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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Less Talk, More Action:
How Brands Are Effectively Communicating Around Purpose

“I think in an organization, when you’re trying to do something different, it’s important to take up that shared risk,” said Alex Thompson, VP of Communications & Public Affairs at REI, during the Thursday morning plenaries at SB'16 San Diego.

“I think in an organization, when you’re trying to do something different, it’s important to take up that shared risk,” said Alex Thompson, VP of Communications & Public Affairs at REI, during the Thursday morning plenaries at SB'16 San Diego.

Thompson was referring to his company’s decision to shut down all of its brick-and-mortar stores as well as halt online sales on Black Friday 2015 — known as REI #OptOutside. Designed to be explicitly disruptive and shareable, OptOutside was more than just a media or social media campaign — it a strategic business decision in favor of ‘doing’ over simply ‘talking’ through brand communications.

Regardless, the program became a media sensation, creating 7 billion impressions — the equivalent of being on the front page of The New York Times every day for several years. In discussing how brands should pursue similarly disruptive policies, Thompson said it’s all about focusing on your core values.

“It’s important to think about the foundation on which you’re built,” he said.

Sustainability in Rio

“There’s no such thing as a truly sustainable event,” said Tania Braga, head of Sustainability, Accessibility and Legacy at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The Olympics involves bring a lot of stuff and a lot of people together for a short time, and making it all disappear as fast as possible.

While an event can never be truly sustainable, it can help leverage change. The Rio 2016 organizers worked with suppliers, educated caterers to track all meat, and partnered with the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure 100 percent certification of paper and wood products used during the event.

Braga posed the question: “Failure will happen, but can we turn failure into a legacy?”

VR as an Empathy Tool

The promise of virtual reality for the purposes of engaging consumers and other stakeholders may not be trending in mainstream consciousness quite yet, but there are many reasons to believe it might be very soon.

“We can create deeper empathy and use it to inspire action,” said Robert Holzer, founder & CEO of Matter Unlimited.

Working with the Clinton Global Initiative, Matter Unlimited traveled to East Africa to create a 360-degree virtual reality video that makes users feel like they are there. Holzer said the video was the most successful use of virtual reality to date, and changed the landscape of social engagement.

JetBlue Gets Creative with Consumer Engagement

Many people love to hate airlines for myriad reasons, but JetBlue has initiated several consumer engagement programs aimed at promoting the company’s deeper purpose. In a time with wide political divides, the company surprised a flight heading from Boston to Phoenix, challenging passengers to "Reach Across the Aisle" to reach a consensus on where to travel. If the group could successfully settle on a destination, than everyone would win a free trip to that locale. After much deliberation, the planeful of passengers agreed to go to Costa Rica, and everyone won.

As Tamara Young, JetBlue's manager of Corporate Communications, pointed out: “Brands should think about their purpose, and sometimes it’s good to take symbolic steps.”

From Ice Cream to Brand Activism

When people think about Ben & Jerry’s, they think about delicious ice cream, but increasingly they are associating it with progressive politics.

“Every piece of our business is about our fans first,” said Christopher Miller, activism manager at Ben & Jerry's. “On our advocacy, it’s us first — our values. What the change is we want to see in the world.”

Miller mentioned how he and the actual Ben and Jerry got arrested during a Washington, D.C. protest.

Climate change has become a top issue for the ice cream company, which already is suffering its negative effects in its supply chain.

“For us, the climate movement really means the people — what does the movement mean and how can we play a role?” said Jay Curley, senior global marketing manager at Ben & Jerry's. “Being able to approach an issue like climate justice — we sought to invite people in using humor, using ice cream and giving them ways to help.”

All of this pays off in increased brand loyalty and even short-term sales. However, money shouldn’t be an activist brand’s key performance indicator, Curley said.

Motivating People to Change Their Diet

“We broke down the data into pieces consumers could understand to generate a wow factor,” said Todd Smith, director of Brand and Innovation Marketing at MorningStar Farms.

The company’s new campaign, Just What the World Ordered, is aimed at motivating and incentivizing people to change their diet. Kicking off with a documentary series that highlights the lives of five different people who adopt the “veg” lifestyle, Morningstar Farms’ campaign is all about educating, overcoming barriers and showcasing the benefits a veg lifestyle can have on our planet.

One part of the campaign challenges individuals to eat only vegetables at least once a week. Visualizing data is a big part of the content offering, which is meant to educate consumers on the health benefits of reducing meat consumption.

Everyone Can Earn an Earth Badge

Boy Scouts often find themselves into leadership positions in the private and public sectors, and they remember their strong ties to nature developed in their youth.

Not everyone can become a Boy Scout, but thanks to the new Earth Badge, anyone can learn about environmental stewardship, said John Stewart, director of Corporate Engagement and Sustainability at the Boy Scouts of America.

This is not a physical badge, but a new digital platform to connect the public with sustainability, which provides content to teach about environmental responsibility.