It is practically impossible to get through a day without a mention of another protest or rally, or multiple posts on Facebook urging me to call my senator. It was little over a month ago that the world was flooded by a sea of pink hats and people gathered at airports to protest the travel ban. Most recently, there was a day without immigrants, and soon there will be a day without women. I’m inspired, and at times a bit overwhelmed, by the degree of citizen engagement I have witnessed in just the past few months.
I have also been impressed by how companies are taking a stand and acting on behalf of important issues. Recent efforts that come to mind include Lyft’s $1M donation to the ACLU and Starbucks’s commitment to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.
Where I see a big opportunity today is in connecting engaged citizens—consumers and employees—with corporate initiatives to make them even more powerful and effective. And I’m not just talking about cause marketing campaigns that raise awareness and funds for an issue. Rather, I’m interested in efforts where companies and citizens come together to raise their voices and ACT to drive meaningful change.
An excellent example of this is the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women® initiative. For 13 years, women have rallied together behind the symbol of a red dress to take control of their heart health. Macy’s has been a partner since the start and has worked hand-in-hand with the American Heart Association and Go Red supporters to continue to advance the cause. By working together, Go Red has gone far beyond raising awareness; the initiative is also changing public policy, guiding medical practices, investing in research and driving behavior change in women.
I think several elements have contributed to Go Red’s success. These elements are things other companies should consider when looking to connect the dots between their own brand values and powerful resources with a consumer base willing to act.
- Authenticity. I know we talk a lot about authenticity, but that is because it is so important. Time after time we have seen brands try to jump on the bandwagon and then fall hard. The best efforts tap into a long-standing commitment or brand value and are backed up by legitimate efforts and partnerships that are making a meaningful impact. The Macy’s brand has always been about empowering women, so the company’s support of Go Red is an authentic expression of that value.
- Simple, Unifying Message. The red dress offers an inspiring symbol, while “Go Red” is a clear and straightforward call-to-action . It’s also a very inclusive and positive message. While the cause focuses on women’s health, men have always been invited to take part on behalf of the women in their lives. Companies help extend the message through their own cause marketing efforts, and by participating in an organized Wear Red to Work Day.
- Driving Issue. The campaign has evolved over time adding new partners and programs, but always with a focus on the issue and the women at its core. In fact, the face of the campaign is not AHA or its partners, but the women themselves and their personal stories of how heart disease has affected their lives.
- Grassroots Engagement. This is a critical element that I think many campaigns miss. It’s what transforms a national cause marketing campaign into a true social action campaign. Go Red hosts Luncheons across the country where women gather to learn, celebrate and inspire each other. It’s a meaningful and annual event that helps to re-energize the campaign year after year.
- Tools. Beyond the annual luncheons, Go Red offers tools year-round that supporters can access and use to take action on behalf of their own heart health. The tools include education, prevention tips and resources, and advocacy efforts, among others. By providing helpful resources, Go Red helps women translate their passion into action. Corporate partners help by creating new tools that tap into their unique expertise or capabilities.
In this charged political environment, aligning your brand with an activist consumer base does not come without risk. But, if done right—the right issue, tone, activation—citizen engagement could be a powerful thing. What do you think? Leave a comment below and tell me.