Products, behaviours and causes: five ways to find the right cause for your brand

In the final of their three part series, Ben Peacock and Scott Matyus-Flynn offer five brand actions your company can use to take purpose to the market.


In case you missed it:


 

You don’t have to look much further than the events of the past month to realise that brands can no longer sit on the sideline when it comes to the big social issues.

First, MLA’s lamb ad started a stir by championing diversity or showing insensitivity to indigenous people, depending on which op-ed you read.

Then, in the USA, Nordstrom – a fave of urban millennial females – found itself between a frock and a hard place as it started phasing out Ivanka Trump merchandise.

The biggest hit of all came for Uber when it chose to keep servicing New York’s JFK airport while taxi drivers staged a one hour protest over Trump’s travel ban. It might have made a few dollars but it lost a whole lot of love and customers as 200,000 people chose to #deleteuber.

Spotting the chance to, well, ‘migrate’ these socially minded and social media active individuals, Lyft donated one million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union and, in doing so, beat Uber in sign ups and rides given for the first time ever. Uber did its best to match the gesture, committing $3m to support drivers affected by the ban and quitting Trump’s business advisory group, but the damage was already done.

Airbnb wasn’t caught napping. It offered free accomodation to anyone caught out by the travel ban. Starbucks didn’t take long to wake up and smell the coffee, promising to give 10,000 refugees a home behind their tills.

Yes, standing for a cause is no longer a brand nice-to-have. It’s a brand essential, and if you don’t think hard about where you sit on social issues, sooner or later your customers are going to sort it out for you.

So how can your brand be a winner in this world of must-do, do-gooding?

As any rockstar will tell you, being an overnight success is years in the making. Or to paraphrase Ali, you don’t win in the ring, but in the preparation.

With that in mind we have assembled the five brand actions – five ways a brand can deliver on purpose by changing itself and the world for the better.

Which one is right for you? That takes time, consideration and a good understanding of brand, sustainability, community and communications to work out. What is important is that your brand does choose to act.

Doing so turns your purpose into something lived rather than just spoken, and makes sure that when the world starts asking where you stand, your answer is already clear.

 

1. Change a product

The first step many brands take is to re-tool their products to create ‘less harm.’ Sometimes changing a product is a simple question of reformulation. Other times, it might mean deleting a product line all together, to avoid the brand damage that comes with it. How much a brand does will depend on the appetite of the brand. But there are big wins out there for brands with big ambition.

Which brands have done it well?

  • ALDI removing artificial colours store-wide,
  • Patagonia moving to organic cotton across all their products, and
  • Unilever reducing sugar content in their Lipton Ice Tea range.

 

2. Create a product

Creativity works best when it is given clear boundaries. Challenging your innovation team to generate a new, sustainable or socially aware product that better meets customer needs is a great way to encourage them to think outside the ordinary.

Which brands have done it well?

  • IAG’s ShareCover insurance for Airbnb,
  • G-Star’s ‘Raw for the Oceans’ range,
  • NAB’s microfinance loans, and
  • Unilever’s ‘Small and Mighty’ OMO range.

 

3. Change a behaviour

Sometimes the main impact of your product is not in how you make and deliver it, but in how people use it. By helping them change the way they use it, you can better involve your brand in your customers’ lives and create social and environmental good at the same time.

Which brands have done it well?

  • Levi’s ‘Water<Less’ jeans,
  • Unilever’s ‘Turn off the Tap,’ and
  • Ariel’s ‘Turn to 30.’

 

4. Supply a service

Sometimes, no matter how much you want people to change behaviours, they need a little help. This is where providing a service comes in. So, if creating unwanted waste is one of your brand’s biggest sins, then offering a take back system might be the best action you can take. Services can also generate a new income stream or provide raw materials for new products.

Which brands have done it well?

  • Kroger supermarket’s dietician nutrition service, ‘The Little Clinic,’
  • Ikea’s removal and recycling service,
  • H&M and Uniqlo’s clothing recycling,
  • Australia Post’s cigarette butt recycling service for clubs and pubs, and
  • Patagonia’s ‘Worn Wear’ clothing repair and exchange vans.

 

5. Champion a cause

If you want your brand to stand for something, why not stand for something? Choosing a cause then fighting for it is a very public way to differentiate your brand from the gun-shy out there. This is not just about supporting a charity. It’s about embedding a social mission into your brand. So the success of your brand comes from the success of your cause. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Which brands have done it well?

  • The Body Shop’s long term campaign against animal testing,
  • IAG’s ‘Good ‘Hoods,’
  • Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty,’ and
  • Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good.’

 

So there you have it. Five ways to act that make the world a better place, tell the world what you stand for, and get people talking about you for the right reasons – in a way that advertising simply can’t. What could be better than that?

 

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Ben Peacock is founder and partner at Republic of Everyone.

Scott Matyus-Flynn is head of strategy and partner at Republic of Everyone.

 

Further reading:


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