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Social and Environmental Impact Take Center Stage at Outdoor Retailer

Social and environmental activism are quickly becoming table stakes for brands looking to succeed with consumers.

At the Outdoor Industry Association breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, keynote speaker Afdhel Aziz spoke to the need for brands to discover a deeper purpose—not just for themselves, but in the interest of enticing younger, more conscious shoppers who are increasingly demanding that they take responsibility for their social and environmental impact.

Aziz is a co-author of “Good is The New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn” and founder of Conspiracy of Love, a “brand purpose” consultancy. His experience as a marketer for Fortune 500 brands informed his purpose-driven approach to marketing, manifesting in a seven-tiered model for brands looking to succeed with a new generation.

Among Aziz’s directives is the concept of approaching one’s audience as citizens instead of consumers. Tapping into their passions as well as their concerns (like the outdoors, and consequently, environmental conservation) can create a more meaningful and lasting connection—ultimately inspiring brand loyalty.

“The brands who are succeeding today are thinking of people not just in terms of one transaction,” Aziz explained. “If you think of them as a citizen, you start to see the wide range of causes that they care about.”

Aziz quoted Larry Fink, CEO and chairman of Blackrock (the world’s largest asset manager and investment management corporation, with $6.5 trillion in assets) as saying in a letter shared with the New York Times in January, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show it makes a positive contribution to society.”

The practice of showing impact is an important one, Aziz said, as simply telling consumers about efforts to do good is no longer enough.

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Savvy shoppers want to see brand promises backed up with concrete proof, he said. He mentioned Adidas’ Parley for the Oceans campaign as an example, which began a few years ago with a limited run of about 7,000 pairs of sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic. Adidas is on track to sell 11 million pairs of Parley shoes this year, amounting to nearly $2 billion in revenue.

The reason? The brand led with a “cool” concept, imbued it with a higher purpose, and delivered impactful and visible results.

The movement toward good-doing doesn’t just impact consumer confidence, though.

Citing a 2018 survey from Do Something Strategic, Aziz said that nearly 64 percent of the millennial and Gen Z workforce won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and practices in place. What’s more, 85 percent of Gen Z employees believe companies have an obligation to help solve social problems.

When addressing how this collective cultural shift has managed to take root, Aziz offered that corporations hold the power for change—and now, people know it.

Corporations have seven times more resources than government entities and nonprofits combined, he said, so the onus is on them to lead when it comes to ameliorating social ills and walking back some of the damage they’ve done to the environment. If they don’t, consumers will surely walk.

And, he said, accountability doesn’t stop there. “This is going to be the new normal. Your employees are going to hold you to a higher standard.”