From The Body Shop fighting against animal testing, to Tom’s with their ‘One for One’ promise, leveraging social causes as a vehicle to improve brand reputation is nothing new. But in recent times, ‘purpose-driven marketing’ seems to have really reached its proverbial zenith – and too many businesses are trying to capitalise on all of the positive outcomes of doing good, without well… doing any actual good. Enter the idea of ‘woke-washing’. 

Woke-washing is a concept popularised by Unilver’s CEO Alan Jope, and refers to when brands exploit social causes for marketing, without taking genuine action towards whichever cause they’ve pledged themselves to. As a result, the credibility of purpose-driven marketing is being called into question by more and more consumers, who are now actively seeking companies that have a demonstrated history of walking the talk. Essentially, they’ve reached… Point Break.

Channeling Keanu 

According to Mark Ritson “a true brand purpose doesn’t boost profit, it sacrifices it.” With that in mind, we believe marketers have a lot to learn from the internet’s favourite human – Keanu Charles Reeves.

To quote our friends over at The Lad Bible Group:

“Keanu Reeves is known for being one of the nicer movie stars around, generously donating to charity out of the kindness of his heart rather than because it’s a career PR boost. But the extent of Keanu’s generosity may well surprise you as it turns out he’s been funding children’s hospitals on the quiet for years. Good on you, Keanu. Yep, the star of The Matrix and John Wick runs a private charitable foundation that looks to help positive endeavours like cancer research and kids’ hospital wards. And yet he’s hardly told anyone. Y’know, not because it’s something to brag about or anything”.

Instead of using social causes as a route to short-term profit, brands should integrate their collective desire for change into their DNA, as a way to build meaningful connections with consumers. As a result, these brands can develop long-term relationships, which ultimately convert into loyal customers. 

However, as marketers, we face a very real problem. How do we stand out in the Matrix and prove we are invested in positive change – without diminishing it by becoming “woke-washers”? The answer doesn’t always have to include radical announcements, or a major effort to re-brand but it does have to include transparency.

“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way…” 

Are you paying attention to your surroundings and consumers’ desire for more insight into what your brand represents? Woke-washing in marketing has heightened consumer expectations for transparency, with 79% preferring purpose-driven brands. According to the EY CEO Imperative Study in 2019, 70% of CMO’s believe that their brand’s social commitment is what secures customer loyalty. There’s no doubt that with a strong purpose-driven strategy brands can make an impact. Focus on these key areas:

Get everybody on the same page: Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are like the marketing and PR departments of any business – they work best in synergy (and we won’t hear any arguments about it). Whether you agree or not, both play a key role in communicating a message, embodying an emotion and creating relatable artworks that resonate with consumers.  And the same can be said for the people who speak on behalf of our brands. Every employee and department has a role in living the ideals that your brand supports.

Get transparent about how you do business: There’s still a deep discomfort among some brands about being an open book. In the same way people don’t like to share their salary information or age, so businesses seem reluctant to highlight what they spend their money on and how much they make. Of course, there’s a competitive element here. Many of us are forced to put real effort into shielding our business information from competitors. However, there are great benefits to being open about how you do business, and transparent about the costs involved.

Fashion brand Everlane, is completely open about the profit it makes on every product,Everlane highlights the cost of materials, hardware, labour, customs charges and transportation. It gives the customer a clear view into what they are paying for, and what the normal retail price would be, shooting it to a 40-place rank in the “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” by Fast Company.

We know that fast fashion is a growing concern from consumers who want to know more about where their clothing comes from. And Everlane have played into these ideals here while also validating their pricing, breaking the mould and making clothing more accessible to the masses.

Source: Medium

Be the leader the world needs: If you represent a brand as an owner, CEO or ambassador, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate the same ideals. You need to be brave enough to stand up and communicate that support and put your money where your mouth is. Being a true hero(ine) is a thankless job but somebody’s gotta do it, even if it means calmly walking away from explosions when your hair is very obviously in your face.

Here’s a good example. In 2018, Patagonia revealed they were to donate their $10 million tax cut to helping the environment. Their CEO, Rose Marcario, then made a powerful public statement saying “We are giving away this tax cut to the planet, our only home, which needs it now more than ever.” Although, you may not be giving away $10 million, the power of your voice as a leader is an important tool in showcasing your brand’s sincerity.

Remember, it’s bigger than your business, alone: Do you think Bill would have had a most excellent adventure without Ted? Probably not. And, while the power of an individual business can still equate to measurable social change, a true commitment to the cause is bigger than your brand alone. Cross-industry collaborations are a good way to join forces, extend your impact and do more to create wider reaching campaigns that support non-profits through awareness, fundraising and education.

Act Fast and Smart 

What do you have to lose? 

A lot of brands are apprehensive about taking a social stance because it can be a potential PR crisis within minutes. And, in a digital world where perception directly influences value, this is a valid fear. However, the pros of taking a stand still outweigh the cons – you just need to get smart about how you plan for and deal with potential PR problems.

In any form of brand crisis, acting fast is key. Monitoring the media – with the right software – can help you see red flags and prompt intervention or react accordingly. 

“Because we’re actors, we can pretend and fake it – but I’d rather the intimate investment was authentic” 

All in all, if you and your brand support change, it comes from a good place – but let’s take a moment to play The Devil’s Advocate. Even the best intentions lack power without action.

As per usual, Keanu put it best: “At the end of the day, it’s about seeing the good in people and trying to make the world a more compassionate place”.

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