During Earth Month the media is awash with messages about brands’ position on sustainability. At The Wise Marketer, we believe it’s vital to highlight the best of these stories as they frame the future of cause related customer loyalty. At a time when every brand can use their platforms to talk about important values such as commitment to climate action and sustainability, what guarantees that these messages resonate instead of being dismissed as greenwashing? And, how can brands make viable linkages between their corporate social responsibility initiatives and customer loyalty?
Consumers have the power to award their loyalty to the brands they believe help them best live out their personal values. So what helps customers choose the right brands to support? Besides listening for key messages at the ‘right’ times, what are the key drivers of cause related customer loyalty? Brands must be so true to the values of their CSR policies and ensure they are embedded in their strategy, business objectives, operational practices, and their supported customer experience. Those brands that consistently demonstrate this alignment of CSR policy with customer preferences will win with customers in the future.
Sustainability isn’t the only dominant value conversation at play. Great reckonings around how to be truly inclusive and committed to equity and diversity are compelling customers to dig deeper. We’ve even written in the past about independent research that has found 60% of US consumers say brand values influence their purchasing decisions.
The brands that will succeed at creating cause related customer loyalty and engagement are those that ardently embed their values in their customer messaging. Doing so will differentiate their organizations as industry leaders and help achieve business objectives while remaining committed to their environmental and social ambitions.
Recently named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices World Index, BMO Financial Group aims to be one such brand. In 2022, BMO was also recognized for its third consecutive year as the most sustainable bank in North America on the Corporate Knights’ Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations list.
In their work to be an industry leader, BMO declares their Purpose: to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life and it’s this purpose to which they align the impact they create in the face of the most urgent environmental, economic and social challenges.
BMO Harris’ credit product customers in the US, whose business along with personal banking customers, accounts for up to 21% of BMO’s reported net revenue, can be assured of their direct impact on climate action through their choice of BMO Mastercard. As a member of the Priceless Planet Coalition through Mastercard, BMO, along with other businesses and consumers, is working towards the Coalition’s goal for the restoration of 100 million trees in five years.
“BMO is the first North American Priceless Planet Coalition partner that has operationalized how cardholders can support conservation and tree planting,” says Adam Levy, CLMP, US Loyalty Program Manager for BMO Harris. “Through BMO Harris Rewards, customers can support Conservation International by redeeming points to plant trees. They also have the opportunity to help plant even more trees when they choose to turn off paper credit card statements.”
BMO Harris customers have the option to redeem for just 500 points equivalent to $5 to have a tree planted. It’s an attainable milestone even for new customers so they can have a meaningful impact from the start. Customers can feel engaged through a redemption option that has high perceived social value because of the environmental good it achieves.
BMO Capital Markets, which as an operating group accounts for almost a quarter of BMO’s reported net revenue, last year kicked off an inaugural “Trees from Trades” initiative. 2021 saw BMO Capital Markets donate a portion of Global Markets revenue from trades to fund the planting of trees for Earth Day and raising enough funds in its inaugural year to plant over 100,000 trees in partnership with Priceless Planet Coalition. In 2022, the now annual initiative has a goal to match last year’s results to continue reducing the impact of greenhouse emissions with this nature-based solution that also helps create jobs, reforest land, and recharge local ecosystems. It’s one way BMO stays true to their Purpose to Grow the Good and be their clients’ lead partner in building a sustainable future.
Customers can also see that BMO acts on their purpose at an enterprise level. BMO has outlined their Bold Commitments for 2025 and has included a dashboard for their performance against these commitments within the BMO Financial Group 2021 Sustainability Report and Public Accountability Statement. Stakeholders, including prospective BMO financial services customers, can see BMO’s Bold Commitment For a Sustainable Future, expressed as their goal to “Be our clients’ lead partner — targeting net-zero financed emissions in our lending by 2050”. BMO reports:
- $176 billion mobilized against a target of $300 billion in capital to clients pursuing sustainable outcomes (through green, social, and sustainable lending, underwriting, advisory services, and investment)
- $1,048 billion provided against a target of $700 billion in assets under advice/management through BMO GAM aligned with sustainable objectives (responsible engagement overlay (reo®) service and responsible strategies)
- $69.4 million deployed in impact investing funds, seeded with $250 million in capital
With this Bold Commitment, BMO is communicating its resolution to make large-scale and institutional impact for climate action. This top-down approach doesn’t limit how BMO Bold Grows the Good. It can be observed that the culture is so permeated by this shared purpose that other values-based programs are initiated bottom-up, as is the case at the regional level through BMO Harris. In line with BMO’s Bold Commitment for an Inclusive Society, BMO Harris Rewards has introduced reward redemption options that allow BMO Harris customers to redeem their rewards toward charitable donations for the UNHCR Ukraine aid effort.
“We’re proud that we’ve been able to operationalize this initiative so that we have the foundation to be responsive to the world around us as humanitarian aid needs emerge,” says Levy. “This initiative’s been tested and we’ve learned from its implementation to be able to initiate such responses in a turnkey manner in the future. We’re also proud of how we can amplify our response from within the organization, mobilizing frontline bankers, customer service teams and the like to support our customers in responding to the needs of the larger community.”
It is this organization-wide commitment to the common purpose that allows BMO to authentically live out their values and attract customers who choose them because of these shared values. Whether intentional or not, BMO has created a framework of cause related customer loyalty for others to follow.
When brands show leadership and commitment to global environmental and social causes, customers must expect that they don’t just communicate but they also participate. In engaging with brands that participate as an institution, customers can feel validated in their own choices to live by these shared values. Brands that help customers live out these values can feel conversely rewarded that they are giving their customers even more avenues to exercise their agency as global citizens to make change and to make good. When customers feel they can join forces with a larger movement, they can feel better about doing business with and giving their loyalty to a brand that’s authentically living out common values that support the common good.