Times are a-changin’. No longer can a company skirt around their moral code. More and more, customers are demanding products and services that serve a greater moral purpose or stand for something good. This doesn’t mean companies can do one project or one campaign and claim they are a purpose-driven organization. Consumers are smarter than that. They can sniff out inauthentic approaches like a bloodhound. At the same time, companies shouldn’t be compelled to hide their efforts to keep their valiant efforts anonymous. On the contrary, now more than ever it is important to communicate what they’re doing to contribute to a better world. So how do you approach mission-based marketing in a unique, genuine way? I’m on a mission to find out. Below is are three considerations for companies struggling with this issue. Throughout this article, you’ll hear from an expert on the topic – Molly Malloy, Director of Brand Purpose Planning at Futerra. Futerra calls themselves a “Change Agency” and for good reason. They are “McKinsey meets McCann” – always on the cutting edge of combining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting and communications to deliver complete solutions for companies that are serious about making a change and amplifying their existing efforts.
“Don’t put lipstick on a pig” – this one seems obvious, right? However, companies are still taking a “greenwashing” approach to sustainability efforts on the reg. Many times, this isn’t an evil plot to fool consumers into buying into their fake mission. Executives may have the best of intentions, but aren’t putting the tools in place to really deliver on their promise. According to Molly, “consumers must feel a company’s desire is sincere to make a real change.” To ensure their clients are doing just that, Futerra and their clients put a lot of time into determining how they will implement initiatives that have real impact. This is built into their DNA. Their “logic” team is made up of sustainability and social impact experts that help clients implement the actual programs. The “magic” team (including Molly’s role) creates strategies to accurately communicate this idea internally and externally. The biggest takeaway? Don’t just say you’ll do it, actually do it. Commit to change and implement it. Then communicating it will come (relatively) easy.
Make it personal – One of the challenges I found in my research, and something Futerra confirmed their clients also face, is simply how to make more people care. “For a lot of brands, it isn’t enough to go after the hardcore environmentalists or social activists, we want to affect change by bringing these messages to the mainstream market. We’re constantly striving to scale these initiatives and campaigns. That’s how we make the biggest impact.” Molly explained. How do you do that? Make the issue personal and get creative. A lot of the problems our world faces are nameless and sometimes halfway around the world. How can you establish a connection? One example of how Futerra overcame this obstacle was through their work with the UN and their Wild for Life campaign. They realized that it was hard for people to care about wild life poaching since it was so far removed from a lot of people. They solved this problem by creating a quiz to find out what your “spirit animal” is, personifying and creating an emotional connection to the issue. They promoted it through partnerships with celebrities who disclosed their own spirit animals. Case and point – don’t assume people care already. Get them to care by establishing a connection with the issue using unique tactics and channels.
Do your research and establish meaningful partnerships – In 2012, Susan G. Komen Foundation and Baker Hughes Inc., an oil and fracking company, partnered up on a campaign to distribute pink drill bits to job sites around the country to increase awareness of breast cancer. I’m sure you can predict how this story ended. Since fracking is associated with cancer, both organizations suffered major backlash for this campaign.* To avoid making the wrong partnerships or promoting an initiative that may not align with your mission, do your research. “Not only do we look at data concerning consumer behavior, we reach out to experts that can inform how we approach our strategies.” Social, political, environmental, and social issues are highly charged. Admitting a gap in knowledge and seeking out credible information to fill that void is crucial. Consumers are always more informed than you think. Do everything you can to explore the range of topics associated with the initiative and seek out experts that may have opposing viewpoints. This will give valuable insight into the complex nature of these issues and how you approach solutions and communications strategies.
Authenticity, scalability and insatiable curiosity are essential to developing a successful CSR strategy and communication plan. However, every company and approach is unique. The most important question to ask yourself before pursuing these types of initiatives is “Why?”. Why are you doing it? If it’s to earn more revenue – re-evaluate. Consumers will pick up on the reason behind the campaign. Change may be scary, but companies shouldn’t shy away from the challenge. According to Molly – “Brands have to know, right now, what they stand for. If they don’t communicate their values, they are falling behind.”