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Courage and authenticity count when brands align with causes.
As I was leaving a doctor’s appointment recently, I saw a sign in the lobby that had been placed there by the building’s management company. It invited me to check out the work they were doing with a local cancer organization. As a civic-minded and charitable person, I suppose I should have applauded the message. In my capacity as a curious capitalist, however, I wondered a bit about what motivated them in putting the sign there and why on earth they selected the organization that they did to support.
I firmly believe that is no longer optional but in fact it’s necessary for brands to align themselves with causes. As I argued in a previous post, the majority of American consumers, especially Millennials, give a lot of weight to a brand’s social image when making a purchase. But when it’s done in a slipshod way it doesn’t have the desired impact and can even have a negative one instead. In the case of the building management company, they had clearly tried to select a cause (cancer) that no one could object to. But in doing so they picked something that makes no sense for their brand. Am I more likely to rent in a building because the management company supports this organization, or am I more likely to simply ask for a decrease in my rent? The same is true to grocery store bag fee donations at the like — at best they shame you into donating, but they don’t enhance the image of the store’s brand at all.
On the flip side, when the brand is well aligned with the cause and can therefore bring some expertise or some unique value to the table, it really resonates and has a tremendously positive effect. Consider the big outdoor clothing companies like Patagonia, LL Bean, and REI. A core part of their marketing message is an aspirational one about exploring the great outdoors. When you find they are active in conservation, it feels almost obvious and you assume that they can add value through their domain knowledge, outdoor programs, and distribution networks. One, Orvis, even goes so far as to provide a matching fund not just for its employees but for its customers’ donations to conservation related causes.
There’s actually a pretty easy test for whether a brand is well aligned with the cause it supports: can it justify spending money from its marketing budget to promote its work on the cause? In the case of the grocery store or building management company, that would be a hard case to make. The causes have nothing to do with renting space or selling groceries. In the case of the outdoor companies or other Millennial-focused brands like Tom’s Shoes, Warby Parker, Etsy, or Shinola, the connection feels so natural that you can’t imagine an ad or a mention that doesn’t include the cause. If you’ve heard of those brands at all, you can say what causes they support. It’s authentic all the way down.
One concern that I frequently hear from marketers is that many seemingly natural or authentic causes might be controversial and therefore turn off potential customers. For example, should tech firms explicitly support immigration programs given that they are highly dependent on immigration to get the skilled labor they need? Or should cosmetics companies support organizations working on women’s equality and advancement? While these might not seem like controversial causes to many or even most people, big companies often fear the anger of even a relatively small proportion of their customers.
But as Richard Edelman and other industry thought leaders have argued, almost all brands benefit more from the enthusiasm of a large group of customers than they risk from the disappointment of a generally pretty small group when it comes to taking a stand on issues. Steering away from controversy at the cost of authenticity leaves a brand feeling just what it is — boring, spiritless, and commodity, trying to be all things to all people but in fact being unimportant to anybody. In the musical, would you rather be Burr or Hamilton?
But how do you know if a cause is successfully resonating? If it passes the marketing test above, there are KPIs that can measure it’s impact. Cause isn’t a good fit for direct response marketing, but it can certainly have a big impact on net promoter score (NPS), employee satisfaction index (ESI), and opens opportunities for earned media, organic social media shares, and brand sharing that money can’t really buy.
She’s been hailed as “central to many of the battles that gave modern interpretation to the First Amendment”, “tireless and outspoken” and “principled and unwavering.” But the title she considered a badge of honor was being one of a “bunch of hysterical librarians.” This month, as we celebrate both Banned Books Week and Constitution Day, we honor First Amendment champion Judith Krug as our September Changemaker.
When Krug led the charge against unconstitutional searches of confidential library databases performed under the auspices of the USA PATRIOT Act, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft dismissed the protests as being led by the aforementioned bunch of hysterical librarians. But far from hysterical, Judith Krug fought tenaciously and methodically against threats to the First Amendment all her life.
As a young girl, Krug’s parents already supported her intellectual freedom — when her mother found her under the covers one night using a flashlight to read a book on sex education, Krug timidly held up the book to her mother. Instead of getting angry about the subject matter, her mother simply said “For God’s sake turn on the bedroom light so you don’t hurt your eyes.” From that spark, a First Amendment champion was born.
Krug became the director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom upon its inception in 1967, and as director launched Banned Books Week. The Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund now helps nonprofits host their own Banned Books Week events. This year, the list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books include the novel The Kite Runner, the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, and the picture book And Tango Makes Three. In addition to drawing attention to censorship through Banned Books Week, Krug led the OIF to provide advocacy trainings and resources throughout the year to preserve First Amendment rights. In 1969 she helped found the Freedom to Read Foundation which raises money to help librarians fight legal battles against censorship.
Throughout her career, Krug worked tirelessly to advocate for intellectual freedom and fight against censorship. First, the battle was against removing books from library shelves (even books with ideals she disagreed with), and then with the advent of the Internet, the battle grew. She organized the efforts against the broad definition of “indecency” in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. “Instead of relying on filtering technology, we should be educating children,” she said. “It’s not only learning the difference between right and wrong, but how to use information wisely. . . . There are no quick fixes.”
Krug won numerous awards for her work, including the William J. Brennan award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression (Krug was only the 5th recipient of the award since it was first given in 1993) and the Harry Kalven Freedom of Expression Award from the ACLU.
“Librarian” and “rebel”’ are not always words we think of together. But Judith Krug’s lifetime of work fighting for the First Amendment in small local libraries to the Supreme Court illustrates how one person can embody both.
We’re proud to be a part of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Community Tree Recovery Program and look forward to raising awareness about the Foundation’s program to heal communities devastated by natural disasters.
The Community Tree Recovery program was created out of the great need for trees in the wake of natural disasters. Through this program, residents who lost trees in major disasters caused by wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and insects can receive free trees to plant in their yards. This work is critical for re-establishing neighborhood trees…as well as a sense of community.
See their campaign in action on these stories:
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s governor is imploring U.S. Congress to increase federal funding and approve several measures to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria. Ricardo Rossello released a letter Tuesday asking the U.S.
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Rebuilding is a slow process in a Florida Panhandle beach town devastated by Hurricane Michael, officials say. The hurricane made landfall Oct. 10 near Mexico Beach with 155 mph (250 kph) winds and a strong storm surge. Essential services, including power and water, have been restored, and some local businesses have reopened.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) — This Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of one of the worst floods in Kansas City history. As much as 5 inches of rain fell in less than two hours on Oct. 4, 1998.