Companies large and small are linking their brand to a charitable organization or a worthy cause in hopes of raising brand awareness while simultaneously improving their company image. From autism to breast cancer, aids to human rights, it seems nearly every enterprise has a cause. Many for-profit enterprises – including coffee, beverage and food marketers – are embracing cause-related marketing. Is this a strategy you should employ for your business?
Cause Marketing can be defined as “a commercial activity by which businesses and the wider community derive direct societal and commercial benefits through marketing led activity.” In other words, both the business and society prosper.
Some of the benefits derived from cause marketing include:
- Access to non-profit’s membership list
- Joint branding opportunities
- Celebrity testimonials and endorsements
- Event participation
- Increased consumer loyalty to the brand
The key success factor in implementing a cause related marketing strategy is to apply all available resources to solving the problem at hand, and not on making a huge marketing splash. An appropriate and comprehensive answer to the problem has the potential to generate a higher ROI, sales leads and goodwill.
Cause marketing will succeed if you choose a non-profit partner with a strong resemblance in goals, intentions and strategy. Both the business and the cause must be aligned. If not, then maintaining a high level of integrity is difficult. Integrity is very important because it enables both the business and the non-profit cause to focus on their charitable or societal objectives and not in making good public relations or higher sales.
Here are 10 steps to developing and implementing an effective cause marketing program:
- You can’t fake concern; keep in mind that cause marketing is only worthwhile – and only effective – when your passion is sincere. Marketing gimmicks will backfire.
- Choose your cause strategically. Search for a single charitable cause that you and your employees believe in, as well as one that helps advance your business objectives. For instance, a company may choose an educational cause to ensure it has a continuing pool of well-educated workers. Microsoft, for example, heavily supports education causes. Endangered Species Chocolate, which sources its cocoa beans in Nigeria, promotes its “ethically traded coffee.” A portion of their profits are returned to the farmers for school supplies and village water pumps. Other companies seek issues that align with their products, services or geographic service area. Others look for issues that resonate with niche audiences or that differentiate them in the marketplace. You may want to consider choosing an emerging issue. This way, your company will be a pioneer rather than just another in a list of companies.
- Creating a plan of action that targets real problems and brings benefit
- Perform due diligence. Once you have identified the cause, check out the individual charities involved in that cause just as you would any other strategic ally. Do they deserve your support? What is their public perception? Are they well run? What are their objectives, goals, successes and failures? Who are their executives and board members? Do they have any complaints lodged against them? How much of their money goes to salaries and overhead and how much actually gets to those it serves? Are they capable of helping you access intended target markets?
- Establish Goals. Now that you have selected your charity, determine what it is you want to accomplish with your involvement from a business perspective. There are tangible and intangible goals you can reach through cause marketing. Set your goals and then determine what resources, both time and money, to budget for the cause.
- Don’t be afraid of entering into a short-term cause-related marketing campaign if it makes sense for your business. In general, however, a long-term cause-related marketing campaign can give your brand more credibility.
- Communicate. Develop a simple, direct and compelling message that not only explains the cause but the reason your company is involved. Then, promote the cause in customer mailings and in your advertising. Create joint events with your nonprofit partner to attract customers, prospects and media coverage.
- Encourage employee participation in your campaign, as research shows that cause marketing’s success is tied directly to the enthusiasm of those working on it.
- Remember, cause-related marketing is still about marketing. Keep your business objectives in mind and, even though you are working with a nonprofit, don’t neglect your bottom line. For example, many banks link their brands to the affordable housing cause. This makes good business sense, since banks offer home mortgages. They do well by doing good.
- Walk the talk. Do not deviate from your original cause and principles. Maintain your integrity.
Selecting and supporting the right cause for your company can build profit, brand equity, as well as employee and customer loyalty, while improving the world. Consumers are very sophisticated, however, and cannot be fooled by insincere marketing campaigns. Support a cause passionately and help it achieve its goals, and you too will be rewarded.
Peter M. Guyer is the Founder and President of ATHENA MARKETING INTERNATIONAL (athenaintl.com), an international marketing, consulting and business development firm serving food and beverage manufacturers. Tel. (206) 749-9255.