As consumers and companies tighten their belts in anticipation of continued economic volatility, strategic marketers need to differentiate their organizations to win sales in a competitive environment. Cause branding is an effective option for authentically strengthening brands and cultivating meaningful relationships with relevant stakeholders.
Cause branding raises awareness of a particular societal issue by establishing a strategic and enduring alliance between a company and a relevant non-profit or charity organization.
“Companies can no longer be bystanders as social and cultural issues come to a head in the public sphere.”
According to a 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, “87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.” This is especially true of younger consumers, ages 18-34. Companies can no longer be bystanders as social and cultural issues come to a head in the public sphere.
Not only does cause branding appeal to consumers, it shores up a bank of public goodwill to offset potential future criticism. In a time when suppliers, distributors, investors and employees are incredibly vocal and consequential advocates, cause branding can be important to strengthen your relationships and reputation, and to foster loyalty and affinity.
Expectations of the private sector have rapidly evolved to make cause branding a critical part of an organization’s strategy rather than a “nice-to-have” aspect of business. Cause branding can also provide clarity and a decision framework to your organization so that you can respond appropriately to other requests for sponsorships and community contributions.
Here are some tips on how to create an effective cause-branding program for your organization:
- Select a focus area that aligns with your organization’s goals and mission. Survey your employees and partners to get their input. If your employees don’t believe a partnership with a particular non-profit or cause makes sense, your consumers won’t either. Cause branding requires a clear connection between the cause and your organization and may even require your company to reassess how it does business.
- Develop a cross-functional committee beyond the marketing department. Recruit members of different departments such as public affairs, communications, human resources, and research and development to create a sustainable and effective program. This will establish authentic brand ambassadors who feel a sense of ownership and genuinely identify with the cause.
- Consider how to directly engage the public, your target audience, and your employees. While digital events are most convenient during the novel coronavirus pandemic, face-to-face interactions, when safe and appropriate, will allow you to connect emotionally with your customers.
- Leverage your non-profit partner’s assets and assess what you bring to the table. Assets may include volunteers, cash and in-kind donations, special-events capabilities, and in-store marketing presence or advertising. Think critically about identifying synergies and complementary skills; similarly, think about how you might draw upon other strengths of your respective organizations and operations.
- Keep in step with your partner organization. Consistency in messaging and activities between the organizations can strengthen the public’s perception of your partnership and mitigate the risk of being publicly at odds with each other’s priorities and values. Meeting frequently can keep your paths from diverging too far apart. It can also help you to collaboratively develop programs, share ideas, and create complementary programming.
Be aware that savvy consumers know when a company is using cause-related marketing to simply increase revenue or as a superficial Band-Aid to mask a problem. An authentic partnership that fundamentally aligns with business strategy can transform your brand to help you stand out and cultivate trust among your customers.