As marketers, we are consistently in search of fresh new ideas to cut through the clutter in the advertising world.

We are always looking for an edge to attract and engage consumers in a way that isn’t blatantly saying, “here’s our product, now go buy it.” That is why brands are learning the value of being socially conscious as a way to not only attract new customers, but to also retain them by demonstrating a willingness to listen to what is important in their lives.

What is Cause Marketing?

Cause Marketing is a type of corporate social responsibility (CSR) where a brand campaign benefits a nonprofit charity or social cause while simultaneously promoting its own brand and products.

Not to be confused with philanthropy, Cause Marketing is still marketing. You are still looking for ways to build your brand, engage with consumers and sell your product, whereas philanthropy is simply writing a check to your favorite charity.

Why does Cause Marketing work?

While Cause Marketing is not necessarily a new concept, it is now emerging as one of the leading marketing strategies.

According to an ESP Sponsorship Report, Cause Marketing is predicted to reach $2.14 billion in 2018, a projected increase of 4.4% over 2017. On reason this might be is that brands are better able to tap into consumers’ emotional world, which in turn drives their buying behaviors.

Research shows when choosing between two brands of equal quality and price, 90% of US consumers are likely to switch to a cause-branded product while 55% would even pay extra for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

As Bob Kelleher, author of Customer Experience for Dummies, puts it, “Successful companies will be those that make CSR part of their DNA. It’s been proven that socially conscious organizations outperform those solely committed to beating the competition.”

How can you implement Cause Marketing?

While you may think Cause Marketing is as simple as supporting a worthy cause and reaping the benefits of positive PR and profits, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about a Cause Marketing campaign.

Just like when any brand decides to roll out a new campaign, without strategic planning and proper execution, such an effort could end up actually hurting your brand. But when fully-integrated and well-conceived, Cause Marketing has an enormous potential to positively impact your community and brand. It’s important to make sure you’re as authentic as possible and think about the implications of your messaging to avoid coming across disingenuous or in poor taste.

Many people are familiar with Toms or Warby Parker’s “buy a pair, give a pair” promise, but there are many different ways a brand can support a cause. Here are some examples of the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: Patagonia, 100% for the Planet

On Black Friday in 2016, Patagonia pledged to donate 100% of its sales to grassroots organizations fighting to protect the planet. The outcome?

More than $10 million in sales – five times what they had expected.

Plus, an astounding 70% of online purchases were from first-time customers. Patagonia has always been an advocate of environmental responsibility and by investing in a cause that is true to their brand, they reached consumers on an emotional level who shared those same values. In addition to the massive success of the promotion, Patagonia was able to secure its place as being top of mind when it comes to sustainable brands.

Its business model is centered around reducing waste in landfills by producing high quality outdoor apparel that lasts for years. Moreover, Patagonia will repair any product for free to reduce the amount of their products that end up in a landfill.

The Bad: KFC, Buckets for a Cure

In 2010, KFC teamed up with the Susan G. Komen breast cancer research foundation and donated $0.50 for each bucket of chicken sold towards breast cancer research. And while it did result in a sizeable donation to Komen, the incongruity between an unhealthy fast-food chain and a health-care focused research foundation resulted in negative PR for both.

People were quick to point out that having an unhealthy diet (through buckets of fried chicken) contributes to obesity which is a primary risk factor for breast cancer. The cause you choose to support should have a clear connection to your brand and align with your core values in order to resonate with your target audience.

The Ugly: Starbucks, #RaceTogether

In 2015, in an attempt to “stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America,” Starbucks urged their baristas to start a conversation with their customers about race relations by writing #RaceTogether on coffee cups.

The backlash was quick to follow.

Nicely put, people didn’t want to be ambushed into talking about racial issues before they’ve even had their morning coffee. The social media response was so brutal, it drove the Starbucks senior VP of communications to temporarily quit Twitter.

What caused such a negative reaction?

People didn’t see what the connection was between Starbucks and race relations and it came off as Starbucks exploiting a sensitive social issue for financial gain.

Final Takeaways

  • Find a cause that is authentic to your brand and in turn it will reach your target audience on an emotional level and create a longer and more profitable consumer connection.
  • Do your homework and research the cause you want to support and make sure it is a good fit with your company before diving in.
  • Invest in a mutually-beneficial partnership with the cause you choose to support rather than exploiting it for a one-off campaign.

Got any tips we didn’t cover? Shoot us a message on social and we’d be happy to add it to this article or future posts!

Cristal Barker

Author Cristal Barker

Cristal is an Account Coordinator at InQuest Marketing. She acts as a liason between clients and the agency to ensure all needs are communicated and accomplished. She enjoys getting to work with every team in the agency and watching concepts come to life. Cristal enjoys cooking and coming up with recipes to trick her young daughter into eating vegetables, and her favorite movie is Breakfast at Tiffany's.

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