When it comes to corporate social responsibility in 2018, it’s not enough anymore for companies to simply create a more environmentally-friendly supply chain or provide comfortable work environments abroad. Consumers and employees are now expecting companies to take a stand on social issues.
According to a Cone Communications study conducted in 2017, 78% of consumers want companies to address important social justice issues, and 87% will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Edelman’s 2016 study found that “62% of consumers said they would boycott the products or services of brands that do not meet these expectations [of being activists in the world].”
Corporate responsibility expert Susan McPhearson posited in Forbes earlier this year that we’ll continue to see corporations speaking out on social issues (e.g., the 25 companies that signed a letter urging President Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement) and that they will become more proactive with a “focused and forward-thinking brand activism.”
While this might seem like merely a fad, it’s going to become the norm in the future. Members of Gen Z look for companies that share their values on social media and enjoy engaging with brands whose values align with their own. Whitney Dailey, Director of Marketing Research & Insights at Cone Communications, concluded from their study that “CSR is not a fad, a trend or ‘nice to have.’ It’s a business imperative that must be authentic and seamlessly integrated into the brand value propositions.”
Taking a Stand and Building a Community Around Your Brand
One of the most effective ways for brands to take a stand on social issues is to empower their employees and their customers to advocate on issues that align with the mission of the organization.
Grassroots activism—the idea that a group’s collective action toward a common goal makes a bigger impact than the actions of scattered individuals—isn’t new. In a 200-year-long campaign known as the Struggle of the Orders, the Plebeian class of ancient Rome organized repeated nonviolent protests to compel the ruling class to grant them equal rights.
But the ubiquity of social media and smartphones today has created the perfect scenario for building targeted grassroots activism campaigns quickly.
Activism campaigns led by companies allow brands to empower their customers and employees to engage on an issue they care about, demonstrating alignment between company goals, consumer goals, and societal goals.
When people engage with issues they care about, they become a more engaged member of their community and ultimately strengthen the democratic process—a core tenant of civic society. By leading a grassroots movement that encourages civic action, companies build a genuine community around their brand.
Companies like New Belgium, Ben & Jerry’s, 1 Hotels, and Patagonia understand the power of grassroots activism and are engaging their customers and employees to take action with them. With the right tools, you don’t need to be an advocacy veteran to run a powerful grassroots campaign that takes full advantage of today’s technology.
Here’s how these four leading brands are taking a stand and empowering their customers and employees to engage with civic and social issues.
New Belgium Brewing Company Pushes for Legalization of Industrial Hemp
New Belgium Brewing Company is currently running a campaign to support the legalization of industrial hemp. Hemp is a highly sustainable crop that can be used to make a wide variety of items including clothing, shampoo, and paper. New Belgium even uses it in one of their beers.
“The current legislation regarding industrial hemp is ill-informed and outdated, but we can’t enact change on our own,” said Katie Wallace, New Belgium’s Assistant Director of Sustainability. “By partnering with Phone2Action, we’re making it incredibly easy for our customers to contact their legislators and advocate for the legalization of industrial hemp.”
New Belgium is prompting their supporters to text the keyword “HEMP” to a shortcode, which brings them to an action page that makes it easy for supporters to send messages directly to their elected officials.
Ben & Jerry’s Fights for Climate Justice and Economic Equity
Ben & Jerry’s has partnered with nonprofits that work for environmental causes and economic equity for many years, but they began using digital grassroots tools in September 2017. “Our passionate fan base is highly engaged in the environmental and social justice campaigns that we run. We are consistently looking for innovative ways to help our fans take action and make a difference in their communities and in their country, and we’re excited to provide them the tools they need to do so,” said Chris Miller, Global Activism Manager, Ben & Jerry’s.
A current campaign focuses on addressing poverty in the U.S. They have signs in their Scoop Shops with a trivia question asking: “True or False? More Americans lived in poverty in 1968 than in 2016.” The statement is false, but texting either “true” or “false” to the shortcode gets the response: “False. 43 million Americans lived in poverty in 2016 compared to 25 million in 1968. Take action.”
1 Hotels Champions the Ocean’s Shores and the Environment
1 Hotels is a luxury hotel brand founded in the mission to create a more environmentally-responsible hospitality experience. They are asking their guests to help them work to end plastic pollution with their Save Our Shores campaign.
“This brand movement supports our commitment for 1 Hotels to not be another hotel brand, but a cause and a platform for change that encourages consistent conversation and action,” said Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, creator of the 1 Hotels brand. “Our goal is to be a living laboratory for sustainable living, to incite urgency, and be an example for change amongst our esteemed clientele, the industry and the world.”
Patagonia Takes a Stand for Public Lands
Last year, Patagonia launched a major campaign to protect the national monument designation of 27 public parks, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. As an outdoor sports gear company founded by rock climbers who frequented Yosemite National Park, Patagonia was deeply passionate about this issue, and they knew many of their customers would feel the same way.
Using social media outreach, in-store action centers, text message keywords and a dedicated microsite, 400,000 customers, employees, and activists used Patagonia’s digital campaigns to speak out in favor of protecting the public lands. These advocates:
- Posted more than 200,000 public comments on the Department of Interior website
- Tweeted more than 70,000 times to Secretary of the Interior Zinke, President Trump, and other members of Congress
- Made more than 5,800 phone calls for 119 hours of talk time
- Shared the campaign more than 45,000 times on Twitter and Facebook
Patagonia’s initiative was highly visible, garnering more than 2,400 media stories featuring their advocacy campaign.
Become a Leader of Cultural Progress
Now more than ever, it’s important for businesses and organizations to leverage their influence and voice to help encourage civic action on the issues that matter. By embracing grassroots activism, companies can go beyond contributing economically to society and become leaders of cultural change.
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