We’ve been discussing the success of experiential marketing strategies such as product sampling and event sponsorship in our recent posts. However, if we had to choose one that supersedes all, it would be cause marketing. Today’s consumers are more aware of global, national and local inequalities, injustices and environmental issues — and it’s changing their buying behavior. Many consumers are leaving brands and switching to ones that support causes important to them. The trend is true of employees too. Talented employees are migrating to employers who lead with purpose. Here’s why cause marketing should be part of your marketing plan.
What is cause marketing?
Cause marketing, aka cause-related marketing, is a mutually beneficial collaboration between a nonprofit and a for-profit organization. Increasing awareness of an issue and encouraging positive social change is the objective of a cause marketing campaign. Simply writing a check to a nonprofit isn’t enough. The campaign should include your target audience’s involvement, whether it’s through donation matching, buy one/give one or encouraging consumers to submit tweets, photos or videos related to why they support the cause. Not all campaigns raise money for the nonprofit cause — instead, they increase awareness of an issue such as water pollution or demonstrate support of a social issue such as racism or mental health.
How does cause marketing increase brand loyalty?
When for-profit brands support a nonprofit cause, consumers view the brand more favorably. According to a 2019 Cone/Porter Novelli study, 88% of consumers said they would purchase products or services from a purpose-driven company. Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Zers, have become warier and less trusting of brands that appear primarily profit-driven. They want to know their financial support of a brand is also benefitting society in some way, not just lining shareholders’ pockets. After all, generosity, whether it’s time, effort or financial, typically helps everyone — consumers, employees, shareholders and recipients feel happier and more fulfilled.
Brand advocates are worth their weight in gold
Once consumers decide to support a brand because of its cause marketing, they become unofficial brand ambassadors or advocates. Today’s consumers are far more influenced by their peers and influencers than traditional advertising, so creating brand advocates is the Holy Grail for any brand.
The halo effect
Ideally, your cause marketing campaign should produce what’s called the halo effect. The halo effect occurs when consumers view a brand more favorably after it partners with a cause they consider worthy. Interestingly, the halo effect can occur even if the brand hasn’t enhanced the quality of its products or services.
When considering a cause to support, make sure it aligns with your company’s values
Cause marketing provides win-win-win scenarios for consumers, brands and nonprofits when values match or complement each other. For example, adventure clothing brands The North Face and Patagonia consistently support environmental causes and responsible sourcing. Tractor manufacturer John Deere supports local food banks in rural farming communities in Iowa and Illinois.
Consider local opportunities as well. Sharing common ground such as race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation can also be an effective partnership. Examples include a Latino-owned business supporting a local nonprofit that provides college scholarships or small business loans to Latinos who live in the community. Likewise, women-owned organizations can partner with local domestic abuse shelters.
Also, engage your employees in your decision-making process. For the campaign to succeed, most of your employees should be on board. Finally, try to find the niche that your target audience values. For example, you and your staff may decide to support suicide prevention in veterans, but your target audience might be more likely to prefer teen suicide prevention.
Tread carefully before embarking on a cause marketing campaign
Cause marketing can be tricky to get it right, and even large, successful brands such as KFC,
Burger King, Starbucks and Pepsi can get it wrong. Sometimes cause marketing fails because a company misses the point or appears to trivialize a grave issue. Authenticity is crucial because consumers will spot inauthentic or insincere attempts.
One of the most common mistakes brands make is capitalizing on current social trends such as MeToo and Black Lives Matter (BLM). Starbucks came under fire because it initially prohibited employees from wearing BLM apparel or even pins during 2020 when BLM demonstrations were happening nationwide. It suddenly changed gears and announced it was sending custom-designed BLM t-shirts to its hundreds of thousands of employees. Critics bashed the company on social media, saying it was an insincere effort — and that its earlier stance demonstrated its true values.
Pepsi also tried to jump on the BLM trend and released a YouTube ad in 2017 featuring white supermodel/reality star Kendall Jenner joining an unidentified protest. She hands a solemn police officer a Pepsi, and everyone breaks into grins and claps. The social media-verse went berserk and said Pepsi showed a highly unrealistic depiction of an actual protest and trivialized the dangers. Pepsi pulled the ad after one day and apologized, admitting they had “missed the mark.”
A key takeaway: your cause marketing campaign won’t please everyone — and that’s OK
While you certainly don’t want to land on the list of epic cause marketing fails and enrage hundreds, thousands or millions of consumers, your campaign and chosen cause won’t appeal or matter to everyone. For example, people personally unaffected by breast cancer or Alzheimer’s might not feel particularly motivated to support a brand that aligns with that cause, despite them being noble causes.
The goal is to align with a nonprofit or purpose in a meaningful way that appeals to and engages your most valuable consumers — and don’t waste efforts on trying to connect with everyone. When your campaign is thoughtfully designed and executed, it will matter to your target audience.
Let us help you with your cause marketing campaign! Leverage our 25+ years of experience and expertise in creating impactful, successful programs.