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Your Customer Wants to Be the Hero

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

The idea that millennials are killing brands has become a bit of a running joke on the internet. Headlines like, “How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise” and “Blame Millenials for the Vanishing Bar of Soap” make us laugh, but in many ways, they aren’t entirely off-base. The consumer landscape is changing, and savvy brands are using purpose-driven marketing to stay connected.

It’s true that the current generation of consumers is making very deliberate purchasing choices – but so did the previous one. The concept that consumers buy brands that confirm, enhance, or allow them to display their identity also remains true. What’s shifted is how the modern consumer base defines what matters to them. Which part of their identity do they hold most important, and how is it different from previous generations? Aside from the alleged disregard for bland condiments and rectangular soap.

Purposeful Purchasing

Futerra, a sustainability consultancy recently asked a sampling of 1,000 consumers in the US and UK an important question. “Do you think personal actions (like donating, recycling, and buying ethically) can make a real difference in the world?” The answer was a resounding yes, as 96% of the participants answered affirmatively.

The fact that there is even a market for sustainability consultancies, one that market research firm Verdantix predicts will exceed $1 billion dollars by the end of 2019, shows us that being a world changer is an integral part of today’s consumer identity.

Help Your Customers Live Their Values

However, exclusively promoting your brand’s dedication to sustainability or other philanthropic initiatives may fall short. Forbes contributor Solitaire Townsend perfectly sums up why, “Because just talking about your own values isn’t enough, consumers want you to help them live theirs.” Buyers are investing their money into purpose-driven brands that invite their consumers to create change with them, rather than just bear witness.

Townsend explains that “Too much of the cause-related-marketing, sustainability or CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities of brands promote what the company is doing, rather than helping the consumer to make their own difference.” Empower your customers with the feeling that investing in your products or services makes them a hero. Draw a clear, straight line from their point of purchase to the impact they’ll have on the world.

The Body Shop and Patagonia Nailed It

Companies like The Body Shop create a hero connection through storytelling. The company was founded with the mission of empowering small, global suppliers in order to promote sustainability. They’ve used storytelling as a way to invite consumers into the worlds of their suppliers. Giving buyers an intimate connection with their brand’s mission makes point-of-purchase feel like activism.

Ad Age’s article, “Three Ways to do purpose-driven Marketing Right” shares an example. “On its corporate website, for instance, you’ll learn about a female farmer in England who provides roses for the company’s British Rose collection. The Body Shop’s YouTube channel has a video that tells the incredible story of the Tungteiya Women’s Shea Butter Association in Ghana which sources shea butter for the company while uplifting women in Ghana. Those are just two examples of how this company employs digital to tell the story of its commitment.”

Patagonia has a reputation for being a leader in purpose-driven marketing that’s resulted in a loyal consumer following. The company was recently in the news for declaring that they would only be selling their popular corporate logo vests to companies that shared their mission of responsibility. They’re a great example of a company that promotes its own mission of sustainability while simultaneously helping its customers feel like purchasing their product can have a positive impact on the planet.

Their Instagram account Wornwear shares ways that customers can upcycle and repair their merchandise. This type of customer engagement demonstrates to consumers how buying their product directly contributes to waste reduction. Buying a cozy fleece now feels like an act of environmental activism.

Both the Body Shop and Patagonia use narratives to foster the hero connection, but some brands are taking a more direct approach. Bridgewater Candles partnered with the charity organization Rice Bowls as part of their company’s purpose-driven mission to provide meals for orphaned children.

Light a Candle. Feed a Child.

The upscale candles are packaged with a lid telling customers that their purchase will directly provide 3 meals to a child in need. Their website has declarations like, “Light a candle. Feed a child” and “Smell good. Do good. Feel good,” and there’s a running tally of exactly how many meals their candle sales have resulted in, more than 9 million when this article was written.

This company has not only wrapped its brand in purpose but is a great example of finding unique points of customer engagement to talk about. A product that could be perceived as an indulgence is now a necessity for customers who want to make a difference during their lunch-hour shopping.

When you’re thinking about your organization’s purpose-driven marketing strategy, it’s important to put your customers at the forefront. Purposeful purchasing allows consumers who identify as change-makers to see your product or service as an entry point to their personal mission. Customer engagement strategies, such as using storytelling and evidence sharing are only a few of the many ways you can position your buyer as a hero.

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