August 1, 2017 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Brand activism is a popular buzzword that companies are starting to incorporate into their marketing strategies. There are plenty of opportunities to utilize brand activism within your industry and a multitude of benefits that come from backing a few specific causes. Here is how brand activism is helping companies in 2017 and how you can add it to your marketing strategy.
Brand activism is a natural evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Through CSR, brands make decisions that benefit communities or audiences affected by their brands. For example, as part of their CSR campaign, a grocery company might push customers to try reusable bags to cut down on the environmental impact from plastic. Another example is a toy company that makes donations to children’s charities during the holiday season. Brand activism takes CSR one step further, where brands become active as visible entities leading the way toward a cause.
Brands can choose exactly what types of causes they support, and some pick multiple causes. These movements are generally social and environmental. Alternately, they can focus on political issues or economic problems.
Starbucks is a common example of a brand that embraces activism. Starbucks has lobbied in support of a $15 minimum wage in many cities and has vowed to increase the pay rates for many of its workers. These political and economic causes influence politicians and change the face of the nation. Meanwhile, the company has also vowed to hire more veterans and refugees, combining political, social, and community issues in their hiring practices. If customers become outraged and vow not to shop at Starbucks because of their support for the LGBT community or refugees, the company responds by saying they won’t miss those customers
Historically, brands have worried about making political statements one way or another for fear of isolating their key target audiences. Not every brand needs to stick up for every cause, and many believe that the backlash that comes from taking a polarizing stance wouldn’t be worth the drop in sales.
However, smart business owners know that brands can’t please everyone. Your target audiences are typically limited by interest, income, and personal demographic, which means they have certain interests they care about over others.
For example, according to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans as of 2017 think the law should recognize gay marriage, and 72 percent support same-sex relations. This number has climbed steadily over the years. Suddenly, taking a pro-LGBT stance isn’t as risky to companies, who only risk isolating about 28 percent of customers. This demographic changes for certain brands like Starbucks, which have younger and more urban audiences that have higher levels of support for LGBT causes. Isolating the minority of potential customers outraged by the LGBT lifestyle is worth it compared to the outpouring of support and sales from the main target audience.
There are many benefits to companies that choose to include brand activism in their content marketing strategies. Some relate to the short-term, such as increased sales. Others have lasting effects, like better hiring pools. A few of these benefits include:
Ben and Jerry’s is another popular example of a brand that uses activism as part of its content strategy. While their ice cream is delicious, many people choose them because the company’s branding focuses on environmentally-friendly practices including local sourcing and limited preservative chemicals. It even created flavors like Rainforest Crunch and Save Our Swirled to support environmental protection.
However, Ben and Jerry’s has taken activist stances outside of its immediate production needs. I Dough I Dough, Empower Mint, and Imagine Whirled Peace are examples of flavors that support marriage equality, political involvement, and ending wars. Ben and Jerry’s follows each flavor launch with blog posts about about why they made it — turning a product into a content strategy. The brand has built its entire marketing strategy around brand activism, and customers have a positive association with that ice cream.
You don’t have to run a major brand with a large budget to support a cause. Embracing brand activism is as simple as donating a portion of your sales to a specific group or organization while sharing why you support it. For example, here are a few ways companies can turn brand activism into content marketing opportunities:
Not only will brand activism help you generate content ideas for your blog and social media channels, it can also create opportunities to turn your customers into brand ambassadors. They can share your content to raise awareness for a cause or create content of their own that you can use. By crowdsourcing content, you can drum up support for your cause while creating dozens of photos, videos, and posts for free.
For example, a local brewery could host a beach cleanup in conjunction with their launch of their summer flavors. A portion of sales from those flavors could support local sea rescue organizations, and the company could ask the local government to support beach recycling programs. These steps create multiple opportunities for the company to create content and for customers to share it.
More customers than ever are expecting brands to take a stand on certain causes. Companies that fail to embrace brand activism risk getting forgotten in favor of brands that do. By knowing your target audience and creating a brand activism strategy, you can create content that attracts customers.
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