Can Social Good Products Make For A Good Business?
By Andy Karuza, Head of Marketing at Teracube. Innovative product developer and marketing leader helping startups get from $0 to $50m.
Success is usually found in today’s competitive business environment on thin brand positioning, product feature or cost differentiation margins. In the sea of sameness, pretty much every one of your competitors says the same thing you’re saying in your marketing and sales pitches. So, what’s one significant way your business can stand out against the crowd?
Recently, there has been a significant shift in consumer interest toward social good products and other social trends that smart brands have been able to tap into. Ninety percent of global consumers would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, given a similar price or quality. Trisa Thompson, Chief Responsibility Officer at Dell (yes, these types of positions are becoming more common), says that customers today want to do business with responsible companies that reflect their personal values. Many companies have even restructured or launched as a so-called “B Corporation”. With that said, how can your business better connect with the growing consumer interest in social good-focused companies and products without overdoing it and facing (potentially) an immense backlash?
Design products to be more eco-friendly and ethically sourced.
In a recent survey, 68% of respondents said they consider sustainability while buying a product. There are primarily two ways to have more sustainable products; this includes how you design your product and how you source the materials that go into it. For instance, you can ask your suppliers for more sustainable materials, such as recycled plastic, to include in your product in many cases. Or, you can be more mindful of which suppliers you work with, say if the previously mentioned supplier doesn’t have recycled plastics that can be included in your product or packaging. Consult with your suppliers to see your options to make a more sustainable product that surprisingly may not increase your total cost of goods by much, if at all.
Design products or include services to make them last longer.
Besides the actual materials used or how you source the materials for your product, you can also use better design processes or services. For instance, perhaps you can offer repairs for your product or exchanges when it goes bad, then later recycle the returned goods. Or, you can design your product in a way where it doesn’t have to be thrown away once its usability decreases. Think of smartphones and how the decreasing performance of built-in batteries usually leads to them being thrown away within two years, rather than having the life of that smartphone extended with something as simple as a replaceable battery that can keep the battery performance in tip-top shape for years to come.
Many brands might be concerned about not being able to sell the same customer more stuff, and that might be true. Still, considering the higher brand loyalty you’ll have from customers who appreciate your focus on sustainability, you’ll have a higher lifetime customer value in many cases. Remember, it’s more expensive to earn a new customer than to keep the ones you have.
Tie in a meaningful and relevant charitable connection.
Not every brand, especially if it’s service-focused, can design products that are sustainable, but there is another great way you can make your business more aligned with social good causes—charity. Many companies donate what they already sell—whether a marketing company offers advertising services for good causes for free, or a product company donates one of their products for every unit sold. Bombas Socks, for example, donates a pair of their products to homeless people, and Tom’s Shoes donates a pair of shoes (although not for every product now) to various groups in need, including refugees, children and more. Both of these brands have this charitable connection as a part of their core business; it’s not just another advertising campaign, which leads to my final point.
Social good has to be at the core of your business to be authentic.
Authenticity is vital, as 56% of consumers say that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy. This is more prevalent than ever, as repeatedly joked about on social media, where companies simply switch their logo or toss in some messaging in their advertising that says they support the cause du jour. However, consumers are smart enough to spot the lack of authenticity, and brands that deploy such tactics usually end up as negative memes on social media. An organization named Shout Out UK recently covered the difference between brands like Nike and Ben and Jerry’s, comparing how Nike sometimes can make an impact with their social advertising campaigns but lacks the organizational diversity to back it up. At the same time, companies like Ben and Jerry’s have been built for social good at their very core, even going so far as hiring a Global Head of Activism who has never worked in brand management, a position focused on increasing revenue but instead has only worked in civil society policy and advocacy.
Building a business that focuses on social good products and causes can help you develop better brand loyalty, carve out a new market segment and attract new customers. But authenticity is vital when you build that cause into your business model, whether it’s the people you hire, the way you design your product, how you source your materials or how you make charitable donations a core part of your business model. Consumers are tired of talk and cheap posts on social media meant to ride the latest social trends; it’s time to act.