The Mission-Driven Ecommerce Marketing Guide: Strategies to Conquer Traffic, Conversion, and Lifetime Value
In this guide we cover everything you need to know about mission-driven ecommerce. We’ve shared the reason behind mission-driven brands (and it goes beyond just giving back), what types of missions you can support, and how you can become more mission-driven today.
Table of Contents
- What is mission-driven ecommerce?
- Why would a brand want to be mission-driven?
- What kind of causes do mission-driven brands support?
- How you can become more mission-driven
- Getting more traction as a mission-driven brand
- 5 Ways To Increase online store conversions
- Raise the customer lifetime value of your CPG Mission-based brand
- Being mission-driven isn’t enough
What is mission-driven ecommerce?
A mission-driven company is one that has a clearly stated purpose and acts as much as possible to further that purpose. In the case of an ecommerce company, it would sell products or services that align closely with their chosen cause.
An example of a mission-driven ecommerce business would be a company that sells sustainable footwear online. In keeping with its mission to promote ecological responsibility, the company makes its products using recycled or recyclable material. This mission-driven approach also extends to shipping, where the brand only uses recyclable packaging.
But unlike a big box store like Walmart, which could also sell sustainable footwear but not be mission-driven (quite the opposite in fact), a mission-driven company makes its purpose a core part of the brand’s identity and focuses its marketing on customers who share those same values.
Why would a brand want to be mission-driven?
Why wouldn’t it?
In all seriousness though, there are several very compelling reasons why someone might want to build a mission-driven brand despite the challenges the business would face.
1. Being mission-driven is good for society and the environment
This attention to societal and environmental issues is why mission-driven entrepreneurs decide to set up shop in the first place. It’s not just about the money (although that helps), but about providing sustainable alternatives to current products. It’s about supporting causes that have benefits beyond personal enrichment.
And support is definitely needed. According to research, 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced each year, and the packaging sector accounts for half of that. Businesses that use recycled and minimalist packaging are trying to help address this problem, but it’s not enough. Of course, plastic waste reduction isn’t the only cause that conscientious entrepreneurs are trying to promote. There are a number of other issues, both societal and environmental, that need more awareness and support, and there will always be room for more mission-driven businesses to step up.
2. Strong customer appeal
Just as businesses are starting to stand up and take action on important issues, so too are consumers.
Simon-Kucher surveyed over 10,000 consumers across different continents, income levels, and employment status. They report that 85% of respondents have made minor, modest, or significant shifts towards sustainability in recent years (with 63% of respondents indicating modest or significant shifts).
This shift translates directly into how they shop. According to Wunderman Thompson, 83% of consumers will always choose a brand with a better sustainability record.
But consumers aren’t just willing to give their loyalty to a purpose-driven brand. They’re also willing to spend more than they normally would. IBM has found that 70% of consumers pay an average additional premium of 35% for sustainable products, and that 57% are willing to change their spending habits to reduce the negative impact on the environment.
This means that being mission-driven is a viable business strategy, and will soon grow more profitable as awareness and support behind important issues spread.
3. Creates a motivated workforce
People don’t want to just work for money’s sake. They want work to be a means to an end, whether that’s to support their families, finance their passions, or contribute to causes they believe in. All of this has always been true, but this kind of philanthropy is becoming more pronounced in today’s workforce.
Mission and purpose are influencing where employees apply to work. According to Fast Company, more than 70% of employees at large US companies say they’re more likely to choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda.
Mission is also influencing employee retention. The same Fast Company report indicates that nearly 70% of respondents said that a strong sustainability plan would affect their decision to stay with the company long-term.
And those that do stay will work harder to contribute to a cause. More than a third of respondents said that they’ve given more time and effort to a job because of their employer’s sustainability goals.
So what does being mission-driven get you?
- A better relationship with customers
- Customers that want to spend more money
- Employees that are more loyal
- Employees that work harder
On top of that, you get to help make the world a better place.
So yes, you can probably see why someone would want to build a mission-driven company.
What kind of causes do mission-driven brands support?
The world is going through all manner of challenges, and so there are many causes that a new CPG company may want to support. Here are but a few:
We’ve already mentioned the negative environmental effects of excessive packaging waste, but that’s not the only thing endangering the planet. Deforestation, pollution, and more need to be addressed.
Who is supporting this cause? Biom is a company that sells eco-friendly wet wipes. These wet wipes are plant-based and 100% biodegradable, and they are working towards building their dispensers out of ocean-recycled plastic.
Animal rights and care
Animal rights causes are those concerned with the health, well-being, and survival of animals. Organizations tend to focus their efforts on a particular segment, such as domesticated animals or wild animals from a particular species or region.
Who is supporting this cause? Earth Animal is a pet food company that tackles animal activism from multiple angles. First, they source their animal-based ingredients from suppliers who raise their animals humanely. They have also adopted an Animal Welfare Framework to govern the use of animal-based products in their foods.
Arts and culture
Love for the arts is an integral part of any society, and businesses that support artistic endeavors and causes are helping to enrich human culture and personal expression as a whole.
Who is supporting this cause? Showfields, which markets itself as The Most Interesting Store In the World, is a mix of a museum and a consumer goods store. Its multi-level stores only sell curated products made by local artists and mission-driven companies, and has locations in New York and Miami.
Community development organizations and charities are those that seek to create positive change at the community or neighborhood level. This change can be addressing basic needs and services, community safety, or housing.
Who is supporting this cause? Earth Breeze is a brand that makes sustainable laundry detergent. While this is an environmental cause, they are also focused on support shelters in need with their Buy One Give Ten program. As of late 2022, they have donated over 30,000,000 loads of Laundry Detergent Eco Sheets to animal shelters, homeless shelters, and veteran shelters.
Organizations that support this cause either contribute to providing education or educational resources to students directly, or by donating money or material to educational institutions.
Who is supporting this cause? Inkwell Press is an online brand that sells productivity planners. To support educators, they run a Get One Give One program at the start of every school year, where they give teachers a free planner for every one sold. Last year, Inkwell donated over $100,000 worth of planers to teachers all over the country.
Health and medicine (including mental)
Modern consumers are keenly aware of the importance of physical and mental health, but have a tough time pursuing this goal because of the challenges of modern life and the lack of choice when it comes to available products. Thankfully, mission-based health and wellness brands are filling the gap and providing more sustainable and healthy options.
Who is supporting this cause? Atlas Bars is a health food brand that focuses on creating genuinely healthy protein bars that are high protein, low sugar, and low carbs. Unlike other protein bars that claim to be healthy but pack it with processed sugar and additives, Atlas bars have zero processed sugar and use all-natural ingredients.
Human services is a cause that helps feed the hungry, assist crime victims, rehabilitate offenders, and perform other activities that uplift individuals and help them find stability in their lives.
Who is supporting this cause? The Tote Project is a brand that sells handmade totebags made out of fairtrade-certified cotton in a sustainable factory in India. That is noteworthy enough in itself, but the company also donates 10% of its proceeds to Qualified to support victims of human trafficking in the United States.
How you can become more mission-driven
Your brand can still become mission-driven, even if it wasn’t originally conceived as such. As long as you have the will to change, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Find a cause to support
Many of the companies we mentioned above donate some part of their profits to charitable causes that align with their beliefs. As with any business decision, you should carefully consider your options before partnering with a specific organization. Evaluate charities based on:
Mission. Do they support the same cause that you do? Moreover, do they support it in a way that you approve of? An animal rights group could spend its time (and funds) building shelters, or it could focus on lobbying for government policy change. Decide which of their methods appeals to you the most.
Results. Have they actually accomplished anything tangible? Can you verify those results independently? If you’re going to be donating your profits, you want to be sure they’re doing something real with it.
Support from your customers. It’s not just you who is deciding which charity you support. Your customers will want a say, too (after all, it’s their money). You could even make an engagement campaign out of it, where customers are given the chance to vote for which charity you partner with.
The Shopify app store has many store add-ons that make it easy for you to accept and give donations. (You will have to do your due diligence and evaluate these charities first.)
Rethink your production process
Consider altering your production process in ways that further your new mission. Updating your packaging to use recycled or biodegradable materials is a relatively easy practice for ecommerce businesses to adopt, and is widespread enough to be affordable. Depending on the product, you might be able to shift to better suppliers such as those that provide free-range livestock or sustainable manufacturing facilities.
Amplify other voices
As a brand, you probably have a bigger voice than many other people (or even other businesses). You can help others get their message out by using your platform to amplify theirs. One way of doing this is sponsoring an event and promoting it to your followers. If you or your staff can show up in person and help out on-site, that would be even better. If you have a tight budget, you could try featuring a cause or notable activist on your social media account or blog. That is an excellent way to widen their reach and costs you next to nothing.
Getting more traction as a mission-driven brand
While you as an entrepreneur do your best to support and promote charities, you’re not a charity yourself. Your business needs to be able to consistently find, convert, and retain customers in order to help fund the cause that you support. But how can you do that and not break the bank? Few mission-driven ecommerce brands are at the size where they can afford large marketing teams and have a five-digit ad budget, and can only make do with a smaller resource pool. Fortunately, there are ways and means of marketing your CPG company that are just as sustainable as the cause for which you’re campaigning.
There are a number of different tactics you can try, and we’ve broken them down into three general categories:
- Increasing web traffic
- Increasing webstore conversions
- Raising customer lifetime value (LTV)
We’ve done our best to tailor these recommendations specifically for mission-based CPG brands and to include examples from this segment whenever possible.
Increasing traffic with a limited budget
As an ecommerce brand your website will be your primary source of income, so it stands to reason that increasing traffic will be a high priority.
For this article, we’re going to go beyond the typical advice of cramming SEO keywords into your content and link building, and recommend things you haven’t tried yet (maybe).
You’ve probably already heard about influencer marketing (it’s kind of hard to avoid, to be honest), and how big-name celebrities and influencers are amplifying branded content using their social media platforms. Those relationships tend to be very expensive, with budgets in the five- or six-digit range for a single campaign. They do deliver results, but are out of reach for most mission-driven ecommerce companies. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of influencer marketing, though. Micro-influencers and nano-influencers are affordable and effective alternatives that can help drive awareness without straining your operating budget. Micro-influencers have 10,000 to 100,000 followers, while nano-influencers have fewer than 10,000 followers (but still have more followers than the average person). Yes, these smaller influencers are much more affordable than those with larger audiences, but budget isn’t the only advantage they have. Micro-influencers tend to have much narrower niches, so you’re more likely to reach a highly specific audience (like say eco-tourists) who will be much more engaged with the content that you ask the influencer to share.
Micro-influencers also enjoy a tighter relationship with their audiences due to their smaller scale, and so their recommendations will have much stronger impact and may be more likely to trigger positive action (like conversions).
Boxed Water ran a campaign around environmentally-friendly consumption and deforestation awareness. They promised to plant 2 trees in the national forests for every Instagram post that promoted Boxed Water with the hashtag #ReTree. The brand approached micro-influencers to help amplify this campaign by featuring it in their profiles and posting their own pictures of Boxed Water.
User-generated content (UGC) is when a brand gives users an opportunity to show how they are engaging with your product or service. It’s a great form of social proof, and adds more authenticity to your message—which is important, because you want people to know how serious you are about promoting your cause. One such example of a UGC campaign is yoga studio Alo Yoga. They wanted to promote their message of diversity and inclusivity and, with the help of an agency, ran a UGC campaign where Alo Yoga customers were encouraged to share photos of themselves doing yoga online (including a hashtag of course). This campaign was a huge success, and increased sales by almost 15x. When running a UGC campaign, it is absolutely vital that you have permission to collect, post, and promote what consumers have shared. Simply gathering random Instagram photos does not count. Make sure the language of your promotions are clear on the process for collecting, using, and sharing content, and that the consumer has agreed to participate.
Highly-targeted ad campaigns
Love them or hate them, there’s no getting around SEM and paid ads. Running an e-commerce business without paid ads is like driving without any gas. Sure, you can move by getting out and pushing, but that’s about as far as you’ll go. The problem is that ads, like gas, cost money. And so you have to take special care in where those ad dollars are being spent. As an entrepreneur, it behooves you to learn the ins and outs of paid ads, bidding for keywords, and segmenting your audiences so that you know how to plan out ad campaigns for the greatest impact. The better you get at evaluating keywords and controlling your ad spend, the more efficient your ads will become and the greater ROI you’ll receive. And lets not forget the other half of the coin: your ad creative. Creating a proper banner ad is an art form and a science rolled into one. You have to create hyper-condensed messaging that can convince a user to convert while staying within the bounds of a 250x250 layout. Fortunately, you don’t have to take this on yourself. You can hire freelancers, agencies, and on-staff creatives to help you produce ads that pop.
Guerilla marketing campaigns
If you’re looking for a unique way to get some buzz around your brand, then you may want to consider guerilla marketing. Guerilla marketing is when a brand uses surprise or unconventional tactics in order to draw consumer attention. These often are employed in live settings, or use a combination of virtual and physical elements. Some examples of guerilla marketing tactics include pop-up shops, flash mobs, clever signage, giveaways of branded swag, and other kinds of publicity stunts.
Fulton, a DTC orthotics brand, wanted a unique way to make younger consumers aware of the field of orthotics and its importance. So they put signs on trash cans and fliers with pull tabs all over New York. None of these signs or flyers carried the Fulton brand. Instead, they had messages meant to get people to think about their feet’s comfort, such as “Cool shoes but they’re killing you,” and suggested they visit a website called “Shoessuck.com,” which redirected to the Fulton site.
Compelling web copy
Of all the advice on this blog, this is probably the most conventional; but this is also one of the most important. No amount of paid ads, influencer marketing, or link building will get a consumer to convert if your web copy is weak or confusing. Take your time in finding a copywriter (whether freelance or full-time) that can craft a compelling message for all of your marketing assets. The right person will be worth their weight in gold as their work draws in customers, so don’t skimp.
Om Matters, a yoga lifestyle brand, has some great copy on their website where they clearly describe their products, their brand purpose, and the kind of causes they support. They even go the extra mile and list daily yoga practices to help readers expand their own sessions.
It’s easy to forget that using the web is as easy as point and click for most of us, but it’s not the same experience for everyone. Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring that your website or app has no barriers for anyone with a physical disability, situational disability, or socio-economic limitation. Any of them should be able to access and interact with your site with little to no obstructions.
To put it in perspective, let’s imagine a person who is visually impaired. They would have a screen reader that accurately describes and reads aloud whatever website or document the user visits. An accessible website would be structured in such a way that the screen reader can dictate the on-page content logically, from top to bottom, without jumping around or including random elements that might confuse the user. Images would have alt text that describes what the user would be seeing, and there would be transcripts of whatever audio or video is being played. Making your website accessible requires deeper technical knowledge and some time commitment, but there are a couple of benefits that make it with the effort.
Firstly, it’s the inclusive and socially responsible thing to do. If buildings are required to be accessible to the physically impaired, then it makes sense for websites to be the same.
Secondly, all the measures you will take for building an accessible website actually help your site rank better:
- Proper header structures and image alt text make it easier for search engines to crawl your site
- On-page video and audio transcripts are additional content that helps you rank for keywords
- Search engines prioritize fast-loading websites
UC Berkeley has posted a guide on how to make your website more accessible.
5 Ways To Increase online store conversions
These next 5 tips involve ways of getting your e-store to convert more often. As with all the advice on this blog, be sure to test the impact of each change before committing to it and moving on to the next one.
- Personalize the user experience
You can write an entire book on personalizing the ecommerce experience (and people have), but what you need to know right now can be summarized in one line: The more a consumer feels you know them, the more likely they are to stick with you. This is why online retailers invest money on building personalized experiences for shoppers. It creates a concierge-like experience where the customer feels appreciated and understood—whether or not that’s actually true.
Here are a few ways that you could make the shopping experience feel more personal:
- Recommend popular products
- Suggest products that complement what they’re browsing
- Feature items similar to past purchases (if you’re tracking that data)
- Offer “recommended searches” to help customer find what they need
You don’t have to limit personalization to the online store, either. If you have the customer’s information (and permission), you can send them highly targeted promotional emails. These emails would contain products and deals similar to what they had browsed/purchased before.
- Allow guest checkouts
As beneficial as personalization is to the shopping experience, however, there are consumers who would rather stay anonymous and not give up any personal info. Respect that choice and allow guest users to use all of the same functions as a user that has logged into the site—including the checkout process. Don’t get in the way of someone who wants to give you money. If they want to pay without identifying themselves, then let them. And don’t be sneaky about it, either. Saving credit card info for guests is a huge no-no, and can get you in trouble from both a legal and a brand perspective. If you do want to entice people do sign up for an account, offer something like free shipping or a one-time discount code. But don’t put up artificial barriers, because that will just drive guests away.
- Showcase social proof wherever you can
By now, most entrepreneurs should already understand the importance of social proof in marketing, so I’m not going to belabor the point. Despite this understanding, however, not enough e-tailers are using social proof in their stores. Sure, there may be a blurb or two on the home page, and maybe even including a few photos of actual users with their quotes, but that’s usually it (although those tactics are definitely effective). Add social proof to areas of your site that have the most impact on their decision to buy: the home page, the category page, and the product details page. “But wait,” you say. “I don’t have time to gather quotes from every customer.” And you don’t have to. There are other ways of indicating social proof. For example, you could put a counter on a product details page that tracks how many people have bought that particular product. The “Popular Choice” label is also a form of social proof, and can be added to the category page and the search bar. And if your product is on Amazon, there are plugins that allow you to pull positive Amazon reviews and display them on your own site right alongside your product’s information.
4 .Offer choice of payment and delivery options
Customers don’t like feeling boxed in, and when your checkout process only allows for a few options, then that’s exactly what they’re going to feel like. Your e-store checkout should allow them to pay using any method they like, whether it’s a credit card or third-party payment processor like Paypal or Stripe. Options for shipping would also be very beneficial for consumers. You can offer basic shipping for free (with a purchase threshold), or premium rush shipping. If your business has a physical location, you could even offer free in-store pickup.
Subscription services also need a wealth of payment and delivery choices—even more than the a la carte stores do. This is because subscription services are basically one long transaction stretched out over time. There’s more money involved and more products going out. Payment options for subscription services include different subscription tiers, add-ons for adding specific products or services, and payment schedules. When it comes to shipment, consumers should be able to choose how often the shipments are delivered, and be able to adjust the cadence and delivery dates later on. This allows them greater flexibility and helps keep excess products from stacking up.
One notable feature that brands should include is the ability to pause a consumer’s subscription. If a consumer is going on vacation or needs to save some money, they should be able to put their shipments (and the fees) on hold and resume whenever they feel like it. If they can’t, then the consumer will probably just cancel outright instead—which you definitely don’t want.
5. Shoppable social media posts
Many CPG brands advertise their products on social media as standard practice. This is all well and good, but it’s not perfect. If a consumer sees your post and wants to purchase, they have to go through several hoops to get it.
First they have to click the post. Then the consumer will have to go through the ordeal of searching your site for the product they want (which is a barrier that may drive them away). Then they have to go through the entire checkout process. Contrast this with shoppable Instagram posts, where users can see all pertinent product information (like price and sizes) up front by hovering over the image, and then go directly into your product and buy with one click. Shoppable posts drastically shorten the buying process and help you better highlight specific products or product lines. And there’s another reason shoppable posts are great: data.
Love it or hate it, social media is a must-have for CPG brands that want to reach more audiences. But one of the biggest drawbacks of social media is that success is difficult to quantify. What dollar value can you attach to a like? Or a share? How much business does a comment pull in? The usual way of measuring social media success is by launching a social media campaign and watching for a sales spike. If there is, then the campaign did good. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board.
Not so with shoppable posts.
It’s easy to track success with shoppable posts because a conversion can instantly be equated to revenue. It’s the simplest measure of success there is.
Raise the customer lifetime value of your CPG Mission-based brand
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a customer’s total worth to the business (in terms of dollar amounts) over the course of the relationship. Raising CLV of existing customers is much easier and more practical for you than trying to draw in a constant flow of new customers—not to mention cheaper.
Here are a few suggestions of how you can raise CLV.
Loyalty programs (that actually reward loyalty)
Everyone is familiar with the points reward systems that credit card companies and big brands like Sephora use. They’re all over the place, and there’s a reason for that: they work. Loyalty programs are a good way of getting a consumer invested in your brand for the long term. They’re encouraged to spend more to collect points and get more rewards—but only if the rewards are actually good. Many a loyalty program has failed due to bland or cheap rewards. Giving a customer a $10 gift card for purchasing $500 worth of product is a slap in the face, and will cost you more in terms of customer goodwill. Use unique rewards like exclusive promotions, free (good) swag, and early access to new products. Also consider going beyond the tried-and-tired loyalty points system. Instead of only collecting points through purchases, try awarding points based on positive activity like becoming a brand advocate. Or set up unique seasonal activities that are fun and engaging, like a contest where massive points are part of the top prize.
Try to also show your appreciation for their loyalty. Surprise them with gifts on their birthday or at random times of the year—just to show you care. They will be delighted at the attention and will praise you on social media.
Subscription programs are a great way to increase a customer’s lifetime value, and many CPG brands offer them as an alternate means of getting customers what they want, when they want.
Subscriptions come in different types:
- Curated subscriptions send consumers a box of assorted items on a regular schedule. These are often novelty items or sample selections of different products.
- Replenishment subscriptions are when a brand sends a large number of consumable items to restock a customer’s supply. Examples include razor blades, dish detergent, or diapers.
- Access subscriptions grant subscribers exclusive access to promotions, products, or services that wouldn’t be available to other customers.
Before building a subscription program, however, make sure that your product offerings are appropriate to one of the types above, and that it’s something your customers would actually appreciate. It might help to do a test run with a small group of your best customers and get their feedback before going all in.
The best subscription programs offer subscribers the flexibility to choose the cadence and frequency of their shipments, as well as the ability to pause subscriptions without actually cancelling. This helps consumers control how much product they get, which makes it more likely that they will stay subscribed.
Grow a community around your brand
Community is a powerful reason for consumers to stay engaged with you and with each other—especially for mission-driven brands. You can go beyond shallow topics like fashion and lifestyle and talk about the causes you’re supporting. Activists are always looking for people who share the same ideals, and by being one of the centers for these discussions, you amplify both their voices and your own.
A community needs a place to gather and converge. Fortunately, the internet provides many options. Facebook is an easy choice: Facebook Groups are free to create and relatively easy to maintain. You can also set up a Slack community if you want a more free-form discussion and more one-on-one interactions between members. It’s also possible to create a community on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok if you have the right hashtags.
The important thing when running a community is that you have to be visibly leading discussions and encouraging engagement between members. Leaving a community to fend for itself risks getting derailed and turning into something completely different. Smaller ecommerce businesses have a more difficult time with community moderation because they have fewer staff. In fact, the business owner is often the same person running the brand’s social media account simply because nobody else has the time or the drive. Still, if you can dedicate the manpower or energy for it, building a community around the brand is a fantastic way to keep consumers loyal.
Caveats for marketing tactics
It’s important to note that none of these tactics are silver bullets. They will only work if they are executed well and performed consistently over time. The watchword here is to test and adapt. Run each tactic long enough for you to get a general sense of its effect on your business (anywhere from a month to a quarter), and see if it generated any positive results. If it didn’t, move on to the next idea.
Being mission-driven isn’t enough
Consumers may support the cause driving your business, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll toss money at you. They know the difference between a charity and a business, and if your message isn’t strong enough, or your offerings don’t give them enough value, then they won’t engage. You have to be as aware and as customer-centric as the next big box brand. This means improving their customer experience at every point of your online store, crafting a genuine and compelling message, and bringing value to the consumer with every interaction and moment. Fortunately, you don’t need a huge fifteen-person marketing team to do this. Implementing even just one of the tactics we mentioned above has the potential to improve your relationship with your consumers (although the more you can do, the better). As long as you are consistent and authentic, consumers will continue to show their support—for you and your mission.