By Erin Clark, Planning Director
What do you stand for? No doubt, 2017 has provided ample opportunity for all of us, as individuals, to express our stance on a number of issues. And, if you are a brand champion, this question is likely top of mind for you as well (if it’s not yet, then my guess is that it will be soon). This year has brought about an important shift in Corporate Social Responsibility, as consumers today are demanding that companies not only share what they are doing, but be clear about the exact issue(s) they believe in. Conscious consumerism is not a new idea, but it has taken some time for brands to figure out how to capitalize. Now more than ever, a company’s purpose has a direct impact on the bottom line going beyond philanthropy and straight into ROI.
Americans look for opportunities to support companies with values that align with their own. In fact, 87% state they will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. This also rings true for multicultural consumers, who stand ready with both their hearts and wallets to support corporate efforts. Of course, there is also a flipside to this coin as 76% of Americans state that they will refuse to purchase a product/service upon learning the company supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Despite the nerve-wracking downside, companies can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines if they want to build a loyal consumer base. H&M, AT&T and REI are just a few of the pioneers in CSR initiatives in their respective industries.
#HMConscious = A New Line of Business
What started in 2007 as a non-profit foundation aimed at working conditions in the production of fast fashion eventually evolved into Consious, a commercial line of clothing committed to sustainability. Over the years, their commitment to sustainability has expanded to recycling initiatives at each of its stores, as well as a new four year partnership with Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) aimed at improving technologies for recycling textiles that can be used across the industry.
-What worked? It takes more than a Super Bowl ad or a one-off PR stunt to build credibility with consumers. H&M is showing long-term commitment and has established itself as a leader in the fashion industry.
#ItCanWait = Exclusive Brand Credit
At AT&T, what originally started in 2010 as a “don’t text and drive” campaign eventually evolved into a larger distracted driving initiative. AT&T stepped up to tackle the issue first, going beyond just marketing communications to generating pledge drives at stores and high schools across the nation. Although other phone companies initially joined the cause, they are now reluctant to fully engage due to the near exclusive brand credit this initiative has created for AT&T.
-What worked? Consumers are naturally skeptical about what companies are doing to benefit society. While distracted driving continues to be an issue, AT&T’s long term efforts are being paid off with strong brand recognition as a leader committed to addressing this deadly behavior.
— Julia Soltis (@julia0914) September 20, 2017
#OptOutside = Increased Online Sales
While closing stores on Thanksgiving wasn’t a new idea in 2015, REI was the first brand to make such a public stance on it; essentially stealing the opportunity from other stores who had taken more muted steps to close. Ironically, there was a 26% increase in website shop visitation on Thanksgiving day. REI also reported an increase of 23% in total online sales for the year, and they experienced a 90% increase in retail employee applications in the fourth quarter. In addition, customers weren’t the only ones who opted outside, over 150 other businesses followed their lead and REI was credited.
-What worked? It was clear that the company viewed its internal beliefs as an external competitive advantage, which in turn won not only the hearts (and wallets) of consumers, but also attracted more talent to the company who shared the same values.
One thing to note is that, whether deliberately or not, each of these brands visibly tackled and took a stance on a social issue affecting their specific industry. By doing this, they immediately built credibility which is a critical component of any successful CSR initiative.
At the end of the day, what matters most to consumers is that the companies they support contribute to society. Americans are concerned that progress on important issues may slow with the potential absence of government involvement, and they are looking to the private sector to take the lead. So, dig deep, identify the values that matter to your company and your target consumers and jump in!
Erin is a Strategic Planning Director at Dieste and is endlessly curious about cultures and the world around us. She’s always had an insatiable desire to travel – to date, she’s visited almost 30 countries, with her most recent adventure being in Sri Lanka. Her personal motto: “Explore”