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5 Marketing Lessons from Purpose-Led Company The Giving Keys

October 20, 2022

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It’s no surprise that consumers are choosing purpose-led brands more than ever before. In fact, 76% of Gen Z customers purchase from brands that stand for a greater mission. And 62% of all consumers say brand values are important to them. 

But how do you actually get your purpose-led message out there? And how do you sustain the business so it can fuel your bigger mission?

To find out, we invited Caitlin Crosby, founder and CEO of The Giving Keys, to Playbook 2022

Caitlin is also an actress, singer, and songwriter. And in this session, she shares the lessons from leading a purpose-first company and the must-knows for marketing your message. 

1. Customers know when you’re full of it.

When Caitlin first came up with The Giving Keys, she was still on tour with her first album “Flaws.” She said her entire ethos was about loving all parts of yourself. And when her fans responded to the message in droves, she saw an opportunity to meet their needs.

“I had the idea to [engrave] ‘love your flaws’ on a key, and I sold them at my merchandise tables,” Caitlin explained. Then, she turned the keys into jewelry fans could wear, and the response was more than she had anticipated.

As a result, Caitlin started paying a locksmith to engrave all sorts of words (like hope, love, and strength) on vintage keys. She also saw an opportunity to encourage her customers to pay it forward by giving the key away to someone else who needs it. “When you spot someone who needs [your] word, you give it away,” Caitlin explained. “And then they do the same.” 

When asked why The Giving Keys was so successful, Caitlin attributes the genuine intentions behind the movement. “People were needing these,” she told us. And because it never came from a business model, it felt like it came from an authentic place.

For SMBs, that means checking your intentions at the door: 1) Do you have an authentic interest in helping the customers you serve? 2) Do you put their needs first in your business model? Because Caitlin says customers can quickly spot when brands are being disingenuous. 

“Customers can smell when your motives are off.” – Caitlin Crosby, founder and CEO of The Giving Keys

2. Find ways to help others with your business.

Caitlin was born and raised in Los Angeles, so she grew up witnessing homelessness and wondering how she could help. “It felt unjust because I saw money and privilege over here and then [homelesness] in the backyard,” she explained. 

But it wasn’t until Caitlin invited a homeless couple to dinner that she realized The Giving Keys could help employ people. “[Cera] said she liked making jewelry [at dinner], and I had my a-ha moment,” she told us. That’s when she asked the couple to be business partners. And after purchasing all the tools, they were engraving keys and working the next day.  

“It was genuinely about feeding people,” she told us. “It wasn't about a business mission or copy narrative.” But because of that interaction, helping end homelessness is part of The Giving Keys message. They’ve since employed 150 people transitioning out of homelessness and donate a portion of their profits to homeless charities today.

For SMBs, you can leverage this advice by looking around your community for meaningful opportunities. Then, ask yourself: 1) What causes do you and your customers both care deeply about? 2) Are there organic opportunities to help others with your business model? 

3. Ensure your bottom line is healthy before helping others. 

Purpose-led companies like The Giving Keys exist to do good in the world. But if you don’t have your financial health in line, it’s impossible to fuel meaningful initiatives. That’s why Caitlin suggests getting clear on a foundation and establishing roots before moving forward. 

“It’s been a tough time in retail [post-pandemic],” she told us. “We’re still shifting strategies, and it took almost two years to get our footing again.” But now that they’ve rebuilt their baseline, The Giving Keys has a clear path toward sustainable growth. And this kind of stability enables brands to “pay it forward.”

Without a healthy bottom line, fueling a purpose-led mission is impossible. As an SMB, you can ask the following questions: 1) When was the last time you checked in on your financial foundation? 2) Do you have enough revenue to continue sustaining purposeful initiatives?

4. Pivot your mission and marketing accordingly.

During The Giving Keys’ peak growth, it had two marketing messages. The first one was “Paying it Forward” by gifting the key jewelry to someone else who needed your word. And the second message was “Help Us End Homelessness” by employing people transitioning out of homelessness. 

“I was so tied to both [marketing messages] for years [because] I saw that people related to both [messages],” Caitlin explained. “But consultants or board people would come in and say [we needed] to focus on one.” So at first, she decided to focus on helping end homelessness.

They repainted the side of their building, redid their packaging, and altered the marketing message to focus on them as a bridge employer — AKA, a company that hires people to help them build their resumes and move on to bigger things. But then, the pandemic happened. 

“We had to change our model and move into a fulfillment center,” Caitlin shared. And while she did manage to convince the center to hire her employees, The Giving Keys team didn’t last long due to company culture differences. “It just wasn't the happy family,” she said. 

That’s when Caitlin shifted her mission and message again. This time, they would focus on the paying-forward aspect of the product. “When you give a key to somebody, it [represents] this invaluable human connection,” she told us. “Now, all our marketing language [focuses on that].”

That said, the brand still supports ending homelessness — just in a different way. “We’re donating [proceeds] to all our favorite non-profits, like Chrysalis, United Way, and Union Rescue Mission,” she explained. But it’s not the sole focus of their marketing message. 

For SMBs, you can use this advice by considering your marketing message with the following questions: 1) Do you have competing messages or missions? 2) What’s the proper focus for the current business climate? Then, pivot if necessary (you can always go back if needed).

“Give yourself the grace to do other good things. [Your mission] doesn't have to stay exactly the same like a death grip.”

5. Press and partnerships help spread the message.

The Giving Keys has a list of great press and partnership opportunities, including Oprah, Gap, and Kenneth Cole features. And this kind of exposure helps do-good brands catapult their marketing message to more people. 

“The Oprah moments [were pivotal to getting the brand message out there],” Caitlin told us. But she also leveraged her close network to partner with other well-known brands. “I knew the president working for Rachel Zoe on the Zoe Report,” she explained. And during one of their collaborations with Gap, the president asked to feature Caitlin’s team as the models.

“We did Gap ads with our employees transitioning out of homelessness,” Caitlin explained. “[These ads] were in their stores, and we sold Giving Keys at many of the Gap stores.”

Plus, they did a similar collaboration with Kenneth Cole called The Courageous Class, featuring employees transitioning out of homelessness as models. 

For Caitlin, some of these press moments happened serendipitously. But others simply manifested from her putting in the work. And for SMBs, that means walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

“[You don’t want to be] cause washing,” Caitlin concluded — AKA, falsely labeling yourself as a give-back brand. “Your integrity and character [has to be] in line with what you're saying [as a business].” And if it doesn’t, your partnerships or press opportunities might end up backfiring.

“What is the [cause] that is so you? Because your heart and soul come out in your business.”

Running a give-back brand is a meaningful way to make a living. And in today’s market, customers expect companies to stand for something bigger. But before you jump head first, use these five marketing lessons to improve and strengthen your purpose-led message.

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5 Marketing Lessons from Purpose-Led Company The Giving Keys

October 20, 2022

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It’s no surprise that consumers are choosing purpose-led brands more than ever before. In fact, 76% of Gen Z customers purchase from brands that stand for a greater mission. And 62% of all consumers say brand values are important to them. 

But how do you actually get your purpose-led message out there? And how do you sustain the business so it can fuel your bigger mission?

To find out, we invited Caitlin Crosby, founder and CEO of The Giving Keys, to Playbook 2022

Caitlin is also an actress, singer, and songwriter. And in this session, she shares the lessons from leading a purpose-first company and the must-knows for marketing your message. 

1. Customers know when you’re full of it.

When Caitlin first came up with The Giving Keys, she was still on tour with her first album “Flaws.” She said her entire ethos was about loving all parts of yourself. And when her fans responded to the message in droves, she saw an opportunity to meet their needs.

“I had the idea to [engrave] ‘love your flaws’ on a key, and I sold them at my merchandise tables,” Caitlin explained. Then, she turned the keys into jewelry fans could wear, and the response was more than she had anticipated.

As a result, Caitlin started paying a locksmith to engrave all sorts of words (like hope, love, and strength) on vintage keys. She also saw an opportunity to encourage her customers to pay it forward by giving the key away to someone else who needs it. “When you spot someone who needs [your] word, you give it away,” Caitlin explained. “And then they do the same.” 

When asked why The Giving Keys was so successful, Caitlin attributes the genuine intentions behind the movement. “People were needing these,” she told us. And because it never came from a business model, it felt like it came from an authentic place.

For SMBs, that means checking your intentions at the door: 1) Do you have an authentic interest in helping the customers you serve? 2) Do you put their needs first in your business model? Because Caitlin says customers can quickly spot when brands are being disingenuous. 

“Customers can smell when your motives are off.” – Caitlin Crosby, founder and CEO of The Giving Keys

2. Find ways to help others with your business.

Caitlin was born and raised in Los Angeles, so she grew up witnessing homelessness and wondering how she could help. “It felt unjust because I saw money and privilege over here and then [homelesness] in the backyard,” she explained. 

But it wasn’t until Caitlin invited a homeless couple to dinner that she realized The Giving Keys could help employ people. “[Cera] said she liked making jewelry [at dinner], and I had my a-ha moment,” she told us. That’s when she asked the couple to be business partners. And after purchasing all the tools, they were engraving keys and working the next day.  

“It was genuinely about feeding people,” she told us. “It wasn't about a business mission or copy narrative.” But because of that interaction, helping end homelessness is part of The Giving Keys message. They’ve since employed 150 people transitioning out of homelessness and donate a portion of their profits to homeless charities today.

For SMBs, you can leverage this advice by looking around your community for meaningful opportunities. Then, ask yourself: 1) What causes do you and your customers both care deeply about? 2) Are there organic opportunities to help others with your business model? 

3. Ensure your bottom line is healthy before helping others. 

Purpose-led companies like The Giving Keys exist to do good in the world. But if you don’t have your financial health in line, it’s impossible to fuel meaningful initiatives. That’s why Caitlin suggests getting clear on a foundation and establishing roots before moving forward. 

“It’s been a tough time in retail [post-pandemic],” she told us. “We’re still shifting strategies, and it took almost two years to get our footing again.” But now that they’ve rebuilt their baseline, The Giving Keys has a clear path toward sustainable growth. And this kind of stability enables brands to “pay it forward.”

Without a healthy bottom line, fueling a purpose-led mission is impossible. As an SMB, you can ask the following questions: 1) When was the last time you checked in on your financial foundation? 2) Do you have enough revenue to continue sustaining purposeful initiatives?

4. Pivot your mission and marketing accordingly.

During The Giving Keys’ peak growth, it had two marketing messages. The first one was “Paying it Forward” by gifting the key jewelry to someone else who needed your word. And the second message was “Help Us End Homelessness” by employing people transitioning out of homelessness. 

“I was so tied to both [marketing messages] for years [because] I saw that people related to both [messages],” Caitlin explained. “But consultants or board people would come in and say [we needed] to focus on one.” So at first, she decided to focus on helping end homelessness.

They repainted the side of their building, redid their packaging, and altered the marketing message to focus on them as a bridge employer — AKA, a company that hires people to help them build their resumes and move on to bigger things. But then, the pandemic happened. 

“We had to change our model and move into a fulfillment center,” Caitlin shared. And while she did manage to convince the center to hire her employees, The Giving Keys team didn’t last long due to company culture differences. “It just wasn't the happy family,” she said. 

That’s when Caitlin shifted her mission and message again. This time, they would focus on the paying-forward aspect of the product. “When you give a key to somebody, it [represents] this invaluable human connection,” she told us. “Now, all our marketing language [focuses on that].”

That said, the brand still supports ending homelessness — just in a different way. “We’re donating [proceeds] to all our favorite non-profits, like Chrysalis, United Way, and Union Rescue Mission,” she explained. But it’s not the sole focus of their marketing message. 

For SMBs, you can use this advice by considering your marketing message with the following questions: 1) Do you have competing messages or missions? 2) What’s the proper focus for the current business climate? Then, pivot if necessary (you can always go back if needed).

“Give yourself the grace to do other good things. [Your mission] doesn't have to stay exactly the same like a death grip.”

5. Press and partnerships help spread the message.

The Giving Keys has a list of great press and partnership opportunities, including Oprah, Gap, and Kenneth Cole features. And this kind of exposure helps do-good brands catapult their marketing message to more people. 

“The Oprah moments [were pivotal to getting the brand message out there],” Caitlin told us. But she also leveraged her close network to partner with other well-known brands. “I knew the president working for Rachel Zoe on the Zoe Report,” she explained. And during one of their collaborations with Gap, the president asked to feature Caitlin’s team as the models.

“We did Gap ads with our employees transitioning out of homelessness,” Caitlin explained. “[These ads] were in their stores, and we sold Giving Keys at many of the Gap stores.”

Plus, they did a similar collaboration with Kenneth Cole called The Courageous Class, featuring employees transitioning out of homelessness as models. 

For Caitlin, some of these press moments happened serendipitously. But others simply manifested from her putting in the work. And for SMBs, that means walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

“[You don’t want to be] cause washing,” Caitlin concluded — AKA, falsely labeling yourself as a give-back brand. “Your integrity and character [has to be] in line with what you're saying [as a business].” And if it doesn’t, your partnerships or press opportunities might end up backfiring.

“What is the [cause] that is so you? Because your heart and soul come out in your business.”

Running a give-back brand is a meaningful way to make a living. And in today’s market, customers expect companies to stand for something bigger. But before you jump head first, use these five marketing lessons to improve and strengthen your purpose-led message.

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5 Marketing Lessons from Purpose-Led Company The Giving Keys

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