What Ben & Jerry’s Does Differently That Makes Its Marketing So Successful [VIDEO]

Simon Mainwaring

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego, and one of the panels featured Ben & Jerry’s activism manager, Christopher Miller, and senior global marketing manager, Jay Curley. In contrast to the majority of brand marketers who think in a very similar way when it comes to leveraging their brand to have social impact, Christopher and Jay shared the different approach that Ben & Jerry’s takes that has led it to become synonymous with issues such as climate change and that has positioned its products with the badge value of authentic social activism. This approach is one that any brand could take if it had a similar commitment to authenticity and appetite for risk.

Typically, a brand approaches its corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, or foundation work using the following hierarchy and mindset: First comes the company, then comes the brand, and then finally the social impact the company creates through corporate citizenship, sustainability, or foundation efforts. It’s a natural logic, especially when you consider the necessary focus on the company and its bottom line that all brands must have.

Yet counterintuitively, Ben & Jerry’s has built its bottom line to become one of the fastest growing Unilever brands by doing something very different, as Christopher and Jay explained. In contrast to the hierarchy outlined above, here are three key steps Ben & Jerry’s takes in thinking through consumer engagement and social activism:

  1. Start with your values: As Christopher and Jay explained onstage, Ben & Jerry’s programs don’t start in a windowless room with strategists staring at a blank sheet of paper. Instead, they look directly to the core values of the brand as the compass for all of the company’s marketing. These values inform its mission, which has three parts:
    • Our Product Mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake. 
      To make, distribute, and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the environment.
    • Our Economic Mission asks us to manage our company for sustainable financial growth.
      To operate the company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders, and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.
    • Our Social Mission compels us to use our company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.
      To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve quality of life locally, nationally, and internationally.

  1. Identify partners and movements that support those values: Typically a brand is very conscious to secure and maintain ownership of the impact it creates in order to, understandably, get the credit it is due. In contrast, Ben & Jerry’s seeks to support and leverage the momentum of existing partners and movements that share the same values and are mission-aligned. Not only does this instantly bring weight and scale to its efforts, but it also wisely offsets the relatively high cost of managing programs or leading movements on its own. One such example is its recent partnership with Tesla to raise awareness around climate change. As part of Ben & Jerry’s year-long Save our Swirled campaign, which sought to inspire more people around the world to support the global climate movement, the iconic ice cream company ditched the conventional ice cream truck in favor of a customized emissions-free Tesla.
  1. Mobilize your community in service of those movements: The final and critical last step is to mobilize your brand community in service of those values. While this may sound simple, the message it sends to your consumers is profound. First, it makes it clear that your company is genuinely committed to its values because it is not solely focused on itself or to be the sole recipient of credit for social impact. Second, it serves as a demonstration that these issues are larger than any one person or company and that we must collaborate to realize the change we are seeking to create. Third, it transforms consumers into activists for change and positions the brand as a partner that creates opportunities for them to co-own the brand and, in so doing, find greater meaning for themselves.

These three simple steps represent a powerful and effective departure from how brands typically approach social impact initiatives and marketing. The benefits are many, including establishing a badge value for the products that drive sales, demonstrating an authentic commitment to issues bigger than the brand itself, and creating a powerful opportunity to engage consumers in meaningful and creative ways. The net result of these benefits is that the customer community builds your business and social impact with you, which is exactly what every brand marketer should hope for.

Learn more about How to Build Customer Loyalty Through Digital Emotional Affinity.

This article originally appeared on the author’s website and is part of a series of articles that support the vision and purpose of SAP.


Simon Mainwaring

About Simon Mainwaring

Simon Mainwaring is the founder and CEO of We First, the leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that accelerates growth through purpose. His book, We First: How brands and consumers use social media to build a better world (Palgrave Macmillan) is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller and strategy+business named it the Best Business Marketing Book of the Year. He is a member of Sustainable Brands, the Business Alliance for the Future and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, and Huffington Post. Simon was included in the United Nation Foundation’s ‘Global Influencers to Follow’ in 2016; YPO’s Real Leaders, ‘100 Visionary Leaders’ for 2015; GlobalCEO’s Top CSR Leaders for 2014; The Guardian’s, ‘Twitter List: The 30 Most Influential Sustainability Voices in America’ for 2013; and Trust Across America’s, ‘Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior for 2012.’ He’s been featured in TIME, The Guardian, Advertising Age, Adweek, Inc., AMA, Fast Company, GOOD Magazine, Mashable and the cover of the National Speaker’s Magazine, as well as appearing on the BBC World News, Business News Network, CBS, CBC, and BNet. Prior to starting We First Simon was an award-winning advertising writer at many of the world’s top creative advertising agencies receiving over 60 international awards including the Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio’s, Kelly Awards, and D&AD.