What is Impact Washing?
We’ve seen a shift in consumer culture, with shoppers increasingly backing brands that support causes they care about and make a strong effort to mitigate harm. A recent Shop for Good case study showed companies who have tailored their approach to acknowledge this change and implemented cause-based marketing saw an increase in customers, loyalty from those consumers, and higher average order values during their cause campaigns. This shift is backed by data. According to Cone/Echo and Deloitte; given similar price and quality of products, 91% of consumers said they would likely switch to purchasing from a brand that supports a cause they believe in, 82% of consumers would buy from a company that supports issues they care about, and 90% of Gen Z-ers believe companies must take action to help social and environmental issues. So what should your business do? DailyKarma created the 5-star Shop For Good app to guide your brand in successful cause marketing campaigns and we’ve put together this Guide to Avoid Impact Washing to help you along your conscious e-commerce journey.
Consumers are more diligent in holding brands accountable today than ever before. When companies claim to be socially conscious or sustainable but do not back those claims up with real impact, consumers see through the empty claims and trendy, band-wagon marketing campaigns. Many consumers become activists in calling out and shaming these companies who are not responsible for their claims. Some of the most visible brands are being called out for greenwashing. H&M has been under-fire lately for its recycling marketing campaigns because the brand is one of the largest producers of fabric waste. Consumers and protection groups are holding the fast-fashion giant accountable via protests, online shaming, and lawsuits. A previous example of a similar issue is with Tabacco companies and public health; tobacco companies spent millions uncovering the research proving their products led to cancer, simultaneously denied these claims, and spent even more in marketing and lobbying to protect their ability to sell their harmful products. It’s no surprise the oil and gas industry has been using the same playbook – but with the availability of information and the sharability of social media, consumers and special interest groups are taking notice and they’re taking aim. A recent report from Earthworks uncovers the deceptive practices of greenwashing by the top-four oil and gas companies over the past decade. The issue of impact washing is similar in nature and result; brands that are not transparent in their giving process, do not build impact into their brand identity, and do not produce the impact they claim in their marketing are cast into doubt and confronted by critics. This phenomenon is not new but the pushback on it is happening now more and louder than ever.
Are you a company that wants to launch cause marketing initiatives, but wants to avoid impact washing? It can be tough to figure out how to prevent impact washing when it seems like even the companies with the most resources are doing it. And if you’re not sure how to avoid it, you’re definitely not alone. We’ve put together this guide with three principles of reframing your brand identity, commitment to being a good actor, and transparency of giving that will help your company authentically give back and stay true to itself while avoiding impact washing.
Build Impact into Brand Identity
The first way to avoid impact washing is to build impact into your brand identity. Think of the long-term impact your company intends to make and build it into the mission of the company. Make sure that your employees are a part of this process so that they have a sense of agency and responsibility to the causes and don’t have resentment that may come with the additional work of the new campaigns. Now, share this new mission statement with your community. Utilize your social media presence and website to message this commitment and build cause marketing into your channels. One of the brands experiencing great success with this is Venus William’s company, Eleven. They built out a landing page to share with their consumers and future customers the problem of wage inequality and the nonprofit, Girls Inc., they are supporting to fight that issue. Another company using cause marketing with success is Biossance and their work supporting our oceans. They promote their support of Oceana throughout the site and in various ways so that their customers can learn about the issue and know the different options they have to join in on the support. Not only has Biossance incorporated its mission statement into its brand online, but it also created packaging and marketing materials to champion its cause. When you build impact into your brand identity, customers associate your brand with the causes they support and their buying habit no longer consists of just them, it’s now also about supporting what matters most to them. This is a great way to start building trust with potential and current customers alike. If you’d like to learn more about adding impact to your mission statement, DailyKarma & Shopify put together a great event you can watch on demand that discusses sustainable giving and building a values-based company.
Commit to Good Throughout the Year
The most consistent way to avoid impact washing is to demonstrate commitment to your cause marketing. It’s not enough to talk about your commitment to causes when it’s convenient or trendy – you need to show activity over the long term and prove to your customer base it’s not just a ploy. That means setting impact goals and planning out different campaigns throughout the year – commitment is showing your support for the LGBTQA+ community in May for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia and in October for LGBTQA+ History Month, not just in June for Pride. Pick a year-long strategy and share it with your community. Whether you choose to support one cause each quarter or twelve causes throughout the year, you’ll be showing your consumers you’re not just in it when it’s convenient or for the IG likes, it means you’re committing to being a force for good all year long. To support you in this planning, DailyKarma has a blog highlighting different Awareness Days you can build campaigns around and then choose the nonprofits that support each of the causes you’re committing to. One of the best ways to choose which causes to support is by asking your customers! Create a social media poll and ask people what their top three favorite causes are, then follow up with them on those topics and build a movement of support. You can also do this through surveys on your website or even in-store. Now that you know the causes that are important to your customers, you can start planning how you’ll support each one with cause marketing and nonprofit support. You don’t have to do this alone, reach out to the DailyKarma team for best practices and paid options, they are the experts in cause marketing and have been awarded by Shopify year after year!
Be Transparent About Your Giving
The most impactful way to avoid impact washing is to ensure the nonprofits you are supporting are vetted and follow proper compliance measures. Vetting each nonprofit you choose using Charity Navigator is an important step in creating your cause campaign because you’re doing the legwork to show your consumers their dollars are going to a trusted organization that will create real change in the issue they care about. Next, you need to understand and abide by all commercial coventurer laws. More than 19 states have special regulations governing these things (language requirements, disclosures, etc.). To remain compliant, brands must register in different states for each nonprofit they support; that means that if you sell to shoppers spread across the country, you’ll need to register in all of the states where your shoppers live – but trust us, it’s complicated. If you see the benefits of making a positive impact through cause marketing and you just want to get your campaigns going, Shop for Good and the DailyKarma Foundation can help. We have secured all required registrations, alleviating the hefty compliance hurdles and passing along substantial cost savings, for brands to launch flexible give-back campaigns creatively throughout the year. To avoid impact washing, be transparent in your giving process and share these qualifications and investments with your community regularly. When you’re transparent about where the money is going and what it’s being used for, people are more likely to trust your company and become loyal and excited customers.
Impact washing is a serious issue, but with the right tools and resources, you can avoid it. If your brand is looking for more help in avoiding impact washing, or if you want a full-service solution that takes all of the guesswork out of it for you, Shop for Good is here to help. Our commitment is to help you create an ethical marketing campaign that will reflect positively on your company and help you increase sales along with customer loyalty. If you’re ready to take the first step toward avoiding impact washing, don’t hesitate and contact us today.