How to Mobilize Customers to Scale Business Growth and Impact

Brands that demonstrate how they are building a better world speak to growing consumer demand for companies that not only offer excellent products and services, but also actively improve society. As a result, these contributions are becoming ever more intertwined with business success. To engage consumers around larger cultural issues, brands must align with current day movements, leverage values-aligned partnerships, and enlist a broad range of social technologies.

Here are three strategies to use and examples of brands driving growth through impact around cultural issues:

1. Embrace political activism: While aligning with a political party can alienate consumers with opposing viewpoints, taking a stand about a bipartisan issue is a powerful way to strengthen connections with your target audience.

Two brands that have done exceptional work engaging customers around a political movement are REI and Patagonia. In response to President Trump’s executive order to review dozens of national monuments with the intent of shrinking or delisting them, which would effectively allow private parties to purchase federal lands, both companies have been encouraging consumers to submit comments to the Department of the Interior. The comment period ended on July 12th with over 2.5 million submissions. Only 1% of the comments supported altering the monuments, according to the Center for Western Priorities.

By using direct email engagement campaigns, blog posts, photos and videos, REI and Patagonia tell the story of natural beauty in America’s public lands and made it easy for people to make their voices heard. Both brands not only influenced the cultural discourse and fought to preserve the natural environments in which many of their products are best put to use, but they also generated earned media, word of mouth advertising and strengthened ties with target consumers.

The key takeaway is that policy decisions can be excellent opportunities to build brand awareness and make a real impact.

2. Support social and environmental movements: Working towards the triple bottom line is an excellent way to not only improve the efficiency of your business operations, but also provide different ways to get your story heard, to amplify the reach of your communications, and to scale your social impact.

A company doing a great job driving economic, environmental and social progress is Ben & Jerry’s. To operate conscious business, spread awareness about climate change and advocate for a sustainable future, the ice cream makers incorporate sustainability and fair trade practices throughout their supply chains. What’s more, the company has collaborated with NGOs and musicians — such as Dave Matthews Band — to spread the word about climate action.

Ben & Jerry’s recently invited consumers to sign a petition supporting global leaders — timed along the G20 summit — to strive for 100% clean energy. Although the United States is leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, the remaining 19 members view the agreement as irreversible, in part due to the commitment from the business community to reducing emissions.

The lesson here is that using your business as a force for good is an excellent way to make partnerships with other groups and individuals that can help scale your impact and brand awareness. What’s more, it gives employees and consumers the feeling that they are part of making the world better when they work for your company or purchase your products.

3. Inspire Contributory Content on Social Media: People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and will actively share content about a cause in their social media feeds. Offering a donation to an NGO or movement for every post with a hashtag brings awareness about a social issue and your brand, and is an excellent way to increase the organic reach of marketing initiatives and to contribute to a cause.

A good example of a successful user generated content social media impact initiative is the #AerieReal instagram campaign. To stimulate awareness about the fact that so much of social media and advertising is edited, which can make people feel self conscious about their own real bodies, American Eagle’s Aerie swimsuit brand offered a $1 donation, of up to $15 thousand, for every unaltered post of women in an Aerie bathing suit. By raising awareness of an issue that is meaningful to their customers, Aerie generated relevance for its brand and contributions towards a social issue.

Essentially, user generated content campaigns that invite consumers to spread awareness, trigger a financial contribution, be artistic, and have fun are excellent ways to support a social cause and generate buzz for your brand.

Communications about important environmental or social issues are much more meaningful than promotions or the latest seasonal products. Brands that use media assets, partnerships, and financial contributions to invite consumers to join them in building a better world will create memorable interactions with customers, increase their social impact, and ultimately increase the bottom line.

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CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.