A screwdriver is very handy when turning a screw. That same screwdriver can also wreak havoc on the drywall of your home if given to a rambunctious toddler. Similar to any tool, aligning your brand with a social purpose— a modern approach to cause marketing— can connect your brand to modern consumers and impact your bottom line. Do it poorly? You’ll have thousands—if not millions—of outraged consumers speaking out against your brand. Keep the following in mind when developing your own cause, worthy of marketing.
Different consumer segments often have their own identities, and they can even be contradictory and difficult to navigate. The key takeaway: you don’t have to appeal to everyone. Think through what causes you can align to your brand values, and embrace those. As old souls in young bodies™, millennials and Gen Z consumers are committed to making our planet a better place. Research shows more than half of millennials try to buy products from companies who support causes they care about. It’s safe to assume they’d be more likely to purchase the purpose-driven option over a competitor of similar value. Perhaps the single biggest benefit of such a strategy is this: once millennials decide they like your cause, they’ll turn into brand advocates. This becomes an extremely effective segment of the Millennial cohort, as 68% won’t even make a major decision without discussing it with people they trust. Finding purpose for your brand can forge a relationship with consumers that products and services alone cannot.
However, aligning your brand values with a purpose you can promote is tricky, and you can likely think of a few epic fails from the past few years: think Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” campaign, attempting to address toxic masculinity in a way that offended many of its customers.
Purpose-driven marketing strategies can feel incredibly risky, and as the examples above show: it can be. Why are Patagonia customers so darn passionate about Patagonia, while most people won’t admit to shopping at Walmart? This dichotomy is especially interesting considering Patagonia has donated $89 million since 1985, while Walmart donated over a $1.4 billion dollars in 2016 alone. Apparently, $100 of Walmart’s money can’t buy a dollar’s worth of Patagonia’s public appeal. Why is it some brands fail, while others gain advocates? Authenticity. Walmart has also had very public issues with their supply chain and business practices. Patagonia on the other hand, has always been very consistent with their values. It also makes sense for an outdoor clothing company to promote conservation and ethical sourcing. This points to a very simple equation:
Value Driven Brand + Relevant Cause = Effective Cause Marketing
Brands have the power and resources to influence the world in incredible ways. Nearly 65% of consumers in a recent study agree that companies and individuals together can make a much greater social impact than individuals alone. Consumers will rally behind and perhaps even love your brand if you do this well. Yet with each PR fail publicized on the news, brands become more and more hesitant to promote a cause. While this hesitation may be a good moment for introspection, brands shouldn’t be afraid of finding a cause and honestly pursuing it. My prediction? We may be approaching a day when a brand can’t survive without a purpose beyond making money.