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How To Educate and Spread Awareness Through Brand Activism

January 24, 2022

You’re making a positive impact on the world through your skills and brand. Your higher purpose is driving your motivation to wake up each day and give it all you’ve got. You talk about how you work to reduce the negative impact your business may have on the environment and society. You’re sharing the amazing things you’re helping your clients achieve. But at the end of the day…

What actions are you taking to shake up the status quo outside of your business bubble?

Insert Brand Activism – using your business as a force for good by taking change-making actions and educating all of your stakeholders. 

Through brand activism, you can achieve the higher purpose we know you have because you care so deeply for people and the planet. Read on to learn more about what brand activism is, how this concept can transform your business, as well as steps you can take to maximize your impact.

What is brand activism?

As entrepreneurs, business leaders, and CEOs, we know we have a corporate social responsibility (CSR). This means we’re committed to managing the social, environmental, and economic effects of our operations responsibly and in line with public expectations.

There’s a big difference between CSR vs brand activism. While all businesses should implement CSR, these actions might not be cutting it for you if you want to be a part of the bigger picture – fighting for justice and creating real systemic change. Your brand’s behavior then needs to match its purpose by taking actions motivated beyond profits and savings. 

The working definition of brand activism from the book Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action reads: “Brand activism consists of business efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, and/ or environmental reform or stasis with the desire to promote or impede improvements in society”.

In simpler words, it’s the actions a business takes to influence change outside of itself in one direction or another. In this blog, we’ll focus on progressive (not regressive) activism.

Brand activism can come in many shapes and forms. And to show just that, we’d love to introduce you to these 3 super activist brands:

Patagonia

One of our all-time favorite brands when it comes to making an impact and leading the way in brand activism. With their iconic slogan: “We’re in business to save our home planet” they aren’t just taking on the fashion industry but demanding better from all.

Ben & Jerry’s

Delicious ice cream that can change the world, what’s not to like? Ben & Jerry’s uses traditional and contemporary business tools to drive systemic progressive social change by advancing the strategies of the larger movements that deal with those issues.

The Body Shop

Going back all the way to 1986 with their Save the Wales campaign, this company is truly rooted in activism. Founder Anita Roddick believes that business can be a force for good and we couldn’t agree more.

Now it may feel like those are big shoes to fill, but every brand can achieve similar results in its own way.

Why be an activist brand?

You might ask why your brand should concern itself with activism. Calling yourself an activist can feel heavy and loaded, so what would that mean for your business?

For one: you’d be on the right side of history by using your business to progress society and advocate against injustice. 

Your audience and customers look to you, whether you like it or not, for information on how to do better. Sure your services or products help them to make changes in their own businesses or lives, but they’re looking for community too. They want to be a part of the bigger picture. They want real change. Systemic change. And they’re looking to you for guidance.

Just by being in the realm of sustainable and ethical business, you’re already a leader. You’re needed more now than ever and your customers are putting your brand on a pedestal as well as under the microscope. You have their attention. What are you going to do with it?

Besides creating progressive change, here are a few more benefits to becoming an activist brand:

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Build trust & reputation

Create a connection between you and your audience. People trust businesses more (61%) than the government (52%) or media (50%). Your reputation will grow stronger because you’ll be known as a leader and for doing the right thing.

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Employee retention

While we’re experiencing ‘The Great Resignation’, employee retention and commitment couldn’t be more important. It is 78% more likely for a person to want to work for a company that leads with purpose. Brands that are activists receive greater commitment, advocacy, and loyalty from employees.

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Transform your industry

By transform we mean disrupt. Be the most progressive brand in your industry and lead the way. 64% of stakeholders will invest in a brand based on their beliefs and values.

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Consumer demand

Consumers are demanding for brands to make a positive difference, especially Millennials and Gen Z who are voting with their dollars. 58% will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.

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Increased brand exposure

By doing business differently you’ll most likely increase your PR opps and social engagement with your unique and powerful stories. 67% of consumers say brands are effective at raising awareness around important public issues when they speak out on social media.

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Higher sales and profits

All of the reasons above combined will help you build a (72% more) loyal community which can eventually lead to growth and increased sales. Making a profit isn’t a bad thing. It can help you further your cause.

4 steps to become a brand activist

As an activist brand, you can use your various platforms to educate around the causes you stand for or against. It’s important to remember that knowledge & education are the key to progress. You and your brand hold that key. Don’t underestimate the power you have.

You can infuse brand activism into so many of your business activities.

Here are some steps to get started:

1. Know your core values

Before diving in, it’s super important to identify your brand values. You need to know what your brand stands for, even what it stands against. Brand activism isn’t about the causes that are important to your audience, but what’s important to you.

For example, if one of your core values is to foster a diverse and inclusive working environment then you might support the Black Lives Matter movement or fight for the rights of disabled people. 

Or if one of your values is environmental protection, restoration, & regeneration, perhaps you create awareness campaigns to save the bees or educate people about the effects of climate change on at-risk communities. 

Whether it’s voting rights, clean water, deforestation, or anti-racism, once you’ve identified your core values, you’ll have the clarity needed to begin the real work of knowing what to say and when.

2. Do your research

Brand activism isn’t a one-and-done marketing strategy. If you want your brand to drive systemic change you’ll have to put in some work. This isn’t something you can casually read about. Hit the streets and talk to the people who have already joined the cause and who are feeling the effects of it or getting their hands dirty.

An important thing to note, you have a major influence as a brand so make sure you’re informed before saying or doing anything. It’s in the word itself – activism, be active and not reactive. Jumping on “hot and trending” issues is the fastest way to get your brand “canceled” so tread carefully. If you want to responsibly conduct brand activism, the causes should be rooted deep in your brand’s values and observed at all levels of your business operations.

If you jump on every trending issue it can be hard to maintain trust if your message misses the mark. It’s possible you could even lose it. Do you remember what happened when Pepsi jumped on the bandwagon during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement? Here’s a reminder.

Putting in the work to educate yourself on the issues is necessary before trying to use your brand as an agent for change.

3. Embed your values in all of your messaging

You can easily spread awareness about the environmental & social causes you care about and support by placing messaging in all of your brand’s touchpoints. Consider adding a section on your website, product packaging, a sentence at the bottom of your invoices, your email signature, your brand’s mission, your bio, and wherever else it’s feasible.

Making your stances clear and encouraging your audience to support the cause too, is where activism comes into play. 

When talking about some of the world’s biggest issues and what you as a brand are doing to support them, full transparency will take you farther in your audience’s eyes. Beware of greenwashing (making something appear more eco-friendly or sustainable than it really is) and purpose washing (making something appear more helpful to a social cause than it really is).

Being upfront about what you’re doing, not doing, and planning to do will help to build trust with your audience.

4. Utilize your brand’s content marketing for good

Your marketing is a powerful tool in your brand’s activism. This is where your company expresses its purpose. But activism goes far beyond ‘cause marketing’ where you seek out and market around the issues your audience cares about in order to build brand equity. With advocacy, the goal is to help progress society by inspiring your stakeholders to join you to take action in the change you want to see without directly seeking more profits. 

If you’re ever feeling lost for content ideas, look to your core values and the causes you support. What can you share with your audience about what you’re doing to help make an impact and drive change? What can you share to encourage your followers to join the cause?

A great place to start is to raise awareness on special dates or months related to the cause(s) you support to encourage positive social or environmental change. Earth Day & Earth Month are great examples of an internationally recognized date to attach an impactful campaign. Of course (and we’re sure you agree) every day is Earth Day, but using it as a catalyst and a way to reach a wider audience can’t be underestimated. 

The day of publication for this blog is International Day of Education, January 24, 2022. Education is one of our brand’s core values so we took it as a day to share some of the information we’ve learned in our research to encourage you (our audience) to also use your brand to spread awareness and educate your audience as well, all in the name of driving progressive change in the world.

Here are some ideas for you to inspire your audience to join you in your cause:

  • Share campaigns on social media that are connected to other leaders, businesses, organizations who are taking on the cause front and center
  • Write a blog post about the issue and provide steps for people to take action
  • Create social media posts talking about the issue and how people can get involved
  • Include regular updates and news about the issues in your emails to your subscribers
  • Bring leaders in the community together on your podcast or interview them live on Instagram
  • Create your own campaign to raise awareness and encourage people to share it with their friends
  • Raise money for a specific organization that’s directly addressing the root causes and/or supporting those affected by the issues you care about

Brand activism is powerful and is the future of doing good business. To quote Greta Thunberg, “no one is too small to make a difference” and neither is your business. You have an audience who believes in your ability to create change. They are waiting to join you in whatever cause is close to your heart. 

There’s so much more to say and learn about becoming an activist brand. We’ve collected these resources for you to dive into for your own research. Brand activism can be practiced in multiple ways, so find a way that feels aligned for your brand and values.

Resources for further exploration of brand activism:

Read

Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action

by Christian Sarkar & Philip Kotler

Listen

The Brand Activism Podcast

hosted by Christian Budtz

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