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Top 5 Ways to Connect Consumers with Your Brand Purpose

Images credit: Reformation

Purpose-driven brands know that the key to successful engagement is connecting consumers to their brand purpose and mission. The most effective ways to do that is to listen, communicate, and build trust. Here we offer five inventive new ways to actively connect with the growing segment of conscious consumers.

1. A fresh perspective on listening: Embracing the spectrum of consumer demands

Consumer preferences have quickly become one of the main driving forces behind corporate change. As consumers grow more aware of what goes into their purchases, and as they learn about the companies they are supporting through their dollars, brands that embrace and cater to purpose-centric consumer demand will prevail. Consumers are craving authentic and transparent messaging from the brands they support, and brands must listen and take action to maintain and enhance their credibility.

The clean labeling movement, part of the larger wave of conscious consumerism, has driven brands into action. After listening to consumer demand for cleaner labels, Campbell’s Soup began to label GMOs in all of its products, with the understanding that by listening and responding authentically, they are not only building trust with their existing customers, but growing their market share with new, conscious consumers.



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It’s important to embrace all kinds of consumer activism. Responding to recent Change.org consumer petitions, Trader Joe’s and several other large supermarkets announced a move to sell only 100% cage-free eggs. Petitions such as these allow brands to gain a deep understanding of what Millennials, Gen Z, Aspirationals and others are “buzzing about,” what’s trending in the sustainability space, what they can learn from this new information, and how they can respond to drive forward positive social impact.

Before transforming your product line to conform to consumer preferences, understand that human behavior and choice are primarily motivated by purpose. Many people are intrinsically motivated to choose something that aligns with their purpose (economic factors are less of a motivator). By studying the underlying purpose motives of your consumers, you can align the purpose of your brand with the purpose-driven motivators of your target market.

2. Novel approaches to consumer engagement

Effective marketing and communications will always be a powerful tool to engage with your customers, but when you want your purpose-driven messaging to shine, fresh approaches to engagement can be paramount.

Showcasing your message with a global network of players is a creative and compelling way to engage your audience.

For example, GOOD created a global call to action for business leaders and politicians to reach an agreement at the Paris Climate Convention. To amplify their message, they built a global network of 111 members across media, business and advocacy and drove over 1.4 billion impressions and actions around COP21 with#EarthtoParis. Another example is Sustain Natural’s movement to help women to take control of and #getontop of their sexual health. By teaming up with other businesswomen, non-profits, and organizations to get the message out, Sustain is now engaging a larger and more diversified audience. The lesson here is to rethink creative execution of your message and learn how to build a network of support around a cause through global networks of nonprofits, media companies, and businesses and more.

Conscious consumers look to understand what is in the products they’re purchasing, and what it took to make them. They want to continually stay informed, and if a purpose-driven brand can provide consumers with this education through its marketing, it’s a win-win for both the consumer and the brand. Consumers appreciate the transparency and education, and brands can be authentic and showcase their progress in sustainability. A great example of this is fashion brand Reformation. Language has the power to help a sustainability story spread, and the Reformation has nailed the formula of millennial engagement: humor-based information marketing with a side of movement-building and none of the “gloom and doom.”

It’s important to appeal to genuine emotions to spark action. These days, consumers expect brands to “do good,” yet doing good simply isn’t enough to build a consumer movement behind a brand. To engage consumers and break through to them, marketers must connect on a much deeper level with consumers by sparking genuine emotions and showing how an issue is unquestionably relevant to people’s everyday lives. Ben & Jerry’s has mastered this with its brilliant social media and political activism campaigns, using the power of emotion to influence consumer attitudes and behavior; REI encouraged us to #optoutside and experience the outdoors, instead of partaking in Black Friday.; and Jetblue’s short film, “"Reach Across the Aisle," engages passengers on a flight to reach a compromise, a nod to the frustration surrounding political gridlock in the US.

3. Building trust in new and unexpected ways

In many ways, there’s nothing more important than building and retaining trust in your brand. These days, trust is a brand’s license to operate, but mounting inequality has stirred a growing distrust in established institutions, including big business. A newly released study from Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer found that 80% of the general population agrees that businesses must lead to solve social problems. What can brands do to build trust amongst these ever-changing macro issues such as wealth inequality, the role of capitalism in our planetary collapse, the failure of GDP as a valid measurement of progress, and our ineffective political system? Some companies build trust by lobbying for particular views, using their political clout to change the system; others are embedding themselves in the communities in which they operate to tackle inequality and access-related issues. Brand activism combines many facets – economics, politics, system-change and more - but corporations and brands are, at this point at least, best equipped to tackle our biggest societal problems and will build consumer trust with authentic and transparent attempts to do so.

Another key way to build trust through authenticity is to confess failures publicly – it shows humility and self-awareness, and increases brand trust and loyalty. In the past few years, Keurig Green Mountain has come under fire for its unrecyclable disposable coffee pods. Activists and YouTube videos flooded the Internet, calling for the company to “Kill the K-Cup.” Cities such as Hamburg, Germany are banning the use of K-Cups in government buildings, and even the inventor of the K-Cup has admitted that he regrets creating the product due to its environmental impact. This negative publicity had a big influence on Keurig’s work to make the K-Cup more environmentally friendly. Through its “Grounds to Grow On” program, the company launched a transparency initiative addressing the many issues that consumers have with the product. Through these and other measures, it will be interesting to see if Keurig can regain lost consumer trust.

4. Knowing when to drive the change

A few months ago, The New York Times featured a piece about the Volkswagen emissions scandal, but what stood out was a quote by Barb J. Samardzich, chief operating officer for Ford of Europe, who said: “We have electric vehicles today; what we don’t have is consumer pull.” Unfortunately, the logic there is backwards: It’s brands and companies that must drive the change - they must create the consumer pull for electric vehicles and for any other product that will lead us to a sustainable future. Tesla, for example, has successfully created enormous demand for electric vehicles through innovative technologies, sleek design and smart marketing. When consumers aren’t pushing for it, brands should take a page from Tesla’s book and create the demand.

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Morningstar Farms is on a mission to motivate people to reduce meat in their diets though a combination of documentary storytelling, recipes, and sharing many #WAYSTOVEG. The Body Shop is implementing the most rigorous environmental standards that exist – by adopting the Future Fit methodology to build a regenerative business model and products that are good for people and the planet. Nobody asked The Body Shop to provide regenerative products to the marketplace – it is creating demand for these products and competitors will follow suit.

Other brands are creating awareness around the benefits of less consumption. Heineken, for example, is encouraging moderate consumption of alcohol, starting a “moderation movement,” highlighting research that more and more young people value self-awareness and staying in control during a night out. Fashion brand Cuyana is predicated on a #FewerBetter movement, encouraging customers to purchase fewer, but higher-quality clothing and products to limit fast fashion purchases, which have negative social and environmental impacts.

5. Build internal engagement - it reflects out to your customers

The way your brand operates internally is a direct reflection of how it is perceived by the public. By embedding purpose into the workplace and improving internal engagement, a brand can change employee mindsets, culture and productivity. However, if employees are not on board with their company’s purpose, the mission is doomed. Engaging your employees is equivalent to engaging consumers, because if they don’t believe in the company, nobody else will. Sustainable Brands member companies alone encompass close to 5 million employees – that is a significant percentage of people in the US that can have an impact on the world through their purchasing power and decisions. If employees learn and understand their company’s purposeful mission and are on board with it, they have the power to help lead a shift to a more sustainable economy.

How do successful brands get their employees on board with their vision, mission and purpose? It starts first and foremost with leadership. Clif Bar, for example, committed early in its nearly 25-year history to build a culture that puts the ideas, needs and unique interests of its people at the center of how they work every day. And Eileen Fisher managed to create a workplace in which the company’s purpose is embedded throughout the organizational structure.

At SB’16 next month, Clif CEO Kevin Cleary and Fisher herself will unpack key components of purpose-driven leadership, and how they activated on their missions from the very beginning. Join us to meet these two remarkable leaders, along with hundreds of other innovators - including most, if not all, of the brands mentioned in this post.


Nassy is Content Development Manager at Sustainable Brands. Prior to joining the team, she worked as CSR Manager for Sustain Natural, and before that was a Communications Specialist (Writer) for the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Nassy has a J.D.… [Read more about Nassy Avramidis]


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