In this increasingly connected world, younger generations look to brands to define their values, openly discuss societal issues, and become the driving force behind social movements.
According to the 2017 Cone Gen Z CSR Study: How to Speak Z, 89% of Gen Z’ers are worried about the health of our planet, and their spending habits reflect that, with 94% believing the companies they support should be actively working toward solutions to critical issues, such as global warming.
Brands that offer the chance to make a meaningful difference are thanked by young consumers with their loyalty. But navigating social discourse isn’t as simple as implementing a recycling program. To convert indifferent consumers into lifelong customers, it’s important to tread carefully.
Given the risks, it makes sense that many brands hesitate to dive headfirst into controversial conversations, but creating a communications strategy that accurately articulates the brand’s intentions is not impossible.
Heineken is an example of a brand that understands how to add a nuanced voice to the conversation. Last year, it released a short commercial in which three pairs of complete strangers construct a bar together. The catch was the people chosen secretly held polarizing opinions. After discovering their differences, they’re given a choice: part ways or have an honest discussion over a beer. Each chooses to talk at the bar, showing it’s possible to find common ground, even during politically divided times.
Select a cause that’s meaningful to the brand’s audience
Before haphazardly committing to the trendiest cause, think carefully about what makes sense for the brand and industry. For example, it makes more sense for a vegan food supplier to build a purpose-driven campaign around animal rights than educating and supporting girls in tech, even though both are worthwhile causes.
A mission that is selected based on the brand’s product and audience will not only grow social impact, but also brand power. Look at companies that have successfully incorporated giving into their identities. For instance, Toms gives a pair of shoes away for every pair it sells, underscoring its commitment to improving lives through business.
If customers see the brand is making an impact on issues they care about, they will form deeper, more meaningful connections with the brand – viewing every transaction as a reflection of their existing value system. That’s a very powerful proposition.
The social media backlash will be swift and furious if customers believe the brand is engineering its social awareness according to trends and profits rather than genuine activism.
Avoid flip-flopping between different missions. That doesn’t mean the brand has to fix rigidly on one strategy or cause, but any changes made should stay true to underlying values. Any sudden shifts from one cause to another may be perceived as insincere and as if the brand is just chasing the news cycle. Customers may question how much the brand was really invested in a particular cause.
Patagonia is one of the most consistent brands out there. For years, it’s been urging customers to reduce and recycle clothing rather than buy new gear every season. And in December, it continued its mission to protect and preserve the environment by publicly denouncing the current administration’s decision to reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Later that month, Patagonia even filed a lawsuit to challenge the decision.
— Patagonia (@patagonia) December 4, 2017
Such a public declaration showed customers that Patagonia was still committed to its mission and that it’s not afraid to take real action. Consumers witness thousands of brand messages online in a single day. In this noisy atmosphere, consistency sticks out and draws people in.
Weave the purpose throughout the brand
A cause isn’t just a superficial talking point. It’s important brands take their social action beyond Twitter and align every part of their marketing and communications plans to serving the cause they’ve chosen.
This doesn’t mean saying goodbye to profits. It’s more about the opportunity to rethink the brand’s entire marketing roadmap by aligning all activities with a higher-order purpose. Work with partners who are like-minded social warriors, invite social influencers to join in the mission by hosting a day of giving, and make sure every piece of messaging encompasses the brand’s core values.
When a company’s entire marketing and communications strategy is united under a common umbrella, profits increase because purpose is just as necessary to business as it is to social change. Case in point: 72% of consumers will recommend a brand that supports a cause, and 73% will swap brands to stay true to their social values.
Select the causes that are meaningful to the brand’s mission, make concerted and passionate efforts to drive change in those areas, and reap the rewards of purpose-driven marketing messages.