This year, more brands have adopted socially conscious stances.
We’ve seen the banning of plastic straws from Starbucks, the efforts to diminish carbon footprints from Ben & Jerry’s, and plenty of examples when it comes to gun control, racial discrimination, and gender and LGBT equality.
While plenty of brands have stayed away from any controversial discourse, more and more are wading into social responsibility.
According to a new study, consumers expect brands to help ameliorate societal issues. Additionally, 92 percent of consumers have a more positive view of a company when the company supports a social or environmental issue.
This goes hand-in-hand with the growing expectation that brands represent consumers’ own identities and values. This is particularly true for Gen Z, as 90 percent of the cohort says they would buy a product that benefits society or the environment.
So what should brands know, if they want to start 2019 with a social responsibility initiative?
We looked at our data and advice from experts to put together this checklist.
1. What is authentic to your brand?
Don’t end up being accused of “woke washing”. Today’s consumers are savvy to when a brand is being disingenuous, and the backlash can be devastating.
“Brands need to realize when they’re allergic to certain issues,” says Dan Mazei, head of Reebok’s global newsroom. “What’s authentic to Reebok as a brand not only now, but in our history over the course of 123 years?”
When we look at brands that have done this successfully, they are brands that “walk the walk” of the values they embrace.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be politically linked. For example, Cisco made headlines this year for its $50 million commitment to combat homelessness in Silicon Valley.
Giving back is a priority for Cisco's IT team. See how the group worked with Downtown Streets Team and Destination: Home to help the homeless in Silicon Valley: http://cs.co/6189DLp87
Posted by Cisco on Saturday, September 8, 2018
Many other B2B brands encourage their employees to take part in volunteering initiatives that give back to the world. Beyond bolstering brand perception externally, 91 percent of Deloitte’s volunteer program surveyed reported that the program affected or significantly affected their job satisfaction.
2. What do your consumers care about?
Like any content you’re producing, you need to consider what would your consumers want to see from your brand. What issues are already important to them?
Last year, Patagonia was able to spark significant attention by taking a stance on a specific issue that would impact its consumers.
Its campaign “The president stole your land”, followed when U.S. President Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. For Patagonia, its website takeover was core to both the brand and its outdoorsy consumers.
Sometimes, a brand needs to take bold steps to embrace what their consumers care about today. A noteworthy example is AXE. The “girl-chasing ads” from the men’s grooming brand of yesteryear don’t necessarily hold up today.
In recent years, there has been an initiative for AXE to differentiate itself by dispelling myths around toxic masculinity and what that means from a mental health perspective and a grooming perspective.
Casey De Palma, the director of digital engagement and PR at Unilever said, “Knowing that it was such a shift from kind of the girl-chasing ways of Axe from years prior, we partnered with [those] who we could work with that could bring to life programming that would be would resonate and be credible with this audience.”
3. Who is already talking about this?
Don’t jump on a trend for just the sake of doing it. First, look at the topic and determine if whether every brand is already weighing in, and if so, is it worth it for your brand to add to that?
Beyond what we called “woke washing”, there are already terms for brands bandwagoning on “greenwashing” for environmental issues, and “rainbow washing” for LGBT equality. Of course, if it is an issue that is core to your brand, by all means, take a stance, but don’t do it just to do it.
Make sure there’s a genuine reason for your brand to be involved or a tangible impact that your brand can have. Otherwise, the efforts may fall flat.
Steve Rubel, the Chief Media Ecologist at Edelman, said that brands need to look at an issue in a 360 way and ask the right questions at the very start.
“The time to think about that is at the conception. Otherwise, it’s too late if you think about it later on.”
4. How do you add value to the conversation?
Once you’ve identified the social stance your brand will take, you have to determine how you will add value.
In the case of AXE, the brand partnered with non-profits to establish credibility and make a real impact.
“Relevancy and authenticity have never been more important, but cheap relevancy is never going to work,” says Casey De Palma. “You see this in areas as serious as things like mental health and you see it with things as silly as like National Donut Day. You really have to think whether you’re adding value, but also do you have a right to play?”
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For Bosch, the 130-year-old brand has a longtime tradition of investing in social initiatives. As an automotive and industrial supply brand, Bosch adds value by focusing on social good that speaks to its strengths, and its customer base.
“It shouldn’t be something where you have to recreate or start everything from scratch,” says Dan Mazei. “That means you’re probably doing something you shouldn’t do.”
5. Where do you reach your audience?
Reaching consumers is different from platform to platform. Within our data, we’ve seen that on LinkedIn, news about specific company initiatives tends to drive shares.
This story, for example, drove more than 15,000 shares on LinkedIn.
Meanwhile, on a platform like Facebook or Instagram, consumers will tend to engage with more emotionally-driven or inspirational content.
Thousands of children admit to struggling with loneliness, but this young girl is hoping to change that. #WishesDelivered
Posted by ATTN: on Monday, December 10, 2018
On Reddit, keep it matter-of-fact and stay away from anything that’s even fractionally self-complimentary. Better yet, let any stories find their way onto the platform organically, as this post around Bethesda below.
By understanding these distribution nuances, you can optimize your reach and make sure you’re communicating the right message to the right segment of your audience.
6. How do you measure your impact?
Whether it’s brand awareness, an increase in sales, or actual philanthropic goals, you need to set KPIs before launching a socially conscious initiative. This will allow you to iterate your process as you go, and it will allow you to earn buy-in from your brand’s organization.
For some brands, this buy-in has meant they’re able to create content and respond in a real-time fashion.
“At Aetna, we’ve worked closely with our compliance team to create scenarios in which we can get approval and work in real-time,” says Chris Rackliffe, Aetna’s director of social media engagement strategy.
This allows the brand to interact with people on social media who are talking about Aetna’s space, mental health, wellness.
You can do it, Katherine! Just make the decision to do it and take it one step at a time. You got this! ^CR
— Aetna (@Aetna) November 30, 2018
“We’re not going to see the [business] impact for another few years,” said Chris. “On a day-to-day basis, we’re already seeing some positive movement and conversation and that’s a great place to start.”
What to remember
By taking a stance on societal issues, brands can offer a differentiating factor in today’s fast-paced corporate landscape.
Using this checklist, you can set up a strategy that allows you to effectively and quickly decide if an issue is appropriate for your brand to take a stance on.
For more, check out our guide to reaching today’s socially conscious consumers, Gen Z.