Change (then Tell).

If you’re already into the cause marketing space, the fact that I featured the above image may annoy you. “Why am I even here if she insists on featuring such overused cliched examples,” you say. Because this is the OG example of actually addressing a systemic issue that plagues society. In case you aren’t familiar, Patagonia took out a full page ad in the New York Times on Nov 25, 2011 asking people not to buy their clothing. They were addressing consumerism head on by asking people to repair their clothes rather than buying new. This seemed completely counter-intuitive to their business. It sounds self-sabotaging and crazy, but I applaud them, nay, mother f*cking WOOT them for this campaign.

All too often, brands play it safe when it comes to “doing good”. Give some money to some people, help some kids out and then spend millions of dollars to tell people about it. Or worst, let’s jump on a bandwagon of some ambiguous cause (“standing up for what’s right”, “equality”, “belonging”) and attach that to our brand in sloppy and uninformed way. I think the prime example of this is Pepsi’s “Live for Now” campaign featuring Kendall Jenner. I’m sure anything I could say about this ad has already been said, so I’ll save it. OK – only question – who approved this? I’m done. My point is, companies have a habit of putting the marketing questions first – What will make us look good? Who are our customers and what do they care about? These are fine questions and ones I understand companies need to ask, but starting there won’t result in authentic and compelling social and environmental stories. The only way that you can ensure these campaigns won’t backfire is taking a good hard look at yourself and asking, “what can we do to be better?”

I was recently at the Net Impact conference in Atlanta and attended a session with Kendall-Jackson Winery. They’ve taken some big strides to reduce their footprint including reducing their water use by 41% and using solar energy to bottle their wines. That’s just what I gleaned from their sustainability page, they’re doing a lot more to hit some pretty ambitious goals in the future, they’re just not talking about it yet. Why? Because they didn’t feel ready. Kendall-Jackson started by evaluating their environmental impact and devised a plan to go above and beyond industry standards. Now, they are looking at their achievements and goals and asking, “how can we tell this story in a way that matters and makes sense to our consumers?” That’s how you do it. Start with what’s material to your business – what drives your business? What matters to your employees, stakeholders and employees? How can we change to be better? Once you’ve devised a plan and put those projects in motion, that’s when you can start telling a compelling story.

People can see through bullshit. Any attempt at standing behind a cause because its trendy will not work. What will work is…the work. Putting hours into actually being a better business. Use that momentum to show your customers why your product deserves their attention.

My goal with this blog is to highlight brands that do just that. Put the work in and find interesting and creative ways to showcase that work. Our problems are too big for false promises and fake allegiances. So evolve then show us how you plan on continuing to improve. That’ll get our attention.

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