Major U.S. retail chains including Walgreens and CVS recently made headlines when they announced they would ban the open carry of guns in their stores, even in states that currently permit the open carry of handguns and rifles by civilians. In doing so, they joined the ever-growing list of companies that are actively taking social stances through their corporate messaging, marketing and actions.
These days, there’s growing pressure on companies to express their brand values and illustrate their stand on key social or political issues. According to insights drawn from Resonate’s consumer intelligence platform, today’s U.S. consumers are significantly more likely to let their hearts and minds drive their wallets. They’re increasingly deciding which brands deserve their dollars based on the values they demonstrate as a company. In fact, 30 percent of U.S. adult consumers are willing to pay more for a product based on the brand’s corporate values and how those values align to their own. Moreover:
● 53 percent of the U.S. adult population believes in the importance of equality and acceptance of others who are different from them.
● Nearly 40 million U.S. adults prefer companies that support the community.
● 53 percent prefer companies that are honest and trustworthy.
There are also notable generational distinctions in how consumers shop based on brand values. For example, Millennials are 56 percent more likely than Baby Boomers to choose a company or purchase a product if that company is perceived to listen to the public. The Millennial tendency to support civic-minded brands only increases when considering environmental issues, such as whether a company has programs to reduce energy use (Millennials are 60 percent more likely to support than Baby Boomers) or uses “green” packaging (66 percent more likely). Millennials are also more likely than other generations to choose a brand based on how they treat their employees.
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Aligning with Consumer Values
Value-aligned customer experiences are key to igniting growth in today’s marketplace, but creating that alignment requires a brand to intimately understand what drives its audiences on a personal level. In that regard, it’s imperative that brands tap into the right insights when framing their brands’ social stances. Let’s take a look at four key requirements for resonating with consumers in today’s advocacy-driven world, as well as some brands that are getting it right.
1. Choose authentically. Avoid taking a stand on a cause just because it’s trending in the news or because it seems like every other company has something to say on the matter. Choose an issue that is authentic to your brand ethos, related to your core business proposition and aligned to your company’s products or services.
One company that champions causes in line with its brand mission is Patagonia. In December 2017, President Trump issued an order reducing the size of nationally protected land in Utah by almost 2 million acres. Patagonia replaced its usual homepage with the phrase, “The President Stole Your Land” written in white, bold letters. This wasn’t part of a big marketing blitz or campaign strategy; it was completely synchronized with the company’s mission statement: “Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This type of brand-to-value alignment builds brand equity and drives customer loyalty.
2. Understand the values and psychological drivers of your customers. If you haven’t seen Nike’s “Dream Crazier” campaign, check out this video. This is what happens when a company understands the core values of its customers and puts those insights into action. According to Resonate data, women who buy Nike products are 44 percent more likely to value equality. The individuals in this video emphasize the equality of all people and believe life is about social justice. Nike’s #DreamCrazy campaign successfully tapped into that belief with its creative and messaging that highlights some of the most decorated female athletes challenging the gender bias in sports. The reaction on social media was widely positive, and the campaign deepened brand affinity, particularly with women.
3. Wave the banner. Aligning to customers’ preferred methods of civic expression helps brands strengthen their connections with them, driving loyalty. For example, H&M’s garment collecting initiative incentivized customers to bring their old clothes to their local store so they could reuse and recycle them. Doing so would result in the donors receiving 15 percent off their purchases. According to Resonate’s insights, H&M customers are 80 percent more likely to contribute to a cause and 59 percent more likely to volunteer for a cause than the average U.S. shopper, meaning they value social engagement beyond monetary donations. H&M’s initiative correlates with its customers’ preferred avenue of civic expression, and it highlights its commitment to social responsibility.
4. Tap into human motives. Understanding what factors drive your customers to advocate or buy from one brand over another is crucial to keeping your customers loyal. Take CVS as an example. According to Resonate’s insights, 34 percent of CVS customers prefer doing business with companies that have truthful ads. Smartly, CVS recently launched an initiative called “Beauty Unaltered,” in which the company plans to identify beauty advertisements found in its stores that have been digitally altered. Explaining further in its official statement, the company said, “We believe we have an opportunity, and responsibility, to think about the messages we send to our customers and how they impact their health.” This is the intersection of personal values and brand values, authenticity and action.
When brands authentically take a stand on a cause or issue, they’re building emotional connections with their consumers by tapping into their values and motivations. People want their brands to be authentic, personable, trustworthy and—above all else—human. Following the above guidelines separates brand value alignment from trendy marketing ploys. When genuine, a brand’s social stance can deepen consumer connections and ultimately increase customer lifetime value.
Ericka McCoy is CMO of consumer intelligence platform Resonate.