Lessons From Values-Driven Brands

June 6, 2019

Coca-Cola bottle in front of a mountain range

More Than Ever, Consumers Want To Know Where a Brand Stands on Social and Political Issues. Patagonia and Sackcloth & Ashes are Two Case Studies For How Brands Should Respond.

 According to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand report, 64 percent of consumers purchase goods from a brand solely based on the brand’s position on a political or social issue. This represents a 13 percent increase from the previous year. Edelman also reports that 60 percent of consumers wish brands made their values and positions on important issues more clear at the point of sale.

The report relates this dramatic jump to even more surprising statistic: 53 percent of consumers believe that brands are better positioned than the government to fix social problems. 54 percent believe it is easier for regular citizens to force brands, as opposed to the government, to address social issues.

Edelman refers to this phenomenon as Brand Democracy. According to Richard Edelman, the President and CEO of Edelman, “Brands are now being pushed to go beyond their classic business interests to become advocates. It is a new relationship between company and consumer, where purchase is premised on the brand’s willingness to live its values, act with purpose, and if necessary, make the leap into activism.”

Brand Democracy is also having an effect on how brands market themselves and their products. The Edelman report found that values-based messaging is equally powerful in producing purchase intent when compared to product benefits messaging (43 versus 44 percent), and it is more powerful than product benefits messaging when it comes to creating brand advocates (32 versus 26 percent).

Here is a quick look at how two brands are activating on these insights, and successfully constructing their marketing efforts around values that resonate with their consumers.

 

Brands are now being pushed to go beyond their classic business interests to become advocates.

People sitting around and studying a map

Patagonia Action Works

Yvon Chouinard, the legendary founder of Patagonia, has never been shy about his company’s commitment to the environment and social justice. He has also never been shy about how he views the relative values of his competitors.

In a recent interview with Outside magazine, Chouinard said, “The whole outdoor industry is just run by a bunch of weenies. And they’re not stepping up. They just suck the life out of outdoor resources and give nothing away.” Later in the same interview, he added, “What we are doing is stealing other companies’ business. The outdoor industry is not in good shape. You do the right thing, it leads to more business. What am I going to do, say no?”

As part of “doing the right thing,” Patagonia launched Patagonia Action Works in February of 2018. Patagonia Action Works is a digital hub where consumers can find information about how to get involved with environmental groups in their area. If a Patagonia customer wants to donate their time, energy, or just money to a cause Patagonia backs, the brand has provided a platform to make it as easy as possible.

Patagonia Action Works is the brainchild of Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, she knew consumers would rally around the various causes Patagonia supports. However, the brand wasn’t providing any way for Patagonia fans to actually get involved, other than wearing the brand logo, which a cynic might see as nothing more than virtue signaling. Patagonia Action Works now serves as both a recruiting tool, and a social network for the brand’s activism-oriented consumers.

“People really want to do something,” Marcario told Fast Company. “This makes it easier for them to get involved.”

Teacher reading from magazine in front of students in a calssroom

What can other brands learn from Patagonia Action Works?

1. Support a cause and stick to it.

Since Patagonia’s beginnings back in 1973, the brand has been fighting to protect the wild places where its gear and apparel are most at home.

That commitment makes every public action Patagonia takes in furtherance of that cause feel authentic, as opposed to some brands that champion a cause only when it becomes to the profitable thing to do. The examples of this are too numerous to state, but attempts by oil and energy companies to greenwash their dirty pasts are a good place to start.

Other brands make the mistake of spreading their values-driven marketing too thin. In an effort to appeal to multiple sets of values, many brands end up appealing to no one because their message becomes too diluted.

The Ford Motor Company is a good example of this. Over the decades, the company has been involved in countless amazing charitable initiatives. Currently, the company attempts to organize all their causes under the umbrella of “community,” but would any automobile consumer identity Ford with “community”? What does that even mean? Ford would probably be better off focusing on a single aspect of community-building, such as education, so consumers would immediately identify Ford as the brand that cares about education.

 

Plenty of brands fill their websites with stories and photos of all their good works, but few actually enable their consumers to chip in and help.

2. Directly engage consumers in a cause. 

What makes Patagonia Actions Works such a unique initiative is that it’s more than just a television spot, social media campaign, or employee community service program. Plenty of brands fill their websites with stories and photos of all their good works, but few actually enable their consumers to chip in and help. This direct engagement does more than simply communicate that Patagonia cares about the issues their consumers care about the issues their consumers care about—it also empowers consumers with the knowledge that a huge global brand is working side by side with them to change the world.

Man arranging blankets in piles ready to be distributed to the homeless

Sackcloth & Ashes

Before starting Sackcloth & Ashes, Bob Dalton’s attitude toward the homeless was one of apathy. As he admitted in a recent interview with Forbes, “I was the guy who drove by people and whispered under my breath, “Go get a job.” I was probably one of the most judgmental people toward folks on the street.”

That changed in 2013, when his mother, who had two college degrees, found herself living on the streets. Inspired by her desperate situation, Dalton called his local homeless shelter in Oregon and asked how he could help. When they told him they needed more blankets, he went out and bought supplies and started making blankets from home. Sackcloth & Ashes was born.

The mission of Sackcloth & Ashes is not hard to find. In fact, the first thing users see when they visit the brand’s website is this promise: for every blanket you purchase, the brand donates a blanket to your local homeless shelter.

Dalton, in the interview with Forbes, says he took a cue from other buy-one, give-one brands such as TOMS and Warby Parker. Like those brands, Sackcloth & Ashes is not a charity, nor does it look like one. The brand’s aesthetic is very modern, very chic, and the brand’s mission does not overwhelm the brand’s beautiful products. Rather, the brand’s mission is authentically infused into the brand in a way that gives it a higher purpose, which in turn sets the brand apart in a largely undifferentiated category. 

For a brand’s values to truly impact its business, those values must be consistently, and repeatedly, activated into fresh marketing content and service initiatives.

Man speaking to employees while reading from smartphone

What Can Other Brands Learn from Sackcloth & Ashes?

1. Use individual campaigns to continue to promote the founding mission.

In 2018, Sackcloth & Ashes launched a campaign called Blanket the United States. Its goal is to donate one million blankets to homeless shelters by 2024. While laudable for purely humanitarian and charitable reasons, this campaign also has the effect of either reminding existing consumers of the brand’s mission, or introducing the mission to new consumers.

Too many brands hide their support for causes or issues on an “About Us” page on the brand’s website. For a brand’s values to truly impact its business, those values must be consistently, and repeatedly, activated into fresh marketing content and service initiatives. Consumers can’t be motivated by a brand’s values if a brand does not find new and engaging ways to place those values in front of consumers.

Mom and son smiling and sitting on mattresses in a warehouse

2. Find ways to get involved in relevant current events.

In the aftermath of the wildfires that devastated parts of California in 2018, Sackcloth & Ashes teamed up with SixDegrees.org, a charity founded by Kevin Bacon. As part of this effort, Sackcloth & Ashes donated an additional blanket with every consumer purchase to families affected by the fires (one blanket to the homeless, one blanket to the California families).

Obviously, not every brand manufactures the sorts of products that are useful to those affected by natural disasters, but brands can get creative. Look at the example of “Mattress Mack,” otherwise known as Jim McIngvale of the Gallery Furniture chain in Houston, a business owner long known for his deep commitment to the community. In the dangerous days and weeks after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, he converted his stores into shelters for those displaced by floodwaters. Since then, he has converted two of his store into full-time community centers, as both a way to continue to serve his community, and as way to respond to his diminishing need for retail space in the digital era.

How BMDG Can Help Your Brand Communicate Its Values

At Britton Marketing & Design Group, we have more than a decade of experience helping home goods and fashion brands communicate meaningful messages to consumers, especially the consumers that make up what we call the New American Middle.

This large, and thus valuable, group of consumers are driven more by values than price tags. The values vary from person to person, from sub-audience to sub-audience, but they all include values centered around tradition, family, independence, tolerance, pride in where they come from, personal fitness and wellness, and, most importantly, concern for the kind of world they will leave behind for their children and grandchildren.

Brands that reflect these values will earn long-lasting loyalty from New American Middle consumers. If your brand is looking for new and innovative ways to communicate its values to consumers, let’s start a conversation.

Photos: Jeremy Bishop, Patagonia, Ford, Sackcloth + Ashes,  TIMES

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