Dare to care! What is brand activism? It’s a term we’ll all be hearing a lot more about. Historically, people are more familiar with the term consumer activism, which the Financial Times defines as, “The range of activities undertaken by consumers or NGOs to make demands or state their views about certain causes linked directly or indirectly to a company.” In the extreme, such a movement could even lead to a boycott, the FT explains.
If you flip that negativity around, but retain the passion, you get brand activism — a positivity in which a brand’s purpose is seen to bring real value into people’s lives.
Image via www.benjerry.com
In 2016, finance professor Alex Edmans, PhD., of the London Business School announced the results of a study into the effect of purpose on profit. “I found that the 100 best companies to work for in America beat their peers by 2-3 percent per year over a 28-year period, from 1984 to 2011.” He added that, “To earn profit a company is forced to care about society. It has to make high quality products, or customers will stop buying. It has to treat its workers well, or they’ll leave. And it can’t pollute the environment, or its brand will be hurt.”
Simon Mainwaring, author of the branding manifesto, “We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Renew Capitalism and Build a Better World,” summarizes in his article, “Why Profit Alone Will Put You Out of Business.” Research from three top global firms: Havas Media, Cone Communications and Edelman, indicate that today’s consumers “expect brands to be socially responsible and are willing to pay more for products and services from those that do.”
How to Activate Your Brand
Your brand’s goal is to give a customer the feeling of a personal connection with the brand via the brand’s purpose. We’ll take a look at some brand strategy examples from each of these activism approaches:
- Experiential events
- Promotional events
- In-store retail marketing
- Content marketing
Experiential: Donald Trump and Brand Activism
When politicians generously supply people attending a rally with signs, banners, baseball caps and badges, they understand that not all brand activism is measureable in standard ROI terms. Nonetheless, they are certainly aware of the effect such a display makes for the television cameras. Donald Trump calls his staged events “a movement.” For better or worse, that’s brand activism impacting the voting booth.
Image via Evan Guest, flickr
Promotional: Leonardo DiCaprio and Brand Activism
As we all know, celebrities embody their own personal brands. But there are huge differences among such people as to how they choose to activate the power of their brand.
In 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon designated Leonardo DiCaprio as UN Global Ambassador of Peace saying, “Mr. DiCaprio is a credible voice in the environmental movement, and has a considerable platform to amplify its message. I am pleased he has chosen to add his voice to UN efforts to raise awareness of the urgency and benefits of acting now to combat climate change.”
Image via Leonardo DiCaprio fan page www.leonardodicaprio.com
One glance at the actor’s website highlighting the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation indicates where he’s coming from as he invites his fans to follow him to the podium at the Global Citizen Festival, the Paris Climate Summit, the World Economic Forum, and more.
Before a standing ovation by his Hollywood peers at the 88th Academy Awards in 2016, Leo channeled his 60 seconds as king of the world to frame an urgent call. Using his Oscar acceptance speech to reach 34 million people, the actor expressed his passionate views on climate change. Within a week, brand marketers had dubbed this “The Leo Effect.” One glance at the actor’s own website highlighting the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation indicates where he’s coming from. That’s brand activism.
Image via Leonardo DiCaprio fan page www.leonardodicaprio.com
In-store: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Brand Activism
When it comes to wide flung brand activism, it’s hard to beat the Vermont ice cream maker. “We speak to the aspiring activist inside all of us…everyone gets a happy feeling when they contribute to society,” says Ben & Jerry’s CEO. The prosperity of this brand is about sharing a business model meant to create positive change in the world, right down to the electric car fleet solution.
At the Vermont ice cream company, the director of social mission says, “We work our way from inside the pint out. So we start with the dairy, making sure we support the farmers from which we source our dairy so they can have more sustainable, profitable family farms. Then we work our way through the pint — sugar, cocoa, banana, coffee, vanilla — all fair trade certified. Then we work our way to environmentally sustainable packaging.”
Ben & Jerry’s brand activism goes beyond the store’s freezer. In London in 2012, 18 consumers made the final round of “Join Our Core,” presenting an environmental sustainability pitch before an expert panel of judges.
Image via www.benjerry.com
Five winners each received a £10,000 cash prize, six months of mentoring and a trip to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Vermont, as well as a year’s supply of ice cream. The priceless clincher? Having a Ben & Jerry’s flavour named after the winner. This annual initiative has gone global.
The People’s Climate March is a Ben & Jerry’s activation that has seen 700,000 people in cities around the world taking to the streets in peaceful protest, demanding action from corporate and political leaders. The brand is deft at connecting the dots from environmental conservation passion back to the brand, reflected in clever flavour names such as Save Our Swirled, Fossil Fuel, and Baked Alaska (“If It’s Melted, It’s Ruined”). Ben & Jerry’s is a leader in brand activism across three sets of elements: product, economic, and social.
Image via http://www.benjerry.com
Content: Dignity Health and Brand Activism
Dignity Health is a California-based not-for-profit public-benefit corporation operating hospitals and ancillary care facilities in 17 states. Via their project, “Hello Humankindness,” Dignity Health shines a spotlight on acts of kindness in their hospitals and throughout the world.
On the dedicated Hello Humankindness website, readers learn about a special education teacher who instills self-esteem among his students by praising each one of them at the start of every day. Another story features a former oncology nurse who is hand weaving Disney-themed wigs of soft yarn for young cancer patients who have suffered hair loss due to chemotherapy treatments, shipping them off at no charge to kids in 11 countries so far.
Beginning with small acts like saying good morning and making a new friend in the playground, the Great Kindness Challenge accounted for a record 250 million acts of kindness performed by 5 million primary school students and Dignity Health employees during a five-day period in January 2016. Nothing resonates more than an authentic, selfless act of human kindness; it’s contagious. These very personal stories of kindness reflect favorably on the brand while making the world a better place.
Small Brand Activism: London Estate Agents
Bective Leslie Marsh is a small estate agency with five offices in Prime Central London, focused on extremely popular residential areas like Chelsea, Kensington and Notting Hill, where standing out from a crowded field isn’t easy.
The emphasis on being “refreshingly different” includes hiring staff who live close to those offices, so they not only know the area, but have deep roots in each community. In addition to local knowledge, Bective Leslie Marsh has run a sponsorship department for two decades.
Image via www.bective.co.uk
Brand activism takes Bective Leslie Marsh way beyond simply making a charitable donation. BLM staff give time, energy and resources to long-standing local charities, such as West London Action for Children, by serving on the planning committee.
BLM staff are deeply embedded in the local communities they serve through brand activism which manifests in activities such as running prize-giving stalls at the local school together with garden fairs, hosting tables at trivia and bridge night fundraisers, providing players, homemade lemonade and branded trophies at tennis tournaments, serving hot cider at holiday events. Being laser-focussed on neighbourhood charities that build lasting relationships creates a far more personal, trustworthy approach to selling and letting clients’ homes — in short another form of brand activism at a meaningful local grass roots level.
Activism must deeply align with brand purpose, the mission, vision, values and causes that are at the brand’s core. Brands that get this right can drive incredible customer loyalty, advocacy and passion, inspiring others to join in.
People don’t buy just a product or service, it’s not just transactional business; they buy into the idea and the actions the brand stands for. Brand loyalty motivates fans, devotees, and advocates to tell others, often via social media, about their favorite products or servcies. This invaluable word-of-mouth is what leads to accelerated growth, increased profits and a lasting positive impact in society.
Questions to consider:
• Have you shared your brand purpose with all employees?
• Are your team at all levels within your business fully aware of and aligned to your brand’s purpose.
• Have you articulated your brand’s purpose through brand profiling using a system like the Personality Profile Performer™ to successfully move it from the meeting room to a living, breathing part of your brand DNA driving everything you do internally, and externally in how you connect with your customers?
• Have you performed any brand activations at a local community level?
• Has your brand ever sponsored a charity event or a charitable foundation?
• Have you ever held a product sample giveaway at your retail location or at an event?
• Have you considered giving a small percentage of each sale to a charitable beneficiery closely aligned to your brand’s whole mission, vision and purpose?
• Have you communicated your brand purpose, your brand’s ‘big why’, in a blog, advertising, social media, or other content?
You may also like: