What corporations can learn from Ben & Jerry’s Advocacy

Every day, I see examples of companies that are leveraging their influence to spark social change.

Advocacy is becoming an expected part of doing business as consumers demand that corporations use their resources to accomplish good in the world. And while more companies are finding their voice, corporate advocacy is growing and evolving.

A recent article about iconic ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s illustrates how advocacy can impact business and how it has changed marketing.

In this new reality, the role of marketer includes three major components: the traditional marketer, the content publisher and the activist, says Jay Curley, senior global marketing manager for Ben & Jerry’s. Success, he says, requires balancing all three.

The traditional marketer is focused on the product. In this case, getting people excited about ice cream. But the other two roles represent a significant departure from marketing as usual. It’s important to have a marketing team and executive leadership who understand this shift.

Marketers as Publishers

Companies like Ben & Jerry’s are using robust storytelling strategies, in many cases developing their own newsrooms, to further their business goals and advocacy missions.

It used to be that a company seeking coverage of a story would make a pitch to media outlets, hoping to pique the interest of journalists. That approach is still valuable, but companies today are also developing ways to tell their story on their own, and they’re achieving dramatic results.

Curley cites an example from 2016 when Ben & Jerry’s sent a digital content team to the Democracy Awakening protest in Washington, D.C., which focused on civil rights and the environment and called for getting big money out of politics.

The company’s co-founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, were among 300 people arrested on charges of unlawful demonstration activities.

“The mainstream media didn’t cover the event. But we had brought two videographers, a photographer, and a writer, and we published that story that night, with a fairly provocative title: “Why did Ben and Jerry get arrested?” It went viral very quickly, and it crashed our website,” Curley says.

I am not saying to go have your CEO arrested, but company’s activism and content resonated with its audience and subsequently drove mainstream media coverage.

“We were very much leveraging Ben and Jerry’s celebrity status to draw attention to a really important social movement,” Curley says.

The company was also leveraging its ability to produce unique content and tell its own story. The takeaway here is that today’s marketers – and advocates  – must be thinking about and implementing a content strategy.

Marketers as Activists

Ben & Jerry’s has never shied away from activism, but that’s part of the company’s brand.

Traditionally, brands were reluctant to support issues because of the uncertainty involved. The risk is that you will alienate customers or potential customers. If you avoid social action altogether, however, you miss out on a powerful opportunity to make a difference and cultivate champions who share your values.

“What we’ve found is that we’re a better ice-cream company because we have values that people can believe in, and we’re able to serve the movements because we come with a different perspective, one of a fun ice-cream company,” Curley says.

Understanding your audience is the key to operating in a landscape where consumers demand social action. Remember, your advocacy doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, but it must resonate with your core audience.

Marketers as Data Analysts

That brings us to the final takeaway from Curley’s assessment. Data analysis has always been in the marketer’s toolbox, but what’s different now is the volume of data and the number of tools available to help test messaging and track results.

“I live knee-deep in numbers and spreadsheets, looking at media plans or media results or budgets,” Curley says. “… I look at different dashboards to keep track of real-time results of how our content is performing.”

There are many data tools available to help business leaders understand their audiences.

  • Survey employees, customers and other stakeholders regularly. Ask them about their thoughts, priorities and passions.
  • Mine consumer reviews, customer service interactions and social media messages.
  • Test corporate messaging and make adjustments based on audiences’ feedback.

Now that you see how Ben & Jerry’s does it, what about your own marketing and advocacy strategies? Are you ready to get started?

Read more about how your company can stand out by doing good in this article I recently wrote for Conscious Company magazine, and let me know how I can help you unlock your advocacy influence and success.

Karen B. Moore is founder and CEO of Moore Communications Group and author of “Behind the Red Door: Unlock Your Advocacy Influence and Success.”