Shel Horowitz On Brand-Influencer Partnership Amplify Social Cause
Green marketing expert Shel Horowitz, the founder and transformpreneur of GoingBeyondSustainability.com, has spent more than 40 years assisting businesses in the USA to incorporate environmental and social causes into their brand strategy. Due to the scope of the topic, he has written at least ten nonfiction books on marketing for social change businesses, the most recent of which being Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.
Horowitz is also a consultant working towards collaboration between businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and celebrities. Specifically for the target demographics, he advises his clients to tell their brand's story. It entails adopting several marketing strategies to connect with potential customers who care about sustainability in diverse ways, including Deep Greens, Lazy Greens, Non-Greens, and Anti-Greens.
He believes influencers are a good fit for bridging the gap between your offer and the audience. The marketing expert suggests that influencers were the first to say that climate change is a reality that needs to be addressed. According to him, in the coming time, influencers with solid reputations in the social justice space will create more real partnerships involving the substantial commitment of resources to the causes the influencer supports.
Q. As we all know, consumers' expectations for major brands and corporations to lead the fight against climate change are continuously evolving. Tell us where your organization Going Beyond Sustainability fits in between the brands and consumers.
A. Going Beyond Sustainability is a consulting firm that shows businesses how addressing climate change and other major environmental and social issues is the right thing to do and can provide opportunities to build a better brand, win favor from consumers and other stakeholders, and increase profits. GBS also helps consumers figure out whether a company is walking its talk and is worth doing business with.
Q. Undoubtedly, brand activism has been in the conversation for some time now. How do you set brands apart from their competitors in the market in making a real difference and helping them attract new clients and boost conversion rates?
A. Recognizing that many, maybe even most, consumers would instead steer their purchases toward environmental and social leaders, you find ways to tell your brand story specifically to your audiences. That means, for instance, using different marketing messages to reach different sustainability-centric customers – Deep Greens, Lazy Greens, Non-Greens, and Anti-Greens— always pointing out why this matters (and, for some audiences, how it fits into your broader mission). And emphasizing the parts that will best resonate with each segment.
So, to reach a Non-Green, you might frame the benefit as stemming from the social or environmental commitment, e.g., "You may never have slept on a mattress as comfortable and durable as this one. The secret is in the unique blend of all-natural, organically grown materials, harvested with love by members of a worker co-op being paid a fair wage by a company that understands that happy workers make superior products."
You also must educate your consumers about why you offer something better, greener, and more equitable. As a real-life example, the regional (Northeast US) household paper products company Marcal went recycled all the way back in 1950—but they forgot to tell anyone and went bankrupt. Once they started shaping their brand story around that key commitment, they emerged from bankruptcy and became the category leader.
Q. You have suggested an exciting way of looking at sustainability marketing by addressing different categories of eco-conscious consumers. Where does influencer marketing fit into this and set a standard for purpose-driven marketing?
A. Influencers are the "yeast in the dough" who carry the message and conviction to a much wider audience. It was influencers who carried the message that climate change is happening and we need to deal with it into not just the boardrooms and assembly lines but the K-12 classrooms, mothers' circles, college campuses, social media platforms, and television studios. But influencers come in many guises. An influencer doesn't have to have tens of thousands of followers. Some with a small following have outsized impact because their audience consists of popularizers who reach a lot of people
Q. Given that you indicated that influencers might take many different forms, what, in your perspective, comprises an influencer partnership? What crucial factors should a brand consider while establishing a relationship with influencers, particularly for a social cause?
A. I really don't see enough of finding influencers whose influence is in the area you want to influence. Here's an example of how not to do this that I experienced directly: I got chosen by a tech company to give away an expensive piece of hardware (and keep one for myself). My audiences of writers, solopreneurs, and activists were not going to be tuned into that offer. They would have been better served going to someone with a nerd site, and I never found out how they chose me.
The ideal influencer is someone who builds a bridge from their audience to your offer. So, for instance, I, as a marketer who works in the green business world, can build a good bridge for a company that wants to reach green business and push them from Sustainability to regenerativity—to address root causes of things like hunger, poverty, racism, war, climate change, etc.
I will always come out on the side of influencer marketing. Getting people to brag to others about the great things you are doing will generally have more positive results (and cost far less) than advertising. There are many ways to accomplish this, and one is to encourage people to post great things about you on social media. Others include volunteered or solicited video testimonials, volunteered or solicited written testimonials, video testimonials gathered through product sampling (in-store, on the streets, at large gatherings, etc.), product reviews, press coverage, interviews with company executives, product designers, or marketers, etc.
Product packaging also has a strong role to play—but it's a little different because the company is making a claim rather than an outside, theoretically neutral party. But packaging is also the best place to strut credible third-party certifications and endorsements and explain why they matter.
Q. Any brand(s) that come to mind when you think of social cause campaigns or organizations that stood out in creating awareness on social media?
A. Ben & Jerry's on solar energy, Dove on democratizing women's beauty, Marcal on recycling. There are also plenty of much smaller companies and organizations that have done important work in educating their public. Examples include AlterEco on the importance of fair-trade ingredients that don't involve child slavery, CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) on supporting local farmers, and Greyston Bakery on hiring and training "unemployable" former addicts/mental patients/incarcerated, etc.
Q. What does the future of influencer marketing look like to you?
A. I see more companies turning to those who have strong reputations in the social justice space, more real partnerships involving a substantial commitment of resources to the causes the influencer supports, and closer connections between companies' products/services/mission statement/core expertise and the causes they support. It makes far more sense to me that Patagonia supports environmental and wilderness charities than that Ford is so active in cancer charities—important work, to be sure. Still, I can't see the connection to what they sell.