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The Case for User-Generated Content in Cause Marketing

According to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66 percent of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands, up from 55 percent the year before. Moreover, 73 percent of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, up from 50 percent the year before.

These numbers shouldn’t be a surprise for marketers, as in recent years there has been a proliferation of companies that have social good built into their brand. It’s clear that the importance of co-creating experiences alongside consumers is paramount to a modern marketing strategy, but of course this is more easily said than done.

Nevertheless, there is still an opportunity for brands who have cause-marketing or social good built into their DNA to turn their customer loyalty into content creation that can further share their core message. And, if 80 percent of global consumers agree that businesses must play a role in social issues, then that’s a whole lot of potential content creators waiting to be tapped.

Below are a few of our favorite brands with a strong purpose behind their marketing. See what they’re doing and what more they could add to their strategy to extend their messages and increase engagement.


For outdoor enthusiasts and athleisure fans alike, Patagonia is a household name. The brand stands out as a do-gooder to its very core, with a 44-year-old history steeped in sustainability, conservation, and activism.

Since its start, the company has ensured that while its business objective focuses on making high-quality outdoor equipment and apparel, its commitment to the environment is equally as important. This element is clear in its mission, which is as follows: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Having a strong and, more importantly, authentic mission statement is imperative for any company looking for brand longevity and success. One reason the brand has remained prosperous for so long, perhaps lies in its mission—A statement that gives both employees and consumers a purpose behind supporting Patagonia.

The more connected your mission is to the community or cause you care about, the more likely it is to resonate with your customers. Moreover, a mission statement like this one cannot simply exist alone—it must be paired with action, which Patagonia has executed seamlessly.

Not only is the company continuing to create high-quality, coveted apparel, but it’s also putting its money (and values) where its mouth is. Whether it’s giving 1% of its profits back to the planet, denouncing policies that negatively impact our environment, backing ethically-made clothing, or donating all of its Black Friday sales ($10 million in 2016) to the environment, Patagonia has used action to create a community and movement that is both passionate and loyal. Most recently, the brand sued President Trump for his decision to drastically decrease national park lands, and apparently was met with a boost in sales numbers after this action.

With all of these causes at the core of its brand, Patagonia also has an untapped opportunity to further its message to new customers through its already active customer base. We’ve talked before about the fact that 76 percent of people are more likely to trust content posted by peers than by brands and Patagonia is a vibrant brand with tons of user-generated content (UGC) at its fingertips. With such meaning behind its company, Patagonia is poised to increase its reach and engagement through showcasing more customer-created content across its website and in its marketing materials. Through incorporating UGC across channels, Patagonia can further drive customer loyalty and reach new people to bring its mission to life.


Similarly to Patagonia, REI is another outdoor retailer that also chose to build its brand on its ethos and principles from the very start. Not only has the brand taken a stand against Black Friday, but most recently has also publicly rejected Trump’s decision to shrink the lands of national parks.

REI really can’t help being consumer-focused, given that it is one of the larger retailers that is also a consumer cooperative (co-op), meaning the company is owned by its members. An almost 80-year-old company, it’s a great example of living a legacy that has always strived to involve its customers as part of the brand.

Most notably, its #OptOutside Black Friday campaign, has gained traction over the past few years for encouraging both REI employees and customers to skip (many retailer’s favorite day of the year) Black Friday and replace it with outdoor activities. Though, of course, REI didn’t forget its call to action for consumers to post their activities on social using the aforementioned hashtag, elevating the brand even on its day off.

Through this campaign, REI not only represented its customers’ priorities—an action that has served the brand in awareness and retention—but also publicized its dedication to honoring people’s time and the holiday sentiment long before “skipping Black Friday” became a thing. Due to this campaign’s success, we’ve seen a lot of other retailers embrace this commitment to the holiday and its employees, such as Nordstrom, Everlane, Patagonia, and more. For its creativity, REI won a slew of awards including a Cannes Lions, exemplifying that taking risks, letting your beliefs shine through, and involving your consumers in your brand story can really pay off.


Called a millennial fever dream, Everlane is the radically transparent clothing company millennials didn’t know they needed. If you haven’t heard of this brand, it’s a clothing retailer that sells casual wear and office attire rooted in a strong ethical background.

Everlane is dedicated to not only making uniform-like, high-quality clothing, but since its launch has been a company dedicated to utilizing ethical factories, clear production costs, and, as they put it, operating with “radical transparency.” And, its positioning has paid off in the ever-evolving retail industry, which found 64% of millennials would rather wear a socially-conscious brand than a luxury brand.

The brand has stood out for a number of reasons, but most importantly for the interest and support it has piqued within millennials. According to Business Insider, Everlane has been referred to as the next J. Crew, taking an approach that has succeeded within this coveted demo, including:

  • Alignment with millennial-friendly values, i.e. promoting transparency, production costs, ethics, and sustainability
  • Providing a simplistic and desirable product: i.e. quality basics
  • Being tech-savvy: Clean design, easy user interface, better shopping experience. They even introduced the Everlane Now feature, where customers in New York City & San Francisco (where their physical stores are located) can order certain items and receive them within an hour.

Most recently, the brand highlighted its loyal consumers for supporting its “100% Human” campaign, launched a year ago, where the brand released a clothing line to support human rights, raised a quarter of a million dollars to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union, and, most recently, shared their customers 100% Human stories on a custom landing page.

Through taking risks to support the causes Everlane cares about, plus having a high-quality, ethnically-focused, and tech-savvy product and presence, the brand has shown that it pays off to wear your heart on your sleeve. Both in brand awareness, user-generated content, and dollars.

Toms Shoes

Last, but certainly not least, there is Toms Shoes. One of the first modern companies to popularize the one for one model as part of its company mission— for every product bought, they donate a pair of shoes to a child in need.  

The company was founded in 2006, and since its original one-to-one promise, it’s donated 2 million shoes to children in need, as well as expanded its cause. Eleven years later, the retailer is now helping impact those in need by providing improved access to water, sight (through eye glasses & surgeries), safer births for women, and bullying prevention programming.

As it grew in its success, Toms realized the impact it could have on a host of other causes and used its popularity and reach to touch more lives in  positive ways. This is something that millennials are responding to when making purchase decisions. And, as their buying power continues to increase, so will their influence on how companies choose to proceed in their marketing strategies and missions.

And, as an Olapic client, Toms has always understood the power of user-generated content to spread its one-to-one campaign message, globally. Through showcasing consumers’ stories, how they wear its product, and the impact their purchases can make, Toms has used UGC to create a meaningful connection with its customers and to help more people in need. Not only that, but our most recent research found that 43 percent of respondents cite authenticity as the main reason they trust social posts—so the more UGC a brand has, the more likely it is to be authentic and therefore to influence buying decisions.

So whether you’re a new brand, or one with a long legacy, the bottom line is that brand ethos matters. Cause marketing isn’t going away anytime soon, and the need for it will probably only increase as newer generations to come hold higher expectations and embrace stronger opinions when interacting with businesses. Still not convinced? Author and marketing expert, Afdhel Aziz, shared his perspective on why Good is the New Cool in a recent interview with us, which you can read to get some ideas churning.

That said, every business has a set of beliefs and if you’re not showcasing them as part of your branding yet, it’s time to let them shine through! Whether your company has a corporate social responsibility program, a great employee volunteer program, or a cause you care about, consider highlighting these efforts in your marketing to better connect consumers to your brand.

By creating more touch points for your customers to relate to your company, you might even start a movement that will help your elevate your brand on the whole. And, as we’ve seen with the aforementioned examples, when customers connect with your company, they are more likely to create authentic user-generated content to showcase both themselves and your brand.

So what will you do to make your character shine through this year and impact the world?

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