For most businesses, I would say, the motives have always been clear: to maximize profit and attain lasting success. These goals speak volumes for small businesses looking to elevate their brand. While this is fine, have you ever stopped to think about the opportunity cost of your goals?
What I mean here is, for every dollar earned, consider the parts of society (i.e the environment) you are neglecting as you climb that ladder towards success? Now, we’re seeing a world more responsive to issues like climate change, women’s rights, minority representation, etc. than ever before. Millennials are really leading this change. Where a higher meaning sits above profit. Marketing today goes beyond just the traditional route of positioning. Consumers want to know that your products actually mean something to the world at large. Their purchases are, in a sense, political statements.
Even if you’re not familiar with brand activism, it’s important as a developing business to incorporate some components into your marketing objectives. If not, you could risk putting your entire revenue, relationships, and identity on the line. Take a look at some areas of brand activism, and begin brainstorming ways on how your business could become the next leader in revolutionary global change.
Goals And Motives Of Brand Activism
Stemming from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, brand activism is a hybrid of all that ethics and morals have to say in the world of marketing. It fosters a value driven agenda for businesses looking to aid in the development of our society and planet. The seven areas of brand activism include social, political, business, legal, economic, and environmental.
Regardless of your business model, it seems those who place progress over profit experience more of a financial benefit in the end. In 2019, Unilever announced that its sustainable brand portfolio had grown 67% faster than the rest of the business, contributing 75% to the company’s overall growth. CEO Alan Jope commented further saying, “two-thirds of consumers around the world say they choose brands because of their stance on social issues, and over 90% of millennials say they would switch brands for one which champions a cause.”
Given today’s highly contentious and political climate, consumers’ are becoming more active in their opinions on what’s happening in the world. Moreover, their purchase behaviors are evolving as not just transactions, but firm commitments to justice, sustainability, and peace.
Businesses must make the shift from purpose to action, keeping in mind the importance of going beyond just saying, but doing. Those that refuse to make this shift will reap the consequence of appearing opportunistic; attempting to take advantage of consumers’ activist ideals.
Brand Activism In Action
If you’re weary about where to start, there’s inspiration to be found from the brands doing it best. Here are some popular examples of activism in action:
Patagonia has long been credited for its work in areas of sustainability and environmental justice. These items are sewn deep within their brand identity, and can be seen echoed throughout their campaigns. In 2019, the brand launched the “$10 Million for the Planet” initiative on Black Friday, in which they pledged to donate 100% of their sales to environmental nonprofits. To date, the company has raised a staggering $110 Million for organizations fighting environmental problems. Not only that, all of Patagonia’s products are Fair Trade certified and sourced from organic materials like cotton, hemp, and recycled fibers. There’s really nothing else to be said on how invested Patagonia is in bettering our world, except: stay woke.
Airbnb launched their “Until We All Belong” campaign in 2017, amidst Australia’s battle for marriage equality. The campaign centered itself around a ring with a missing piece, representing a void of marriage equality in the country, encouraging customers to wear it as an act of solidarity. The company soon became the most talked about brand in Australia, selling roughly 150,000 rings, while gaining over 2 million shares online. Moreover, Airbnb utilized their platform to design a campaign that tested 98% positive among consumers, proving that brands can be socially active, while also simultaneously working to improve their marketing objectives.
Ben and Jerry’s
Yet, another popular example, Ben and Jerry’s has made itself known for its commitment to political activism. Beyond just ice cream, though, consumers’ remain passionate about the brand because of its progressive origins. Ben and Jerry’s has leveraged their products to act as channels of conversation on a variety of issues. Creating flavors like Rainforest Crunch, Save our Swirl, I Dough I Dough, and Imagine Whirled Peace, in support of environmental protection, equality, and justice. Moreover, Ben and Jerry’s has built their marketing strategy around brand activism, where consumers continue to hold a positive associations with their ice cream.
Despite these brands being among the largest in their markets, their message is clear. Brand activism is strategic in nature, and as we’ve seen, its success lies in the ability to marry both awareness and innovation together. Be ready for consumers (and society) to hold your business accountable. All eyes are on you!
Becoming A Brand Activist
Now, let’s turn the focus to you and your business. Should you consider adopting an activist approach? Well, there are some questions to should ask yourself as you move forward. Note: you must evolve your current marketing objectives to meet the demands of an activist role in order to move forward.
Thus, setting the foundation for those new objectives is the next step to earning a higher credibility with consumers. Consider stakeholder optimization as the driving force behind your business’s intent. This system, unlike profit maximization, surrounds itself on helping to benefit all internal and external stakeholders. These include both investors and entities responsible for a business’ success, like farmers, factory workers, and even the environment itself.
Consider some the following questions, as you evaluate the nature of your objectives:
- Why should your brand want to save the world?
- How motivated are your consumers to see this change?
- Why are your actions different – and therefore what part of the conversation can you own?
- Where’s this going? – how will your brand emerge stronger for pursuing this?
- How will you measure your success in the end
Above all, remember to stay true to your goals. Lead your business with an open mind and heart, and remain focused on things that truly matter. You can even partner with other influencers in your space who want to promote the same message. I promise you consumers, society, and your ROI will thank you for it in the end!
Businesses no longer have a choice. Our world has reached a place where activism pulls at the core of every narrative. It is imperative, now, that businesses align their beliefs with consumers to remain financially sound. Brand activism provides businesses an opportunity to do this, while also working alongside their original objectives. Evaluate and question what you know about your business model, and find area(s) where you believe an activist approach would perform well. Be a voice for the world, as you meander through the path to success. You got this.