How Brands Can Attract Consumers With Transparency and Social Impact


Patagonia GMOs

Socially conscious consumers consider a brand’s social purpose when making a purchase decision, and they use their purchasing power to support brands that are working to create a better world.

Thanks to technology, the dissemination of news allows consumers to learn more about the brands they purchase from. However, the more people know, the more they want to know, resulting in heightened demand for transparency from all brands. Transparency, in turn, can inspire consumers to purchase from brands making a positive social impact and avoid those causing harm.

Technology has also led to an expectation of immediate response and instant gratification. Individuals have become accustomed to an immediate response through their exposure to Facebook, texting, donation platforms and many other applications.

Individuals experience immediate gratification when friends and connections “like” their posts on Facebook in near-real-time. Many also experience this feeling after donating online to their favorite charities, aware that within seconds they have made a difference. The success of the donation platforms such as DonorsChoose (with more that 1.7 million supporters) and Kickstarter (with nearly 8.4 million supporters) really highlights that people appreciate an immediate response.

So in today’s fast-paced, connected world, an instant emotional reaction is expected, even following the swipe of a credit card. This good feeling draws people to brands making a positive impact—however, this can only be achieved if a brand clearly communicates its positive social position. 

The opportunity to develop customer loyalty

Brands have the opportunity to embrace transparency and provide customers immediate gratification. By doing so, they can develop stronger relationships with their customers and continuously learn from them. This will allow brands to cater to customers’ needs as well as raise prices while maintaining customer loyalty. Brands should take advantage of this opportunity, and some are already setting the stage for them to do so today.

How to win consumer support

TOMS, Chipotle, Patagonia, and GoldieBlox are excellent examples of brands that are strong corporate citizens and have a positive impact on the world—as well as deeply loyal customers.

Some may argue that the products draw consumers to the brands, but it’s more than that—it’s also the good feeling consumers experience with their purchases from these socially conscious companies.

Brands must incorporate four principles to fully win the support of socially conscious consumers:

To fully win the support of socially conscious consumers, brands must incorporate the following four principles and always be:

  • Purposeful
  • Trustworthy
  • Authentic
  • Disruptive

Purposeful: TOMS

At its core, TOMS is a purpose-led brand centered on “improving lives,” and this purpose manifests itself in everything the company does. To fulfill its purpose, TOMS created and utilizes the one-for-one model in which a customers buys a product and the company gives another one to someone in need, which has become popular among socially conscious consumers.

The brand is also extremely transparent about its purpose and positive results. For example, it has donated 35 million pairs of new shoes to children in need. The positive impact of TOMS’s products allows customers to experience a good feeling when making a purchase, which has built customer loyalty.

This has allowed TOMS to enter various markets: buying a cup of coffee provides clean water to those in need, buying a pair of glasses assists those who require eye surgery or other assistance, buying bags aids in the process of providing safe birth process for babies.

TOMS’s purpose has earned the loyalty of socially conscious consumers and allowed the brand to create and sell new products to help change the world.


Trustworthy: Chipotle

Chipotle differentiates itself from other fast food restaurants and attracts socially conscious consumers through its voluntary transparency, which has built trust with its customers. Recently, Chipotle was faced with a tough decision: to continue providing sub-standard pork or uphold the company’s expectations and not sell the pork regardless of the effect on profits.

Knowing that consumers would eventually learn about the situation, Chipotle stopped selling pork at hundreds of its locations. This decision fostered trust between the customers and the brand.

Chipotle was also the first restaurant to label GMOs in products on the company’s website so consumers could make an educated decision about whether or not to eat the food. This transparency is what allows customers to trust the brand and feel good when they are purchasing and eating Chipotle’s food.


Authentic: Patagonia

Growing from a small outdoor gear and apparel company to a global brand, Patagonia has stayed true to the values it was built on and always kept environmental sustainability at the heart of its business. Every aspect of its business reflects back to the brand’s emphasis on protecting and respecting the environment.

Patagonia has run campaigns discouraging customers from making unnecessary purchases and teaching them how to fix their clothing and gear so damaged products don’t end up in a landfill. Patagonia also has led by example, having its supply chain information readily available online for customers to see where all the products are coming from and what impact that is making on the planet. Socially conscious consumers are drawn to Patagonia’s authenticity, even when the company is faced with lost profits.


Disruptive: GoldieBlox

An emerging brand, GoldieBlox has already made its name in the market, driven by a disruptive purpose. The company started in 2012 through a Kickstarter campaign with just a prototype toy set and just three years later, it is a successful company with toys being sold at Toys “R” Us.

In a toy market dominated by Barbie dolls and Princess costumes, GoldieBlox’s disruptive mission of empowering girls to become engineers led to the creation of construction toys that encourage girls to engage their minds. This brand’s market disruption ensures that little girls grow up to be confident, intelligent women—a mission that many socially conscious consumers support.

Goldie Blox

Increase market value and customer loyalty 

With the increasing numbers of socially conscious consumers, brands that want to attract and retain customers need to adjust their operations and become truly purpose driven. They must infuse their purpose throughout the entire business in order to prevent “cause-washing,” which is when companies pretend to stand for a cause for the sake of appearances.

Brands should incorporate all the principles socially conscious consumers look for and be purposeful, trustworthy, authentic and disruptive. This will not only increase consumer trust and loyalty but also profits—something every brand seeks to achieve.

Chelsea Saggese is an Associate Consultant, Strategy, with Interbrand’s Corporate Citizenship team.


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