How to Engage When Customers Don’t Give a Damn (or Dime) About What You Say

Talk is cheap. And that’s not just me being trite. It’s cheaper than ever today, as you can talk for free on numerous social media channels. And it’s cheap because it’s meaningless to customers.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 1.30.56 PMTalk is cheap. And that’s not just me being trite. It’s cheaper than ever today, as you can talk for free on numerous social media channels. And it’s cheap because it’s meaningless to customers.

Customers don’t care what you say. They care what you do. For generations, customers have listened to brands talk about their product and quality advantages, promises to deliver on expectations, and a whole lot more. Today, nobody listens and, more importantly, nobody cares. Consumers care about actions and many of their choices are based upon the old adage of “actions are louder than words.”

According to Neilsen’s research on corporate social responsibility, the majority of consumers surveyed in 60 countries are willing to spend more to purchase from brands that can show a positive social and environmental impact. For North America, it’s 42 percent.

“We have moved from an era of marketing goods and differentiating products to a new era focused on conscientious behavior. Branding is no longer about exclusively promoting your brand’s competitive advantages, but rather how your brand’s actions positively impact our world and how your business is an acting force for good.” This from Richard Rosen, a leading branding strategist and author of “Convergence Marketing – Combining Brand and Direct Marketing for Unprecedented Profits (Wiley 2009).

After years of building sales and profitability for global brands through marketing programs and campaigns, Rosen now incorporates the holistic approach of helping brands focus on gaining a sustainable advantage by defining what they stand for while achieving profits through service, product, price, place and so on. The most important pillar of all he says is, “Doing Good.”

Today, doing good goes beyond showing that you recycle and cut down on pollution, or that you donate 1 percent to charity. Doing good is about truly impacting our environment and society with actions that do not put your brand absolutely first, and by doing good to your employees and people, in general. Research shows that consumers are fine with companies making profits, as long as they are conscientious members of the global community. And per Rosen, “That holistic approach is a far more successful strategy for today’s times.”

One of the best examples of doing good is Patagonia, which started in the 1970s as a creator of mountaineering equipment and clothing. Today, it’s a $700 million-plus business, growing substantially year-over-year — despite shifting its brand positioning from marketing goods to doing good. In 2012, sales grew almost one-third to $543 million, when it changed its marketing pitch from “buy our products” to “don’t buy our products.” In fact, this reverse psychology appeal with an actual campaign that said “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” increased sales by nearly $160 million.

Building upon the environmentally friendly pillars of Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle, Patagonia encouraged customers to stop buying replacement items and instead cut down on resources and their personal imprint on our environment by repairing and reusing what they have. To execute on this strategy, Patagonia has a repair shop of 45 employees who repair products, extending the lifecycle of the products — while diminishing their impact on the world their products are made to help us enjoy.

For brands to become more in-line with consumers’ values, especially those of the economical powerhouse generations, GenY and GenX, brands must define their environmental and social values. One way many brands are defining and communicating their values is to go through the process of becoming a Benefit Corporation, or a B Corp. That’s an organization achieving high scores for social and environmental responsibility, per an assessment test offered by B Lab, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of business as a force for good. This process helps businesses of all sizes measure what matters and see precisely how well they are doing. And it gives them and their customers something worth talking about for a change.

This new era of consumers demanding corporations do good does not just extend to environmental responsibility, as exemplified by Patagonia. It embraces how you treat people, a long overdue demand, in my own opinion.