When people tell you that advertising has changed, they tend to point to data, analytics, programmatic, social media and a variety of tactics, all good. But the real change is in how brands view the budget and the spending entirely. 

We no longer have three broadcast networks or a few cable networks and choice publications where people get information. We have an infinite supply of sources. You're reading one right now. This is great for information. In fact, this spread of sources and information has slightly leveled the playing field for small businesses. 

The customer, not the brand, controls information now.

But what it has really done has entirely shifted who dictates what a brand is. It's the customer now. And it has been for years. As consumers we used to see advertisements and make up our minds by discerning which one moved us most to purchase. 

Now-with numerous touch points-and plenty of information we form our opinions more and more by what a brand does rather than what it says. The phenomenon of Millennials choosing brands that share their values isn't just a rise in awareness, it's due to how they get and spread information. 

And this is where corporate social responsibility (CSR) plays a bigger role than ever. CSR and PR continue to merge toward one general space, keeping a brand relevant and making sure people connect with it. 

But the biggest difference between CSR efforts a decade ago and now is that they are far more tangible in how they create impact. Donating a few dollars or doing a PSA worked in the 90s as a supplement to advertising. 

Branding should make impact, not an impression. 

Now companies look at the money spent on advertising and are reimagining what can be done with it. If you're a brand people already know, big or small, then a greater percentage of your budget should be spent on impact. And companies, even ones that have been doing this longer than most are quickly adapating. 

Dominos used a $100,000 advertising budget to fix potholes instead. Adobe partnered with students and their creative cloud to restore photos and memories damaged during Hurricane Harvey. 

Large organizations like Johnson & Johnson for years have a major stake in the ground as an employer and can offer learnings and best practices for businesses who are looking to incorporate advance planning and real-time response efforts into their DNA.When Hurricane Maria hit, they didn't just send product, they turned their resources into a full disaster relief organization. 

"We were uniquely positioned to respond quickly to the impact of Hurricane Maria, as a large global healthcare company and a major employer on the island," said Kathy Wengel, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Supply Chain Officer, Johnson & Johnson. "We knew we needed to help our employees recover quickly to restart operations.  Once it was clear the storm was going to hit we pre-positioned key people and supplies.

J&J chartered 27 flights, carrying over 700 tons of relief and emergency supplies, and 30 ocean containers with 284 tons of supplies. They became a mini government. Of the 3,700 J&J employees, 80 lost their homes. Immediately they set up a fund that enabled other employees from around the world to support them with donations.

In crisis, companies don't care about CSR, they are just trying to help their neighbors, their co-workers, their fellow human beings. But when you look back on these efforts you start to realize that the real reason you attract and retain employees will the impact you create. People want to work somewhere they know they are supported and cared about on a deeper level. 

The shift to CSR creates a truly level playing field for entrepreneurs.

Just like the retail experience is evolving from low service, badly lit, big box stores to smaller, more personal experiences-the same is true for branding. Being more personal is a good thing. It's how we connect. It's how we create deeper bonds. Bonds that last far beyond advertising or packaging. 

And as a small business, even if you don't have the resources of a global company that doesn't preclude you from doing the exact same thing. Remember that the playing field is level if we're ignoring conventional advertising. The gatekeepers are gone. Now it just comes down to who knows how to connect best with their community and create impact. And sure, resources help with that. But if you're small you can compete. 

So, build community efforts in to your brand plan. Build a diversity and inclusion accelerator, teach kids to code so they get great jobs out of high school. Utilize the skills you have, build around your product or service and make an impact. Because consumers will remember an advertisment for a few days, they'll remember something impactful for a lifetime. 

Published on: Nov 1, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.