How to Engage When Customers Don’t Give a Damn (or Dime) About What You Say
Customers don’t care what you say. They care what you do. For generations, customers have listened to brands talk about their product and quality advantages, promises to deliver on expectations, and a whole lot more. Today, nobody listens and, more importantly, nobody cares. Consumers care about actions and many of their choices are based upon the old adage of “actions are louder than words.”
According to Neilsen’s research on corporate social responsibility, the majority of consumers surveyed in 60 countries are willing to spend more to purchase from brands that can show a positive social and environmental impact. For North America, it’s 42 percent.
“We have moved from an era of marketing goods and differentiating products to a new era focused on conscientious behavior. Branding is no longer about exclusively promoting your brand’s competitive advantages, but rather how your brand’s actions positively impact our world and how your business is an acting force for good.” This from Richard Rosen, a leading branding strategist and author of “Convergence Marketing - Combining Brand and Direct Marketing for Unprecedented Profits” (Wiley 2009).
After years of building sales and profitability for global brands through marketing programs and campaigns, Rosen now incorporates the holistic approach of helping brands focus on gaining a sustainable advantage by defining what they stand for while achieving profits through service, product, price, place and so on. The most important pillar of all he says is, “Doing Good.”
Today, doing good goes beyond showing that you recycle and cut down on pollution, or that you donate 1 percent to charity. Doing good is about truly impacting our environment and society with actions that do not put your brand absolutely first, and by doing good to your employees and people, in general. Research shows that consumers are fine with companies making profits, as long as they are conscientious members of the global community. And per Rosen, “That holistic approach is a far more successful strategy for today’s times.”
One of the best examples of doing good is Patagonia, which started in the 1970s as a creator of mountaineering equipment and clothing. Today, it’s a $700 million-plus business, growing substantially year-over-year — despite shifting its brand positioning from marketing goods to doing good. In 2012, sales grew almost one-third to $543 million, when it changed its marketing pitch from “buy our products” to “don’t buy our products.” In fact, this reverse psychology appeal with an actual campaign that said “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” increased sales by nearly $160 million.
Building upon the environmentally friendly pillars of Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle, Patagonia encouraged customers to stop buying replacement items and instead cut down on resources and their personal imprint on our environment by repairing and reusing what they have. To execute on this strategy, Patagonia has a repair shop of 45 employees who repair products, extending the lifecycle of the products — while diminishing their impact on the world their products are made to help us enjoy.
For brands to become more in-line with consumers’ values, especially those of the economical powerhouse generations, GenY and GenX, brands must define their environmental and social values. One way many brands are defining and communicating their values is to go through the process of becoming a Benefit Corporation, or a B Corp. That’s an organization achieving high scores for social and environmental responsibility, per an assessment test offered by B Lab, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of business as a force for good. This process helps businesses of all sizes measure what matters and see precisely how well they are doing. And it gives them and their customers something worth talking about for a change.
This new era of consumers demanding corporations do good does not just extend to environmental responsibility, as exemplified by Patagonia. It embraces how you treat people, a long overdue demand, in my own opinion.
Fashion icon Eileen Fisher is an example of a B Corp scoring high for how they treat employees. Eileen Fisher chose not to sell her multi-million dollar business and walk away with more money than she could spend in her lifetime. Instead, she chose to set up an employee ownership program and let those who have helped build her business take ownership and share in the profits earned by their hard work. Not only is she a leading B Corp for the fashion industry, her employees give her a 4.4 out of 5 rating as a great place to work on Indeed.com. And we all know that in the long-term, happy employees add up to happy profits and sustainable growth.
And per Patagonia’s experience, another high-scoring B Corp company, doing good for others and the world in which we live, does good for business. As founder and owner Yvon Choinard told Inc. magazine recently,
“I know it sounds crazy, but every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money. Our customers know that — and they want to be part of that environmental commitment.” Inc. Magazine, March 2013
Large or small business, B Corp status or not, there are many things you can do to align your business with values that matter to customers and set your brand up for sustainable growth. Psychologically, we all follow leaders who represent who we are now or who we want to be. Be that brand. Or like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” When you give people a reason to align with you that is pure, sincere and greater than the moment at hand, you take price and all of your competitors out of the equation.
Here are a few steps to consider:
Define Your Values
If this exercise keeps coming back to increased profits, you’ve just wasted 10 minutes reading this article and should check out now. If you’re still reading, don’t just define your personal values and jump right in, build your brand around your team’s values. Give your employees co-ownership of the cause behind your brand and the reason you all do what you do every day.
Get Your Hands Dirty
No one cares to hear how you’re donating a small percentage of revenues from a promotion or even your annual draw to a charity. Customers today want to see what you are doing to impact our world for the better.
Go out and find solutions that make a true difference.
Go find a way to enhance your brand’s virtues, like Patagonia did with its repair service. The brand didn’t do that to see if reverse psychology built sales like it did in the case of their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign; Patagonia did it because it truly minimizes the impact on our world from their production process and their customers’ overuse of resources available. The resulting profits were the fringe and unexpected benefit.
Do Good Always in All Ways
Like Rosen pointed out, doing good is the most powerful and most critical pillar that holds a brand up in today’s conscientious consumer era. Money spent doing good for others through giving back, generous customer service policies, employee benefits and involvement, organized events to work with customers on a common cause and more will likely do more for your profitability than any content marketing campaign or clever social media post — no matter how viral it goes.
Marketers have a hard time measuring content and social media efforts, but no one — not customers, employees or shareholders — will have a hard time measuring the value you add to their lives when you do good for the right reasons.
Doing good taps into some of the powerful psychological drivers of human behavior. As Jonathan Haidt points out in his book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” we are driven by five core needs that affect happiness, two which are nurturing others and being part of a greater good. Brands that enable us to do this and provide quality products and experiences are those with the strongest sustainability for lasting loyalty, revenue and profitability.
Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.