On International Women's Day, my inbox overflowed with tie-in pitches and marketing messages. The vast majority were little more than me-too marketing. Sure, most of it was harmless. (Who doesn't want 40% off of boots even if I have no idea what this has to do with Women's Day?!). Unfortunately, this year will undoubtedly see its share of tone deaf or outright-inappropriate tie-in fails. While it can be tempting to jump on a bandwagon-;particularly one this positive in terms of messaging-;there's little upside to superficial efforts that don't reveal a long-term commitment, deeper impact, or a demonstrable belief and behavioral pattern.
There are hundreds of "International Days" to be celebrated and some will certainly tie in to your company's ethos and branding. As we witness this year's successes and failures for International Women's Day, here are three factors you need to consider as you formulate a strategy that aligns with one of these important initiatives:
1. Make the right match. There is nothing worse than seeing a brand celebrating a cause or highlighting an issue and doing a double take. You know what I mean: When you immediately wonder what the bleep they are doing talking about this given their history with [insert scandal, political position, previous take on the subject, etc.]. However, alignment is more than keeping your feet out of a steaming pile of social media backlash. Any activism or feel-good marketing must be a natural fit in the context of your business and way of doing business. Your given customer base should welcome the addition of awareness to their feed, inbox, or other marketing channel. And potential customers should immediately see the fit, both in terms of what you do, but also in what you are saying. In other words, you do not have to (nor should you) jump on every hashtag or righteous theme. Consider the ones that are a good fit and create messaging that makes sense. International Day of Families (May 15) might not trend, but if you are the kind of company that provides paid paternal leave, it's well-worth celebrating with the world.
2. Slow your roll. Again, given the risk of coming off as tone deaf and inspiring eye rolls (or much worse) do not rush to jump on social trends of any kind. Finding the right match and creating appropriate messages takes more time than typing a tweet. You will also find greater resonance with campaigns that have a lasting impact-;on the given cause and on your audience. Giving 10% of the day's profits to a worthy recipient (such as an association, scholarship, or fund) associated with a cause is laudable. However, it is even more impactful to incorporate support into your way of doing business. Rather than simply donate to a campaign that supports women veterans returning to the workforce, for example, pledge to hire a certain percent over the course of the next year. Show that you aren't in it for a minute and that you really care.
3. Don't sell. What, you ask. Isn't that the point of marketing? Ok, there are situations in which offering discounts or special offers will align with a cause or hashtag celebration. However, there are so very many situations in which a direct sales approach is going to seem mercenary if not outright wrong when placed alongside an important (or even heart-wrenching) issue. To understand, all you need to do is recall the outrage that resulted from Pepsi's "black lives matter" commercial in which Kendall Jenner "solved" this deeply emotional issue by offering a police officer a soda. Um. Ya. Beverage sales just have no place in an issue as complex and deeply felt as this one. It is going to be the rare situation in which selling alongside a meaningful issue isn't going to seem opportunistic (at best). This style of marketing is much more about aligning and supporting values than it is about sales. Again, this is a long game not a quick sales fix.
There are so many days (and ways) to celebrate. There are important social and political issues to expose and address. As a marketer, as a business leader, you can and should get involved. In fact, an Axios/Harris poll finds that public perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise a better future for society.
However, it is important to remember that, as ephemeral as a hashtag may be, deep feelings and passions are not to be taken lightly and missteps will have a lasting effect. Cause marketing must be handled with care. But when you truly care, it shows. And customers will take notice.