By now, most businesses have gotten the all-cap, all-bold memo proclaiming the correlation between purpose and sales. The data confirms time and again that consumers prefer to connect with businesses that care about the world and can prove that they care with real-world impact in areas that matter most.
We all want — and more and more desperately need — to ensure peace and prosperity, improve human lives, and protect our environment.
But as Julie Davitz, founder and CEO of startup Plus Media Solutions asserts, many, if not most, businesses, still struggle to communicate that purpose and their businesses’ resulting impact — struggle to connect with those consumers in the first place.
Davitz has been on the inside of this evolving challenge for more than two decades. She’s a globally-connected ESG, sustainability, and development/philanthropy strategy leader with deep expertise in the impact sector. She founded Plus Media Solutions in 2021, as a mostly women-led public benefit corporation, “to democratize access to positive social solutions.”
If businesses are to “directly engage their consumers around authentic, genuine details about their product, about their company,” and about the local and global problems the business is helping to solve, then they will need help. And traditional marketing and ad campaigns — along with traditional marketing companies — aren’t cutting it anymore, Davitz insists.
A confluence of recent social and environmental challenges, along with new more savvy generations of consumers — not to mention several globally agreed-upon goals and frameworks such as the UN SDGs — demands a more immediate, accurate, and effective form of communication.
Enter Plus Media, which aims to seamlessly connect purpose-driven brands with like-minded consumers in a differentiated way despite a massively crowded marketplace, all in line with the client’s KPIs. A valuable tool in a client’s toolkit.
Telling the relevant story to the right people, right away
Why is communicating impact so challenging for most brands? “What does impact even mean?” Davitz asks. “Is it purpose, is it sustainability, is it ESG? And within each of those definitions, it’s really complex.” And the convolution of metrics such as the SDGs and new realms of sustainability such as regeneration and circularity further muddy impact storytelling. It’s no wonder only 19 percent of companies believe their content marketing efforts are very successful.
Because clarifying those waters “takes a very delicate hand,” says Davitz. “And it also takes breaking up [the story] into extremely specific chunks, knowing who your audience is, and knowing what the brand or the product really stands for.
“And then, I think there’s one last piece that’s important to remember about communication in general: Consumers have, I think of it as an aperture. There’s a very small
window or lens through which people are really open to the information, and even when they’re open to the information, it has to be the right information,” she says, at the right time.
That’s the best way to bridge what some behavioral scientists refer to as the “Consumer intention-action gap,” says Davitz. It’s not all on lazy or disingenuous consumers that people’s values, attitudes, or intentions don’t always match their actions. Often, the gap results from a lack of information about how easy it can be to help create a better world through one’s consumer choices. And who’s responsible for that? Business. But measuring your impact by how many “likes” you’re getting is almost useless, Davitz argues.
So, how do you thread that needle with the right impact story at the right time?
Two ways to thread the needle
“So, we’ve got this intent from the consumer, and we have this intent from the business. What Plus Media does is provide this functional bridge with two approaches,” Davitz explains. First, the consumer clicks or scans the plus sign, on the product, its packaging, hang tags, or website. That unlocks what the company calls an “Impact Hub.” “Basically, a menu of information, opportunities, and experiences, that are specific to the brand, to the product, with no sign-in required,” Davitz says. That last part’s important: You have to make it easy.
And the second main way of interacting with the brand’s impact is through a “plus bot,” a process the company half-jokingly calls “Talking to the shoe.”
Davitz describes it this way: “Say, for example, you are shopping for new sneakers, and the sneakers you’re looking at are made from mushroom leather or pineapple leather. The consumer at that moment is struggling at the point of purchase. Why is this more expensive? How in the world is this made? Tell me about your labor practices in Southeast Asia.
“Well, the bot actually corresponds, interacts with the consumer in real-time, answering those questions,” says Davitz, “which are specifically curated to the brand.”
Trust is the pivotal metric
The goal of such carefully curated information is to vet change-making solutions to match both the client’s purpose story and the consumer’s predispositions. The information and other options uncovered by the consumer’s initial engagement are meant to build trust, relationships, and brand equity, says Davitz, all the while promoting genuine change. “Solutions can be refreshed at any frequency, on any platform, allowing for organic interest-building and fast learning.”
Of course, Plus Media’s impact insights derive from a proprietary process, and we’re not allowed to see behind the curtain. But the company prides itself on the integrity of its data and interpretation, how it filters information from brands themselves, and its sources for independent vetting, curation, and analysis. Ultimately, says Davitz, the consumer must trust the plus-sign beyond a traditional marketing campaign with its typical, and often problematic, spin.
“Absolutely problematic,” says Davitz of the usual way companies tell their impact stories. “So, that requires a lot of due diligence on our part. But … if a company is caught
greenwashing, that does more damage and is more expensive to their brand than going out and telling the real story. So, I think brands are being really, really careful these days, and trying to be authentic and genuine, as transparent as they can be. And we can help tease out those great stories.”
Clear differentiation is a differentiator
Along those lines, research points to the importance of trust among consumers, and I’ve extensively written about that subject here on Forbes. Today’s consumer demands are radically different than they were even a decade ago. Concurrently, brands need to tell their own complex stories to meet those demands, and the same differentiate themselves in noisily competitive markets, says Davitz.
If you’re in the pizza aisle, she says, or searching the web for a new EV, even various brands’ good sustainability marketing efforts seem to blend and blur to the point of confusion or monotony. Plus Media’s take on how to do that well is to focus first on the accurate and interesting differentiators. Even ostensibly well-known brands such as Starbucks and Newman’s Own still need that, especially among emerging generations that didn’t necessarily grow up on the origin stories.
The plus-sign can be the starting point for that differentiation, a sales funnel in itself for conscious consumers, says Davitz. Your brand might have only microseconds to connect at a point of sale, interest, or education. “And we know that when consumers feel engaged with their brand, they’re much more loyal, they’re more aware of the brand, and they’re much more likely to recommend that brand to someone else.”
If you’d like to dive deeper with more purpose-led companies like Plus Media Solution, check out the Lead with We podcast here, so that you too can build a company that transforms consumer behavior and our future