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Consumers have made it clear they want more from their companies. A recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers want to know how the companies they support are addressing social and environmental issues, and 46 percent of those consumers pay attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts, according to Markstein, an integrated communications agency. 

Not surprisingly, companies are now producing socially aligned marketing campaigns and branding efforts—some successfully, some not so successfully. Chicago Booth’s new Marketing for Good event series in partnership with the Kilts Center for Marketing invites experts to discuss topics focused on this intersection between marketing and the public good.

In the week following George Floyd’s murder, for instance, many businesses released a slew of statements and Tweets, said Pradeep K. Chintagunta, the Joseph T. and Bernice S. Lewis Distinguished Service Professor of Marketing, speaking during a Marketing for Good panel focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.

He singled out Netflix, which made four statements: one was a generic BLM statement; one stated they planned to curate films about racial injustice; and the other two announced a $5 million investment to organizations creating opportunities for Black creators, Black youth, and Black-owned businesses, and a $120 million investment in Black institutions and colleges.

Consumer reaction to these statements varied widely—while there was a neutral response to the first two statements, consumers reacted negatively to the $5 million and positively to the $120 million investment. Chintagunta’s conclusions? Companies need to have a firm understanding of the brands’ ideals prior to taking action and making a statement. Customers, shareholders, investors, and stockholders are all watching.

“As you look at your brand, as you look at your image, you have to balance that and push out, ‘OK, exactly what do we want to put out and how do we want to do it? How do we connect it to our values?'” said Chipo Nyambuya, Loyola School of Law’s director of externships and founder and principal of Virgil, a Chicago-based CSR consultancy. 

It’s harder than it appears. G. Scott Uzzell, ’98, president and CEO of Converse, explained that his company had many tough conversations about what the brand stands for, what it aspires to be, and what they wanted to say to the public. A company’s internal actions must be consistent with their external voice—the audio and video have to match.

On June 5, 2020, Converse stated that they stand with the Black community and committed to hire more Black creatives, designers, athletes, and businesses. Then they, along with Nike and Jordan Brand as part of Nike, Inc., pledged $40 million toward supporting the Black community by investing in organizations that address social justice, education, and racial inequality.

During another Marketing for Good event, an expert panel discussed the role of A.I. in the advancement of social good. In the realm of public health, Sanjog Misra, the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing, gave the example of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) using A.I. to fine-tune its approach to reaching vulnerable populations. Misra worked with SNAP program coordinators to develop algorithmic, personalized nudges that remind people to recertify after six months.

Citibank is using A.I. to help the company understand its customers, said Murli Buluswar, ’01, head of analytics at the US Consumer Bank of Citibank. “For example, we’re looking for patterns, such as whether customers pay their utility bills on a certain date,” Buluswar said, “to know whether they’ve got enough of a balance in their account to avoid an insufficient-funds situation.” Citi’s goal is to predict and prevent customer-service issues, along with understanding financial needs before they even arise.

Lisa Sullivan-Cross, head of growth marketing at Pinterest, shared how her company launched an augmented-reality try-on feature that allows users to customize skin-tone options, for instance, so they can digitally sample lipstick and eye shadow that’s specific to their skin tone. 

“It’s something that we developed to make the Pinterest experience better for the user, and it’s ended up really helping our growth,” she said. “If you have some purity in why you’re developing these A.I. or machine-learning features, what’s good for the customer ends up being good for the business in the long run.” 

The Kilts Center recently hosted its third event in the Marketing for Good series, which focused on how global brands approach sustainability. Jean-Pierre Dubé, Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Marketing, moderated the panel with Virginie Helias, chief sustainability officer, Procter & Gamble and Rafael Oliveira, ’04, president, international, Kraft Heinz. 

View the full one-hour recording. 
View an 8-minute highlights reel featuring some of the key takeaways from this event.

Marketing for Good events will occur quarterly during the academic year. Learn more.