In the last decade or so, it seems we’ve entered the age of the conscientious consumer. A recent Nielsen report showed that 55% of people are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to making positive social and environmental impacts. Similarly, a study conducted by MSLGROUP and Research Now found that nearly 70% of millennials want businesses to make it easier for consumers to do their part in addressing issues such as health, the economy, and environmental sustainability. In turn, more and more, businesses are engaging consumers by eschewing business plans that prize growth above all in favor of objectives that factor in “the greater good.”
Whether utilizing a marketing campaign to spur action for a social movement or creating a partnership with a specific non-profit organization, brands are making it easier for consumers to give back and do good through cause marketing. Just because a brand decides to take the cause marketing route doesn’t mean automatic success. For every cause marketing venture done right, there are others that don’t make their intended impact.
An extremely well known and successful example of cause marketing is Patagonia. The company’s value proposition has always been to make lasting products so its customers could live in a more environmentally responsible way, and it has banked on them spending a little more to do so.
In 2011, Patagonia took a chance to promote its position by taking out a full-page ad that detailed the environmental costs of one of the company’s top-selling sweaters and asked customers to reconsider their purchases. Patagonia’s Responsible Economy campaign followed a couple years later to continue the company’s stance on responsibility and back up its belief that over-production and consumption gives way to global environmental crises. Patagonia drives that message home with its Worn Wear program, a series of events where repair techs and brand ambassadors teach consumers the skills to fix their “tired, well-loved clothing” (Patagonia or otherwise), and consumers can share their stories on the Worn Wear blog and Instagram channels.
Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario states the company’s cause marketing objective simply: “Keep your gear in action longer and take some pressure off our planet.” It’s a work-in-progress that asks a lot of the company and its customers. Patagonia is changing its business model to include second-hand-clothing sales at its Portland, Oregon store, garment recycling, and a 45-employee product repair facility in Reno, Nevada. And customers do their part by pledging to only buy what they need, and to hand down or recycle their garments when they’ve been well worn.
These efforts set Patagonia apart from other outdoor brands in the minds of consumers and have earned it a top spot as one of the world’s most sustainable brands. And, while Patagonia’s “anti-growth strategy” may seem like an adverse move by a for-profit company, the mantra of “reduce, repair, reuse, recycle” hasn’t dampened sales. In 2012, a year after Patagonia began appealing to consumers to buy less, sales increased almost one-third, to $543 million. The following year, the company’s revenue increased another 6% to $575 million. In short, Patagonia’s cause marketing strategy has helped to sell somewhere in the range of $158 million worth of apparel.
Patagonia’s effort to prove that a company can generate strong sales and be a champion of social responsibility is an instructive tale for other brands. Great brands are created through consumers and passion conversation, or word-of-mouth. Brands can’t talk about how great they are, they need consumers to talk about how great a brand makes them. Well Worn did exactly that. Patagonia created an opportunity for its customers to share their stories and talk about the product through consumer-generated content. And this has created real results for Patagonia.
As a brand, do you know what customers want? It’s simple: authenticity and transparency. Learn more from Patagonia on how to turn customers into your greatest marketing asset: In Search of Authenticity
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