Now more than ever, consumers are aware of the world’s inequalities, injustices and environmental concerns, and it’s driving their buying behavior. Competing on price or quality of products and services no longer has the impact it once did — consumers want a brand that supports a cause they care about. According to a 2019 Cone/Porter Novelli study, 88% of consumers said they would purchase products or services from a purpose-driven company. Adding cause marketing campaigns to your marketing strategy can produce attractive returns on investment. When done right, cause marketing attracts new customers and creates deeper bonds with existing customers. It can also help attract and retain excellent employees. However, cause marketing can be tricky to get it right, and even large, successful brands such as KFC and Pepsi can get it wrong. Let’s delve into how to do cause marketing right.
What Is Cause Marketing?
Cause marketing, aka cause-related marketing, is a mutually beneficial collaboration between a for-profit and a nonprofit organization. The objective of any cause marketing campaign is to increase awareness and encourage positive social change by supporting a specific cause in a way that increases the brand’s image (and ultimately, profits). Sometimes, campaigns raise money for the nonprofit supporting the cause and other times, they simply increase awareness or demonstrate support of a social issue.
Choose a Cause that Aligns with Your Brand
First, clarify your brand identity and choose a cause that aligns with your company’s values. For example, adventure clothing brands Patagonia and The North Face consistently support environmental causes. On a smaller scale, a local law firm could partner with a local nonprofit that provides free legal advice to disenfranchised populations. Likewise, a female-owned consulting business could demonstrate its support of women’s rights on its website and social media.
Your employees should also be on board with any cause marketing effort, so engage them in choosing an appropriate cause. Finally, you should also carefully consider which causes are most likely to resonate with your target audience. You and your team may care about saving whales, but your target audience might care more about preserving and protecting aquatic animals in local bodies of water.
Be Authentic, Not Trendy or Insensitive
Consumers aren’t easily fooled, and many brands have made costly cause marketing mistakes. Avoid choosing a cause just because it’s trendy or one that consumers may perceive as being an inauthentic choice. Pepsi got into hot water in 2017 with an attempt to show its support for unification during this era of protests. It ran an ad featuring Kardashian supermodel Kendall Jenner joining an unidentified protest, joyfully mingling with the crowd and handing a police officer a Pepsi. The tension immediately subsides, and everyone is smiling and hugging. Consumers immediately balked and blamed Pepsi for being insensitive to the seriousness of police brutality during protests. The company pulled the ad after one day and apologized.
Collaborate with the Nonprofit
Before you embark on a campaign to support a cause, make sure you work with its key players. First, this ensures they are aware of and approve of your involvement. Second, you’ll gain insights into how to maximize your involvement for mutual benefit.
Create Opportunities for Engaging Your Target Audience
It’s no longer enough to donate money to a charitable cause and check “done.” Your cause marketing campaign should focus on doing good with your target audience’s involvement. Options include donation matching or asking consumers to submit photos, tweets or videos related to why they support the cause. Create memorable hashtags, which help spread the news on social media.
Be physically present whenever possible at charitable events or other places where your target audience will be. Aim to create memorable encounters that consumers will want to share with others. Hosting a contest that empowers your target audience is another highly successful tactic, like this “Build Your Legacy” contest hosted by “Essence” magazine and household cleaner company Pine-Sol.
Keep the Message Simple yet Inspiring with a Clear Call-to-Action (CTA)
The most successful messages tend to be short and straightforward. Consumers shouldn’t have to spend much time understanding what you’re trying to say or who you’re supporting. It’s also essential to have a clear and easy-to-follow CTA, whether you’re asking them to donate or “like” and share your post on social media. Your CTA must touch people emotionally to motivate them — they must feel inspired, angry, amused, joyful, etc.
Consider Launch Timing and Campaign Length
Choose a time when your target audience isn’t distracted, or the timing would be insensitive due to current events. Also, determine how long you want the campaign to last. Some of the most successful campaigns are ongoing instead of a one-time effort or only during Pride month, for example.
Track Your Success but Don’t Expect Immediate Profits
Your cause marketing campaign shouldn’t have the immediate goal of increased profits. Instead, its objective should focus more on increasing brand awareness, loyalty and goodwill — which ultimately will increase your market share and profits. Ideally, your cause marketing campaign should produce what’s called the halo effect. The halo effect occurs when a brand partners with a cause consumers care about, influencing consumers to view that brand more favorably — even if the brand hasn’t enhanced the quality of its products or services.
A Few Takeaways
Cause marketing doesn’t necessarily require a large budget or time to implement. Even small actions can speak volumes about your company values. Finally, if you sponsor a nonprofit, it should match the size and scope of your company. A small company likely won’t receive a substantial ROI sponsoring a large, expensive event and would do better with a smaller, niche or local event.