What It Means To Be A Mission-Driven Brand In 2019 

Image by Digital First Media/East Bay Times / Getty

These days, it feels entirely possible to be friends with a brand. Social media and e-commerce have conspired so that with a few clicks, you can get a sense of not only a company's product but also their founding story and overall ethos.

And it's shaping the way we buy: A 2018 survey by Forbes found that 60 percent of millennials make purchases they feel are an expression of their personalities. Meanwhile, baby boomers and Gen Xers have always tended to focus more on a product's quality and efficacy alone.

Last year, a handful of major brands stepped outside their products to express personality and promote values: Following its viral "The President Stole Your Land" campaign, outdoor retailer Patagonia endorsed a political candidate for the first time (two of them, in fact!) and donated its $10 million tax cut to environmental organizations in protest of Trump's economic and environmental policies. Nike featured Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL player who chose to kneel during the national anthem, in its 30th-anniversary campaign, applauding his choice to "just do it" in the face of adversity.

Though controversial on the surface, in terms of revenue these campaigns were great successes: Patagonia reportedly had a $1 billion year in 2018; Nike was named Ad Age's 2018 Marketer of the Year and has made $6 billion since the Kaepernick ad first ran. It's fair to say that selling a good product is no longer enough; being "mission-driven" is now a pre-req for brand success.

The future of the mission-driven company.

Image by John Lamparski / Getty

Triple bottom line companies—ones that are good for people, good for the planet, and financially lucrative—clearly aren't going anywhere, but they're evolving with changing times.

Take Burt's Bees, a brand that has championed an unlikely hero, the honey bee, for the past 30 years. As bee populations around the world continue to plummet as a result of a mysterious condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), Burt's is only becoming more vocal about its growing conservation efforts. Last year, the company's philanthropic foundation joined forces with E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation's Half-Earth Project on a three-year bee-mapping project, which will hopefully give researchers some clues about CCD's mysterious grip on the creatures.

"As our world is increasingly driven by technology, living in connection with nature and preserving the richness of life on earth is key to our own ability to thrive and survive," says Paula Alexander, the director of sustainable business at Burt's Bees. "We carry their lasting passion for the power of natural ingredients and conservation of the wilderness forward in the work we do and the standards we hold ourselves to."

Outdoor gear mecca REI has also upped its philanthropic efforts in response to a warming world, with its multi-million dollar endowment dedicated to defending public lands that are increasingly under attack. Meanwhile, personal care brand Toms of Maine now donates 10 percent of product sales to nonprofit organizations working to support health, education, and nature.

Image by Digital First Media/East Bay Times / Getty

In other cases, companies are taking charge on new issues while remaining true to core values. Last year, Ben & Jerry's took a stance against President Trump's anti-immigration policies with its Pecan Resist ice cream flavor—proceeds of which will go toward organizations that support people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, and immigrants. Lindsay Bumps, who works for Ben & Jerry's communications team, says that in 2019, the brand's biggest focus will be around racial justice.

"With the evolution of issues in our world, our focus may shift—but our root beliefs in social justice and environmental justice and where they intersect are our focus," she explains.

As companies continue to galvanize customers around a shared mission, many of them are also using sustainability wins as a show of their values.

Some pivots are inspired by the demands of the world; others by the preferences of consumers. "The launch of Athleta Girl was driven by our mission," Sheila Pollak, CMO of Athleta, says of the company's transition into activewear for a younger clientele. "Our customer was asking for Athleta for her daughter because she loved the product and what we stand for, and we knew we could do more for the next generation of girls."

Many companies are also using sustainability wins as a show of their values. This eco-friendly ethos has touched the wellness world in particular: Whether it's plant-based beverage company Califia Farms setting a goal to transition to 100 percent renewable power by 2020 or dairy-free snack brand So Delicious reaching the coveted B-Corp certification, many producers helping people live healthier lives are being transparent about how they're working to make the planet a little healthier too.

With brands willing to put real dollars behind their vision for a brighter future, one thing is for sure: There's never been a more exciting time to be a consumer.

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