How Social Causes Can Become Part of Your Brand

Social causes can be aligned with your brand’s mission, positioning, and messaging. Some of the greatest brands have connected with causes that promote positive social change.

Brands have a unique role to play in our lives. From being superficial choices that express our style and sensibility to reflecting deeper preferences and loyalties that go beyond reason, brands occupy a space that can be personal and social. Large swaths of people can rally around a brand, and everyone has a personal origin story about the brands they love and hold dear in their hearts.

Brands are also global, and cross media and language barriers to knit into the daily threads of our life. Moreso than government agencies or public service programs, brands have an opportunity to change attitudes and behavior that can be meaningful and long-lasting.

Of course, brands exist as businesses to earn profits, but we all know that we human beings are emotional and social creatures, and we naturally seek out ways to belong and identify — even with the products we buy.

In the 21st century, we can buy pretty much anything we can afford. We can get great coffee, nice clothes, watches, good food, etc., and we rarely have to worry about the quality and effectiveness of things we buy.

So what is that added ingredient to influence our choices? It’s that magic stuff of brands that help us show and tell others – and ourselves — who we are, who we’re not, and how we want to present.

As brands continue to understand this, and a massive generational wave approaches the planet, I’m seeing more evidence that brands are moving more intentionally than ever to connect with the deepest belief systems we hold.

More than how we look and what we present, brands are opening ways that help each of us show and tell others – and ourselves – what we believe.

Should you align with a social cause? What is the risk? What is the reward? Why would it make sense for your business and your brand? These are questions only you can answer, but here are some examples of brands who have strongly and boldly connected themselves to a cause that aligns with their business and their brand.

Starbucks “All You Need Is Love” — Possibility of Peace in Our Time

This was a very simple concept from 2009. How do you get as many people representing as many countries as possible to sing the same song at one time?

Starbucks had yet to achieve the global reach they have now, but they were able to capture an idea and implement something beautiful. At a single moment, they recorded folks from around the world to sing “All You Need Is Love.” Proceeds of Starbucks drinks went to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is also a major source supplier of their coffee products.

This isn’t really controversial — who doesn’t want more love? But it shows singers from Rwanda, Israel, and other countries where there has been an overcast of violence, shining a light on the idea that there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.

Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” — Promoting women’s & girls confidence

For over a decade the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty has been promoting a mission to help more women feel beautiful every day, and a message that asks all of us to reflect on “What is Beauty?”

Through numerous, thoughtful, and compelling ads, they have struck right at the heart of beauty standards, how we see ourselves, and what we want to show our young girls. They’ve been consistently, brilliantly, fighting for a cause that’s worthwhile and global in nature.

Here’s one from this year that’s amazing. There are tons more. Visit the Dove YouTube Channel and bring your tissues.

And, I’d argue that Always followed in the wake of Dove’s approach with their newer ads promoting “Always Like a Girl’ campaign to lift girls’ confidence. These ads ring true to the product, business, and brand, and push a social change that’s positive and uncontroversial. Who doesn’t want girls to be more confident and grow to be more confident women?

Lush — Organically-made self-care products with no animal testing

When you walk into a Lush store, it looks like a farmer’s market. The soaps and bombs look and smell yummy enough to eat…and they are! You can eat them! Because they’re made with natural and organic ingredients, the business is able to authentically promote a movement of pro-eco friendly.

And, since they never test on animals, they also promote animal welfare causes, too. The alignment of the business model and the cause is perfect, and reflected in the branding, typography, and in-store experience. The employees absolutely walk the talk, and believe in the company and the social causes they promote.

See some employees talk about their fresh handmade cosmetics:

I would argue that any business can find a cause that makes sense for their model and brand. The question is if the leadership in your brand is compelled to make a stand for that cause, and how the cause knits into the culture and overall position and messaging.

What about you and your business? Is there a cause you believe in? Does the cause make sense? Can it become something that makes your brand stronger?

I’d argue that Starbucks, Dove, Always, and Lush are extremely strong brands, and are made even stronger with their alignment of social causes. Of course, I’d enjoy your feedback.

3 Types of Brand Stories: Functional, Emotional, Moral

There are three types of storytelling for brands: Functional, Emotional and Moral. Every brand should have a functional story, but the best ones find an emotional and moral story that rings true to their own culture and mission, as well as to their audience.

What an interesting Academy Awards season. So many different kinds of stories that were told! From Roma to Black Panther to The Favourite, the scale, story arcs, and scopes of the stories were remarkably different.

And that same variety applies to brands — there’s a unique kind of brand storytelling for each.

When you think about the kind of story your brand wants to tell, not only should it definitely be different than other competitors in your space, it should also be a different kind of story. I’m not talking about stories being funny or dramatic, I’m thinking about something much broader.

In my class I ask each student to give a “Tour of Brand.” This is a 20+ minute presentation about a brand they love, and talk about the history, the aspects of the competition, and most importantly why that brand speaks to them. Now that I’ve been teaching for about 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 400 of these “Tours of Brands.” So many brand presentations!

From those, I’ve learned that there are three types of brand stories that are being told. For your brand, think about which story you’re telling. And, it could be more than one. I’ve included links to videos to illustrate these stories.

The Functional Story: ‘Help My Life Easier’

Functional stories help make things a lot easier in life. There might be some emotion tied to that (I feel better when things are easier), but basically these stories show how they make the customer’s life is just a whole lot easier to manage. Stuff gets cleaner, takes less time, etc. A great example of this kind of storytelling is from Lemonade, an insurance company. Their whole pitch is to make insurance simple, clean, easy, modern and accessible — especially for Generation Z. Does it make me feel better? Sure, it could. But the emotions are borne out of things just being a simpler and more understandable way of getting insurance.

Emotional Story: ‘Help Me Feel Something Real’

These are powerful stories. Emotional marketing is, of course, something we all respond to and remember. The hippocampus and amygdala are two centers in the brain responsible for memory and emotion, and they are physically right next to each other. Emotional reactions link us together across culture and time, and bind us together as humans. The better brands convey their emotional marketing messages with authenticity and a realness that aligns the purpose of the brand with the tactics, images, and words.

And with videos as the primary mover of emotional storytelling, brands have no excuses to not find those good, emotionally real stories. One of my favorite is the P&G Thank You Mom Campaign. Give yourself a treat and spend 2+ minutes watching this.

They have built an entire collection of these kinds of stories, and the first one debuted in the 2012 Olympics:

And if after watching it, you’re not crying, I can’t help you.

Moral Story: ‘Help Me Become More Than Myself’

The Moral Stories are the most powerful ones a brand can tell. They reign supreme by connecting you and the brand to something larger and more meaningful in life. They show you that you — as a consumer — can be a part of a movement and massive social change that has real impact in the world. These brands empower you to be a force of good, and to be the change you want to see in the world.

My favorite recent example is Always. They finally understand that they’re not just selling tampons. A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty, and they realize that they can be a part of this story. They can help girls who are going through a brand new and somewhat scary experience understand that it’s a step towards empowerment and strong life-stage. Always can be a big part of this message, and they fully embraced it with #likeagirl campaign. They rode the wake started by the Dove Evolution Campaign, and have done a strong job of creating awareness that an entire generation of confident girls can make major change across the planet in the next 10-20 years and beyond.

And in this one caption, you can sense the large macro-drama that Always is asking users to be a part of. They asked the same questions to girls who were in their late teens & early twenties and to girls who haven’t yet hit puberty:

Interviewer: “What does it mean to run like a girl?”

Older Girl: [Flailing and prancing weakly] “Uhnnnnn …”

8-year old girl: “It means … run as fast as you can.”

Here are two of their solid Moral Storytelling videos.

When it comes to your brand, I guarantee you each have a functional story to tell. My hunch is that you have an emotional story to tell. And for those brave souls willing to put it out there, think deeply about a moral story. The world needs more of those.

So, go ask yourself and your team: What kind of story are you telling?

As always, I’d enjoy your feedback.