalpable thing that sets you apart from your competition — and that has a recognizable social impact.

Part of creating emotional connections with your brand includes aligning with social causes that make sense in their connection to your company’s core competencies and mission. Patagonia is focused on fair labor practices and environmental sustainability, but the company’s core values are simplicity, utility, and strengthening the connection between people and nature — an ethos Patagonia lives out in the way it does business, which also has helped it cultivate a devoted community of like-minded consumers. The shoe brand TOMS does the same thing, so much so that the people who wear TOMS products aren’t just making a fashion statement — they’re part of a movement. And at Adobe, the technology we create not only improves business processes and outcomes, but also drives results that actually saves lives.

Brands who want to tap into their own superpower need to go beyond product use cases or their brand’s value proposition in the marketplace to discover the unique thing they bring to the world. As Adobe and other companies illustrate, focusing on social impact may be the most effective way to uncover your brand’s superpower.

Saving kids, reuniting families

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) works to reunite children with their families, and it has an impressive 97 percent recovery rate for children who go missing. Part of its success lies in the technology it uses, which includes Adobe Photoshop and other Creative Cloud tools, and Adobe Experience Cloud. NCMEC uses Photoshop for age progression, which involves producing updated images of missing children every two to five years. The effort has helped the agency reunify adults who went missing as children with their families.

“It’s very straightforward creative work that happens on a daily basis at NCMEC. For about the last 15 years, we’ve been really trying hard to make sure they are enabled with the latest tools to help them with that process. It’s a manual process, but it’s certainly powered by the creative tools we build and develop at the company,” says John Penn II, senior solutions architect at Adobe.

Recently, NCMEC also has started using Adobe Experience Cloud to reinvent its web and mobile content and increase time spent on these channels. Gaining more online visibility is crucial because the agency uses both channels to disseminate photos of missing children to millions of homes, potentially increasing the chance that families will be reunited.

Adobe also has worked with forensic imaging specialists at the Homeland Security Investigations Cyber Crimes Unit (HSI). The unit goes through more than 750,000 photos and images a week, many of them related to child exploitation. Manually looking through so many photos of crimes can be taxing, so we offered to build HSI an imaging database.

Automation allows the database to review and sort images easily, filtering ones that have been seen before so that investigators don’t need to be reexposed. Instead, they are able to focus their efforts on new information that’s more likely to help them crack a case. Further aiding in the effort to solve crimes, we provide Adobe Creative Cloud to HSI.

“Sometimes we work on things we know won’t make it into a commercially shipped product just because it might be helpful to law enforcement,” John says.

This allows HSI to have access to more resources as it tries to solve crimes. For instance, agents often use Photoshop to decipher obscure clues in photographic evidence. In one case, specialists used Photoshop to reduce lens blur on a prescription bottle that was difficult to read.

“That bottle was solved thanks to the beta version of a plug-in that was handed off to HSI,” John says. “They used the filter to refine the image and learned critical information about the culprit, narrowing a nationwide search to just a handful of people.”

Thanks to the plug-in and the work of investigators, HSI was able to gather a key piece of evidence and catch the main suspect in the case, rescuing 14 children in the process.

In this context, Adobe’s products are producing a measurable impact that helps government agencies fulfill their mission and makes a difference in the lives of the people they serve.

Adobe is focused on democratizing creativity – driving innovation, freedom of expression, and design thinking. John says that while these business objectives may apply directly to artists and other creatives, Adobe’s work with NCMEC and HSI shows that enabling creativity – even in the unlikeliest of places – can generate life-changing outcomes.

“We provide tools that allow everybody to be creative, whether that’s an artist who’s bringing awareness to the challenges of the victims of these crimes, or law enforcement who are trying to find creative ways to solve new crimes that are changing on a daily basis,” John says. “I think creativity is probably the thing that we do to influence the world that’s the most powerful.”

Finding your brand superpower

Brands may be able to find and harness their own unique superpower by aligning their products and services with social initiatives.

“You can’t just say what you are, you have to truly be what you are,” says Shannon Riordan, partner and co-founder of Global Brand Works, a San Francisco-based boutique branding firm. “Your superpower has to be true to what you do. It can’t just be something you put on your home page and then call it a day.”

Brands can and will have different kinds of superpowers: What are the causes that your brand is naturally involved in? How do your brand’s strengths relate to those causes? Are you better equipped to fight deforestation or child exploitation? Hunger or homelessness? There are hundreds of worthy social endeavors; choose one that fits your brand and then make it a core part of the way you do business.

To harness your brand’s superpower, identify where your existing competitive advantages can be leveraged to make a difference and then build your internal culture around making a positive social impact.

“Brands are made of human beings,” Shannon says, “and if you don’t galvanize everyone on the inside, you can’t deliver a differentiated experience on the outside. When you make the change internally, it will emerge naturally out there [in the world].”

Shannon adds that once a company identifies its superpower, it must live it every day in the form of its behaviors, actions, partnerships, and they way it recruits employees and board members. Creating a beautifully articulated superpower is only effective if everyone within the organization understands it and if it becomes part and parcel of the company’s culture, and eventually, its brand reputation.

“If you operate this way, there’s a natural translation to business success,” Shannon says.

For ideas on how to get started, read more content from our complete Corporate Social Responsibility series here and check out a byline from Gavin Portnoy at NCMEC in Thomson Reuters Foundation News.