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January 24, 2020


When your brand is more about the cause than the money

During the 2011 Thanksgiving shopping season, outdoor gear and apparel designer Patagonia ran an ad that turned more than a few heads. In big, bold letters, the ad read, “Don’t buy this jacket.” A closer look at the brand’s decision showed how it detailed the detrimental cost one of its best-selling jackets had on the environment. Even more groundbreaking, the brand recommended that its customers consider buying a used Patagonia product instead of the newer one.

That year, Patagonia’s revenue grew about 30%.

Patagonia’s strategy, one which is rooted in a “buy less, buy quality” philosophy, centers on the belief that the purpose of a company is not always to make money. Sometimes, the mission can be to advance a cause or draw attention to a situation that has fallen off the radar. Truth be told, the brand literally tells its customers not to buy its clothing and invest in used versions instead.

According to a 2017 YouGov survey, 61% of outdoor retail customers consider themselves well-dressed, stylish individuals. Interestingly, the study also showed that when it comes to having ethical shopping habits, 69% of Patagonia customers say they like to be conscious of where their products come from, while 67% believe it is important to protect the environment.

“Patagonia is an ideal example of a brand that does cause marketing exceptionally well,” says Shahla Hebets, founder and CEO, Think Media Consulting. “It understands what its customers care about. It understands that protecting the planet is core to who its customers are, and that it wants to support brands that reflect its thoughts.”

That’s why Patagonia continues to make environmental activism synonymous with its brand. For example, a 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study found that 77% of consumers feel more connected to companies that care about environmental issues, which means that Patagonia’s strategy does not just ingratiate itself with its loyal customer base, it also appeals to new customers. The brand’s focus remains centered on fostering customer loyalty through emotional triggers. Through donations to environmental causes, efforts to expand the functional life of its products, investments in optimized sustainability, and the use of recycled and organic materials, Patagonia backs its eco-responsible talk with concrete actions.

Levi’s is another example of a brand that has taken its message of corporate responsibility to the people with initiatives like dramatically reducing the water usage in their denim production and its recent partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement geared toward fighting for common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence.

“Clearly, Levi’s sees the rewards and long-term success of taking a stand with the issues that matter to their customers,” Hebets says. “It reflects that it is listening to its customers, and the younger demographic who have embraced the brand. It is not only smart corporate responsibility, it is an astute marketing strategy which has driven resurgence in their brand.”

Hebets, who also wrote the book, “What’s Working Now? YOU-centric Marketing,” has spent the past two decades helping brands like Kellogg’s, Visa, Marriott and Apple find their branding and marketing synergies. And as she looks at a world where the call out for social issues and environmental awareness are at an all-time high, she believes that every brand must recognize the customers’ sentiments. Hint: It is not all about the money.

“Purposefully marketing is the perfect way to say essentially, ‘We hear you, and we care too,'” Hebets says. “The more brands understand this, the more they can show customers that they value them through their purpose-driven efforts.”

This article was written by Michael J. Pallerino and appears in the January/February 2020 issue of Connect magazine published by NextPage, which can be found online here. If you would like a free print subscription to Connect, please click here.

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