New ideas and innovation are often shot down because decision makers think it’s wise to just give consumers what they want. They’re partially right — a brand only succeeds if it fulfills its customers’ expectations. However, what they actually mean is that they want to keep doing what’s worked in the past rather than rock the boat.
Consumers change, and as they do, their wants, needs, and expectations change. The companies that grow are those that can anticipate what consumers will want by learning who they are, what they value, and what they want their favorite brands to value as well.
This is why cause marketing has ballooned in popularity during the last few years. And this approach will not only help you retain customers, but it will aid your company in cultivating brand evangelists. When given a choice between two brands of equal quality and price, most consumers will almost always choose the one with a socially or environmentally conscious cause. In some cases, they’re even willing to pay more to help support it.
In fact, more than 90 percent of consumers in the U.S. prefer brands that actively engage in social or environmental causes. For instance, by partnering with a charity to tackle a social or environmental problem, brands can promote their causes while boosting their image in the eyes of like-minded consumers.
The Value in Having Values
The shift in consumer focus from price to purpose has been problematic for some companies, but others have taken on the challenge to deliver more to their customers. For brands to succeed at this, consistent values need to be at the foundation of what the company offers consumers, according to Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Earth Friendly Products, which makes ECOS environmentally friendly cleaners.
In a recent Forbes article, she described her company’s approach: “By creating our products based on [our] values, we’ve reached new heights of sustainability and now share our ECOS cleaners with millions of consumers who care about their health and the health of our planet.” Yet mixing philanthropy with business strategy is tricky; consumers can spot publicity stunts from a mile away, and insincerity can do significant damage to a brand’s image.
Therefore, how you tell the story of your brand’s cause and who you tell it to will determine your campaign’s perceived authenticity and, ultimately, your success. With these three tips, you’ll be sure to choose a cause that reflects your company’s true values and tell your brand’s story in a way that resonates with the right audience.
1. Define what values your company stands for.
Your company’s values should be more than just a few flowery sounding words. Communication, respect, and integrity sound noble, but they’re also three of the values Enron claimed as a company. By themselves, words mean nothing. Instead, consider the actual values that have guided your company’s biggest moments in the past, and then highlight them so they can continue guiding your company’s future.
Your values are the things that influence how your company handles challenges and what you prioritize when making decisions. Under a tight deadline, do you still concentrate on quality over speed? Have you invested in ways to make your company and its products more eco-friendly, even if your bottom line takes a hit? Use the knowledge you gain from this self-examination to build on your values through cause marketing and tell the story of your efforts to others who share those values.
2. Use data to find consumers with similar values.
The more defined your company’s values are, the easier it becomes to find consumers who will relate most to your brand. As with all forms of marketing these days, consumer data will be your strongest tool for doing so. You can segment your audience members into value preferences by analyzing their digital footprints to track previous purchase preferences, social media activity, and more. These metrics can reveal a theme regarding what each consumer finds important.
Asha Saxena, CEO and chairperson of data management firm Future Technologies, Inc., recommends crafting a “data-innovation map” that will provide “a bird’s-eye view of your customers’ experience and show you how you can be more innovative with data — not to mention save time and drive revenue.” Plotting the customer journey and collecting data at each interaction point will enable you to understand your customers’ values and preferences in actionable ways.
Once you’ve created a cohort of ideal consumers based on shared values, you can market your brand and its cause more effectively. Depending on the level of segmentation you’ve implemented, you can even adjust the emphasis on your cause for each message according to level of interest.
3. Share your brand’s values by spinning a good yarn.
No matter how sincere your efforts are, the quality of your storytelling will determine how genuine consumers perceive your message to be. Consumers require authenticity. As that demand increases, the art of storytelling becomes an increasingly vital skill for brands and marketers to learn.
Consumer data and social media have dramatically changed how consumers interact with brands, and the emotional connection of storytelling is what appeals to them most. However, online interactions have also changed how consumers pay attention. You can’t tell all of your story at once. Instead, dole out chunks of it through different media at the right time to create a comprehensive, fulfilling story that consumers are excited to follow.
Every brand post your audience members sees on their Facebook and Twitter feeds or the short ad before their next YouTube video will build on the story you’ve been telling them all along. Your audience will remain engaged, and your message will build stronger, more lasting trust in your brand.
It used to be that companies could stay comfortably within the confines of product design and marketing. Today, however, what used to work doesn’t anymore, and your brand has to be more than just a logo and a product. Every company stands for something, and now, exhibiting those values is key to connecting with and satisfying your consumers.
Chirag Kulkarni is the Chief Marketing Officer of Medly, a digital pharmacy. Forbes ranked him one of the top 25 marketers and he’s helped brands like Expedia increase their revenue on the web.