14 Dec 2018

What Can Brands Learn From Nonprofits?

In a flurry of political controversy, Iceland’s Christmas 2018 collaboration with Greenpeace gained mass headlines and ethical credibility for the value supermarket chain, but they are not alone. This year we’ve seen a variety of brands collaborate with non-profits, from Dave’s recent partnership with CALM to tackle male suicide, to Adidas’s collaboration with Parley in creating sportswear from recycled plastic. Whilst partnerships between brands and charities can be profitable for both parties, belief-buying has gone mainstream and corporations need to look beyond collaborations to bring conscious consumers on board. Today’s governments are failing to address the world’s social, economic and environmental issues, and brands are now expected to take their place.

Don’t Panic emerged 10 years ago as a no-budget YouTube channel that satirised banks and politicians for a young audience who weren’t interested in broadsheets. In 2013, we metamorphosed from content creators into an agency. Since then we’ve worked with charities such as Save the Children, Oxfam, NSPCC, Unicef, Greenpeace and The International Red Cross Committee. In the last decade, through success and failure, we’ve come to recognise some key traits, skills and general learnings that we believe all brands would be wise to pick up and use:

Learning one: Apply a Theory of Change; to give your audience a reason to engage in your purpose.

 Nonprofits are experts at meaningful engagement. By applying planning frameworks typically used in the third sector, brands have the opportunity to give consumers the sense that their small action is having a bigger impact on society. Whether it be a petition signature or charitable donation, every purchase made gives your audience a sense of agency in helping to fight for an issue, and a greater connection to the purpose. Take Ben & Jerry’s; their latest political statement came in the form of a new flavour, ‘Pecan Resist’ , which campaigns against Trump’s administration and asks the consumer to quite literally “Join the resistance!”. As well as raising $25,000 for four NGOs, an onsite signature mechanic connects the consumer to the campaign beyond product purchase.

Learning two: Build your masterbrand like a nonprofit.

Align with the core values of your customers by expressing who your brand is and not just what you’re flogging. Most nonprofits are, by nature, underfunded, which gives them fewer resources, and more impetus to build trust with their audience. This is evident in the number of messages and audiences they’ve been able to to reach on limited budgets. UNICEF, for example, are well known for their protection of children, but that perception varies greatly depending on the audience. Being agile allows them to react to existing conversations and therefore gain new audiences at any particular time. Nowadays, 43% of consumers buy products based on brand ‘stance’ (Edelman Earned Brand Study, 2018), so brands musn’t shy away from opportunities to demonstrate their personality; it pays to stand for something in the for-profit space too.

Learning threeTake risks to disrupt conversation.

At Don’t Panic, we understand that our nonprofit clients want to cause maximum impact to prompt people into action – whether that be awareness, behaviour change or fundraising. Our campaigns are therefore born out of a blend of creative risk and cultural insight to articulate purpose. Oatly is a prime example of a brand which understands this well. Despite being sued by the Swedish dairy industry after the first run of their ‘Milk but made for humans’ campaign, they brought the controversial messaging to the UK this October. Alienating one industry far outweighed the mass appeal generated amongst a growing population of conscious consumers, and the resultant PR only served to amplify this. Brands therefore need to create content that wins hearts and minds if they’re to cut through with purpose.

Much like sustainability, ‘purpose’ has become a buzzword which risks becoming devoid of meaning without a universal definition or tangible measurements. It’s often easy to become distracted by an exciting concept or partnership, but the true determination of success lies in whether it’s actually helping achieve the change desired. Whether it be sign-ups, signatures, donations or behaviour change, we build specific KPIs from the get-go based on what objective a nonprofit is looking to achieve. It may not sound revolutionary, but demonstrating purpose with tangible change rather than impressions is key to getting consumers talking about your brand purpose for the right reasons.

With society shifting away from consumerism and towards citizenship, and with traditional advertising and media lacking the heft it once wielded, understanding and articulating your brand purpose is no longer an afterthought, it’s critical to achieving results. Corporations may be incredibly different beasts to charities, but taking inspiration from NGOs will put brands in good stead to articulate their meaning; standing for something, applying creative risk and engaging your audience should be in the foundations of every brand story told.

At Don’t Panic, we don’t just talk the talk – we’re busy walking the walk too. To see our work, click here, or if you’re after an attention-grabbing campaign of your own, click here.