What responsibilities do sustainable brands have to educate without alienating customers?

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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Striking a balance between creativity and appealing to customers is often a tenuous one for marketing teams.

Add in the massive competition for traffic and sales, and you might find a brand or two swinging for the fences only to end up striking out spectacularly.

There’s also the fact that brands are constantly looking for new ways to stand out and achieve goals. 

As customers, we often praise brands taking daring approaches. We’re more apt to see brands making waves than observing the status quo. 

Of course, there’s an element of risk-taking this route: sometimes the campaign lands, but other times it just leaves customers disappointed and dunking on a brand across the social media landscape. 

So here’s a question: how do you feel about a brand announcing a sale (90% off!) and leading you to a landing page only to find out there’s no such sale?

The tone of the landing page struck another sour note: how could you be so foolish as to think we’d even have a sale?! 

Alohas, a sustainable fashion brand specializing in small-batch leather and vegan leather shoes, did just that.

Instagram


Brand fans were upset at the seemingly bait-and-switch approach. So much so that Alohas needed to add a note to the graphics that the ‘campaign is not misleading.’

Regardless of the intention behind the campaign (Alohas states it’s educating customers on how to shop more sustainably), a quick scroll through the pinned image on the brand’s Instagram feed, and you’ll see dozens of comments that polarized fans and customers alike.

Some voiced opinions stated that the messaging came off as ‘condescending and entitled’ or ‘tone deaf and classist.’

Others didn’t have a problem with it because they knew the brand and what it stood for (we’ll dive into this more in a moment). 

In other words, these customers highlight that Alohas campaign served its purpose and the bigger message.

Seeing customers land on both sides with a campaign isn’t new. 

This is a conundrum facing brands such as Alohas, which strives to make a mark outside the fast fashion game so many are used to seeing (especially when there’s an emphasis on excess and overconsumption).

How do you step outside the box and bring awareness to issues without alienating a huge part of your customer base?

Alohas on-demand fashion model 

So what makes Alohas different from other fashion brands, and why would this campaign upset customers?

One aspect is the on-demand production of products.

The brand drops new products weekly, and for those who pre-order any of the shoes or accessories, there’s a 30% discount available for a limited time. Anyone who places a pre-order request three weeks after the initial drop will receive a discount of 15%.

This model helps the brand figure out how many units and how much material is needed to satisfy pre-orders. Anyone who wants to order goods after production will pay a higher price, as the early bird savings won’t apply.

In many ways, this is golden for a brand and appeals to conscious shoppers.

Alohas contrasts this shopping experience with a traditional model and highlights some of the benefits of using on-demand purchasing:

  • Every drop is something special. There’s potential for excitement to build, and customers are more likely to shop with intention and planning rather than impulsively.
  • Collections can change based on trends or demand. Unlike a traditional fashion model where garments and accessories are produced at mass levels, Alohas can make exactly what it needs to satisfy orders.  
  • Instead of running sales, every order has a potential discount. With early bird discounts, customers save money on each order, and the brand doesn’t stress about overproduction or wasted stock.

Despite the negative feedback from customers, Alohas continues to stand by the messaging.

Replying to dozens of comments on Instagram (at the time of writing, direct requests to Alohas for comment have gone unanswered), the overall response from Alohas is this:

“We wanted this educational campaign to send a clear message about a problem that concerns us deeply: join us in fighting overproduction. We realize, however, that the delivery of the message might have been disappointing. We urge you to check out our website to learn more about our on-demand business model and why we stand against Black Friday.”

Still, the responses didn’t satisfy fans. Others were baffled about why the campaign was pinned to the top of their Instagram feed. 

And there seemed to be more to the conversation, too. One comment left on the pinned post called out the brand for allegedly having an ulterior motive.

“You don’t support impulse buying or overconsumption? How about removing calls like ‘Buy now and save’ [or] ‘expires?’

At the end of the day, for Alohas to remain viable, it does need to participate in marketing language and tactics that resonate with customers. 

Using phrases like ‘buy now and save’ speaks to the brand's overall messaging and encourages shoppers to take advantage of savings with on-demand orders. 

However, there’s no denying it tiptoes into the idea of FOMO (fear of missing out) to get customers to shop.

This leads to another question: how do conscious brands like Alohas market to customers in a way that feels authentic while, let’s face it, actually selling goods?

Sustainable marketing (and how to do it right)

Sure, Alohas could have done much better at articulating the message behind the anti-sale campaign.

The overall conversation around discounting goods grows every year for brands and customers. But how can a brand balance highlighting efforts while still attracting customers?

HubSpot shares four strategies for brands to implement:

  • Make sure the mission is clear. Whereas brands typically use metrics and revenue to track success, brands with a stake in sustainability will want to focus on how the brand is moving forward in alignment with values.  
  • Look for ways to build loyalty. Education is key to developing awareness and loyalty. But where Alohas made a mistake was using a bait and switch to get people to notice and then hoping they’d learn something in the process. Not only does this usually make customers mad, but there’s also a potential for losing credibility.
  • Listen to the customers. What do customers have to say about your brand? Comments and feedback offer priceless feedback to see where brands can do better. The social media team at Alohas had their hands full after the faux Black Friday post went live. Still, they did do a reasonable job of responding to comments thoughtfully and accepting feedback for improvement.
  • Trust is tied to authenticity. Once trust is broken for a customer, it’s really hard to get it back. Brands using sustainability or conscious shopping as a foundation must keep that mission front and center with every action they do.

While the Alohas campaign didn’t go as well as they might have hoped, the silver lining is they have room to do better in the future.

Aaron Orendorff, head of marketing at Recart, shares this in response to Jacob Sappington’s post about Alohas on Twitter:

“Take big swings. Then learn from mistakes. That’s all any of us can hope for.”

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