Customer Empowerment: Building Your Business on Social Change

by Sean Ross

2 min read

Social consciousness is a hot marketing trend. Businesses are taking political and cultural stances on hot topics, using buzzwords like “empowering,” and even pitching products that serve as vehicles for change – although the nature and direction of the change may depend on the target audience.

On the surface, a marketing campaign can be directed around social change or diversity in small businesses. The fundamental principle, however, is the understanding that most consumer purchases are made intuitively – based on emotions and cognitive biases – rather than through objective rationality. You can use the momentum of a social movement to differentiate your company and create a loyal customer base.

Sadvertising: It Works

The practice of using explicit pleas to social causes to sell a product is known as sadvertising. It is the natural market response to a cultural change in consumer attitudes. If you can show how your company stands for the same values as your target audience, they’re more likely to buy your product – and they’ll even promote your product by liking and sharing it on social media.

The idea is to persuade the audience, consciously or subconsciously, that your business is part of their ideological tribe. Researchers at New York University conducted a study on confirmatory bias and found that participants were much more likely to positively interact with material that confirmed their own beliefs. Consumers may even overpay for a product when cheaper alternatives exist – as long as they feel engaged by the value proposition.

Take a stance on a social issue in a way that highlights its emotional underpinnings. This could mean picking a spokesperson who fits a marginalized archetype or attaching your product to an empathetic concept, such as inner beauty or sharing. If your brand uses negative experiences, including sadness or harm, make sure to emphasize that your products and services help avoid or alleviate those emotions.

Diversity and the Appeal of Historically Marginalized Groups

One of the most powerful and widespread social causes in Western democracies is the push for diversity and increased cultural sensitivity. In fact, the Canadian government requires federally listed companies and public unions to actively discriminate in favor of potential hires from historically marginalized groups – this is the concept of employment equity.

Building and promoting a diverse workplace is a great opportunity for Canadian small businesses, but this may be easier said than done. Even so, businesses that are committed to social causes (or at least attracting socially minded consumers) can take steps to improve their diversity image:

  • Rely on independent contractors from a variety of backgrounds.

  • Engage in extracurricular activities that expose employees or customers to new cultures.

  • Explicitly welcome individuals from all creeds, nationalities, ethinicities, genders, sexual orientations, and religions.

  • Send a portion of your proceeds to a cause or group related to marginalized communities.

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