Community//

Want Customer Love Like Patagonia and Tesla? How to Drive Loyalty & Revenue Through Social Impact (While Also Helping to Change the World)

A Q&A with James Citron, CEO of Pledgeling

James Citron is a serial mobile and social entrepreneur committed to harnessing the power of mobile technology to create a more connected, healthy and sustainable planet. As CEO of Pledgeling, Mr. Citron is focused on driving the organization’s growth and evangelizing the benefits of conscious business domestically and globally. Pledgeling powers over 1,000 companies’ CSR and social impact programs, driving business growth and over ten million dollars of social impact for thousands of nonprofits globally. A graduate of Princeton University, Citron lives in Venice, California with his wife and 2 children, and is personally passionate about helping to eradicate illiteracy, homelessness and hunger.

What separates the companies today that thrive from the ones that just seem to survive?

Business is harder than ever and everywhere you turn, new competitors are turning up. Sound familiar? It’s true and as the average lifespan of a company continue to shrink (the lifespan of a Fortune 500 company has plummeted from 60 years to less than 20 years), it’s becoming more critical than ever to build and maintain customer loyalty. Given this trend, what lessons can we take from two companies that have two of the strongest customer followings of our this time?

What separates most companies today from Patagonia & Tesla, two awe-inspiring brands, is not their great products or their star CEOs – it’s their steadfast commitment to a social mission that creates and unites their brand, their customers, and their employees. Their clear and consistent mission fosters a loyal community far stronger than their competitors and unites all of their stakeholders, which translates into bottom line results and companies that stand poised to withstand the test of time.

Can you imagine donating revenue from one of your most profitable days of the year to a nonprofit aligned with your company’s mission? Now imagine that this actually led to higher profits and stronger customer loyalty? Well, Patagonia actually did just this two years ago on Black Friday, when it closed all of its stores, advocated that all of its customers “go outside” versus shopping in stores, and raised $10 million dollars for environmental nonprofits through online sales on that day alone. While they had a feeling internally this initiative would be well received, it exceeded their online sales estimate by 5X as their customers “voted with their dollars” and it became their most successful social media campaign in their history!

With major advances in technology, nonprofit impact quantification (i.e. what is the impact of your donation), and social media, nearly every business can emulate the purpose-driven approach of these inspiring brands to grow through giving.

How does incorporating impact into a business help to drive customer loyalty?

The numbers don’t lie – and all of the latest data continues to demonstrate the power of mission-driven brands. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most recent data:

● Today, 80% of consumers want companies to stand for something more than profit[1]

● Nearly 90% of Millennials representing over $1 trillion in purchasing power are willing to switch from one brand to a competitor if its mission is not aligned with their values[2]

● 71% of consumers are even willing to pay more for socially & environmentally friendly products[3]

As a concrete example, look at Tesla’s unparalleled launch of the Model 3. 400,000 pre-orders of the Model is 2X the total of all Audis sold in the United States only a handful of years ago. $400 million dollars in pre-orders for a car that, until recently, no one had ever even seen, driven and required a $1,000 deposit – that’s customer loyalty!

How does a business know which cause or charity to support?

First, find the cause that inspires you & your customers – and is authentic to your company. The key mistake most business owners have made in the past is to choose a cause or charity that is personally relevant to the business owner, but doesn’t fit the company’s brand and purpose. For example, if you sell mobile phones, it’s hard to understand the brand connection to a kid’s health organization. Identify a cause that is relevant to your core business. For the merchant selling mobile devices, perhaps it’s electronics recycling, supporting access to STEAM education for underserved populations, or providing communications and mobility services to populations that cannot afford them today. Today’s modern corporate social responsibility is intricately tied into the brand, its purpose and unites your customers and your employees through a shared mission.

Can businesses involve customers in giving to charities?

Yes! You can build a donation into your business model and your customer experience. Even micro-donations ($1 or less per product sold!) can have a significant impact. Take a look at Elephant Pants, an online apparel brand that promotes $1 per item sold is donated to elephant conservation. To date, they have an entire product line created to support elephant conservation, they struck a deal on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, and have raised over $180,000 for their cause! Micro donations through business can truly help to change the world.

Where should businesses share their stories and commitment to impact?

Share them everywhere! Integrate your mission and the story of your impact across your business. Today’s customers want to understand the impact of a business, so bring it forward across all of your customer touchpoints. Showcase your commitment to social or environmental impact on the mission page of your website, across your social media channels and email communications, and even on your product packaging. Check out Generosity Water’s packaging, This Bar Saves Lives (even demonstrated by the name of their company!) and Berri Pro for examples of brands doing this effectively across all areas of their businesses. Tesla does this with an iconic stock license plate that is on every car at purchase. Many owners reward Tesla’s ingenious reinforcement of their mission by keeping this plate on for far longer than they are supposed to!

You can find inspiration in others who are doing this well and leading their industries regardless of size. There are some great examples across industries, verticals and business sizes like GivingKeys, Evite, YogaClub, and Discovery.

How can a business do this without an in-house team dedicated to CSR or social impact?

Use technology to make it easy. “Build or Buy” is always the question, but fortunately now you don’t have to choose because tools to do it using cloud-based technology are available for all, even at no cost! For example, e-commerce merchants on Shopify (including some of the biggest & recognizable brands today) can now integrate a donation to over 100,000 nonprofits into their shopping carts and display the real-time impact by installing the free Give & Grow app (over 1,000 merchants are currently using this award-winning tool). In less than 5 minutes, any Shopify merchant can now start giving to a cause of their choice with each transaction and share the real-time impact their store is making with their customers.

Seek out & pay attention to best practices. There are more resources available now than ever before, and there are plenty of learned lessons exposed in the world of cause marketing. It seems there is a new article published every day about purpose & why it matters in business today. The key is to find the resources that fit your needs and will serve you (and your team!) to build a meaningful strategy. Check out the new Field Guide from the industry trade group Conscious Capitalism, the Cause Talk Radio podcast, and annual events that bring industry leaders together, such as the Engage for Good Annual Conference.

How can a business measure success?

Choose your ROI metrics – and then be open to pivot. What are your metrics of success to achieve both profits AND purpose? The intersection of these two drivers is what we call the ROI of Impact. Start by identifying your core KPIs, track them transparently across your departments, and be open & flexible to adapting them based on consumer response. For example, what are your open rates on email? Data shows that an email positioned about purpose and impact will have 2-4x open rates of your standard transactional email. Of course, messaging is key. Manage and measure the response from your target audiences. For businesses that have integrated impact effectively & measured it well, we’ve seen them increase customer lifetime value (LTV) by 30-50%, which is easily trackable via Quora, Stripe, Recharge or any payment platform.

Make sure you do this last step and you will soon experience growth through giving!

Want to learn more? Feel free to reach me @JamesCitron (Twitter, Instagram) or at [email protected]


[1] Cone Communications Global CSR Study, 2017.

[2] Cone Communications CSR Strategy, 2016.

[3] Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 2015.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.