MONEY

3 Keys to Authentic Cause Marketing

Here's how your company, your cause, and your customers can all benefit from your socially-minded efforts.
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Carol Cone, managing director of public relations firm Edelman, is often referred to as the mother of cause marketing. That’s the practice of seeking a marketing boost by affiliating your company with a worthy cause. And even Cone says that cause-related marketing, as we know it, is dead.
 
Yet worldwide, 66% of consumers say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that give back to society, and nearly half said they were willing to pay extra for this benefit, according to a Nielsen survey.
 
 “It is no longer enough to slap a ribbon on a product,” says Cone. “Purpose must now be ingrained into the core of a company or brand’s proposition.”
 
This is especially true in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil. In these countries, eight in 10 consumers expect companies to donate a portion of their profits to support a social cause, but two-thirds say that’s not enough. Companies also need to integrate social causes into their everyday businesses.


How can your company benefit by embracing social change? If your company isn’t already on a social mission, here are a few things to think about before embracing one.
 
Seek Resonance with Consumers
 
Often, companies are tempted to try to align themselves with the cause that appeals to the most people, without attempting to find any real resonance with their particular consumers, brand or products. In this situation companies are playing the wrong numbers game.
 
There is nothing wrong with supporting good causes, but doing so won’t necessarily create the intended effect of enriching your brand.  
 
The missing ingredient to a generic philanthropic campaign is resonance. Consider why your current client base might buy your product or service, and then couple that with a meaningful, relatable social impact program. Otherwise, chances are that your hard work will be ignored by your customers, no matter how worthy the cause.
 
Create Alignment with Your Core Business
 
The social mission you choose has to be aligned with your companies’ solution to the need in the market you address. Toms Shoes is a great example of alignment. The concept is simple; when you buy a pair of shoes an additional pair will go to children around the world that need shoes.
 
Without alignment you risk sending mixed messages, and, ultimately, spending a lot of money on a cause without getting any benefits for your company.
 
Many companies that are experimenting with socially-minded programs set up a subsidiary brand to do so. The problem with this is that consumers may not make the link between your good works and your brand. You won’t build the loyalty or goodwill you’re seeking, and some customers may question whether the company is truly behind, and invested in, the cause. Make the mission part of your business.
 
Partner
 
Donating products or profits isn't a bad start, but it's not enough. What sort of world could we create if more businesses were to partner with social entrepreneurs-;the experts in blending profits with purpose? If, for example, you wanted to help create better learning environments in schools, you might skip the book drive and consider partnering with DonorsChoose, a marketplace where teachers can post projects to be supported by private citizens.
 
The next time you're working on strengthening your social arm, keep in mind that nearly three-quarters of people think brands and consumers could do more to support good causes by working together. Be strategic, spend smarter, and make it easier for your consumers to make a real, positive difference in the world.

Last updated: Dec 10, 2012

BENJAMIN WALD | Columnist

Benjamin Wald is a successful technology entrepreneur and investor. Ben?s passion for social impact, software and education support his ambition to change the world through technology. He is now the Managing Partner of Spartan Systems.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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