Communicating brands with purpose

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Brands with a sense of social responsibility have the edge on competition when it comes down to gaining followers or selling products, particularly with younger consumers.

Georgia Lejeune

A 2020 survey by Deloitte looked into whether the pandemic has affected millennials and Generation Z’s desire to drive positive change in the world. Unsurprisingly to those in marketing, the pandemic has only reinforced the perspective on social responsibility and a commitment to society and the environment. 

The focus on purpose-driven brands isn't solely led by younger people, and it started to grow years earlier. In 2018, Edelman reported 64% of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.

Consumers, young and old, are choosing to follow brands and purchase with their conscience. 

“Shoppers are doing their research and looking into a brand’s ethics, corporate social responsibilities and charity alignments before they buy,” Beth Patterson, senior account manager, says. 

Hardie Grant’s PR agency,, is on the forefront of this marketing trend, choosing to work with brands that reflect the social and environmental values that many consumers are searching for. Brands such as Frank Green, Pleasant State, Homie and Bar None are among some of the purpose-driven brands they have partnered with. client Pleasant state boast plastic free, non-toxic and Australian-made cleaning products.

“There is an upward trend of consumers shopping with their ethics and conscience at the forefront of the decisions they make,” Beth says. “This is partly societal and partly generational, but it means that brands who are genuinely doing good and want to help the world are cutting through the gloss of celebrity-fronted brands.”

Social impact storytelling 

Brands are now more trusted than media, the government and even non-government organisations. But individual businesses need to prove that they deserve our trust and that their values align with ours.   

Purpose-driven brands that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance can now be certified as B Corporations. The community of businesses works towards "reducing inequality, a healthier environment, and the creation of more high quality jobs." 

Australian companies that have embraced this force for good include AESOP, T2 and advertising agency TABOO.

Companies taking smaller steps towards change can embrace social impact storytelling. In their 2021 content marketing report, Contently dubbed social impact storytelling the ‘hottest trend for 2021’. Hopefully the trend lasts for longer than a year and, given 74% of people are more likely to buy something from a brand after reading a story about their positive impact on the world, we think it’s here to stay. 

It’s all well and good for a brand to decide to use social impact storytelling in their marketing, but how does that work in practice? 

As a brand, it’s all about walking the walk. Consumers can see right through inauthentic marketing or overly staged influencer campaigns. For influencers, it’s about slowly growing an audience of dedicated and trusting followers who believe in your message. 

“As a general rule, authentic influencers have more engaged audiences who are committed to similar lifestyle and personal choices and therefore genuinely believe in what the influencer promotes – because they believe that influencer is ethical and care deeply about their social responsibility,” adds Beth. 

For companies, creating change has to be incremental and so does your strategy to incorporate social impact storytelling into your marketing. Align yourself with charities and use evidence-based research to back up your product. Change your internal work culture – your staff will become unofficial advocates for your brand. 

Some companies have social responsibility at their core, like TOMS footwear. It started out with a one for one model: for every pair of shoes bought, they give a pair of shoes to a child in a developing country. It has now moved on to invest a third of its profits in grassroots programs, with sustainable practices to boot. Their values have been communicated in every aspect of their brand from day one.

TOMS have made their values a core part of their business from day one.

But you don’t have to be a purpose-driven company to genuinely have social responsibility credit. Even a company that specialises in plastic can lead change. LEGO is phasing out single-use plastic in its packaging by 2025, has a goal of zero waste from its factories and its energy consumption is balanced by renewable energy. There’s even a wind turbine LEGO kit for fans to get in on the action.

A wind turbine made of LEGO sitting on a desk.

LEGO's environmental goals have filtered through to their products. 

Putting your values to work  

Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t only looking at the social responsibilities of brands that they interact with, but also in employers. According to the international Deloitte survey, there was an alignment between job fulfilment and feeling that their organisation was doing something worthwhile.

A 2016 Cone Communications study showed that 75% of millennials would take a reduced salary for a role in a socially responsible company. This can include a company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, the types of clients or brands they work with and the workplace culture. Does the company promote sustainable practices in its day-to-day dealings and office space? Does it have supportive staff policies? Does it care about diversity and inclusion? 

But choosing to buy from or work for a purpose-driven brands comes from a privileged position. Although many people are choosing to support ethical and socially responsible brands, often this comes at a higher price to other more convenient or mass-produced options. 

This is not always an option for consumers and, until socially conscious products and services aren’t cost prohibitive, we can’t expect all brands to take on these values. While brands can gain a following through social impact storytelling, shaming and belittling consumers or brands that don’t mirror their efforts isn’t the way forward.

It's important to keep the message positive and aspirational, if it’s a genuine fit with your brand and values. And that comes down to your communications strategy, and who you’re communicating to and interacting with.

If you need help identifying your audience or shaping your marketing strategy, contact us today.

Georgia Lejeune, managing editor at Hardie Grant Media

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