The 4 Challenges of Cause Marketing

Want to be Geoff Livingston‘s guest at the Cause Marketing Forum this May 30-31 in Chicago? The best comment wins a free registration worth $1,045.00 for a business or $795 for a nonprofit, compliments of Mightycause (also cross-posted on Geoff’s blog). A decision will be made tomorrow morning based on comments on both blogs.

Customers want brands to invest in marketing, that much is clear. There’s enough data out there that shows that people love brands that invest in their community’s general well being (skip ahead if you want to see the stats). Yet brands struggle weaving cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs into the fabric of their marketing communications.

Some of the cause marketing problems facing corporate brands include:

1) Corporate social responsibility programs are company’s best kept secrets. They invest in communities, but don’t tell anyone about it. This leaves CSR to annual reports, dark corners of the About page on the web site, and a token press release. In the worst case scenarios, brands just don’t give a damn about their community.

2) Communicating CSR within the context with brand and product marketing challenges most companies. They know how to sell, but they struggle to develop communications that resonate on a larger level with their stakeholders about common societal issues. Resulting cause marketing efforts fall flat, lacking in the authenticity and meaning to succeed.

Cause Marketing Venn Diagram
Optimized cause marketing demands more sophisticated communications than a simple percentage of profit allocated to a nonprofit.

3) Niche social media programs make CSR and cause marketing easier, yet most companies don’t take advantage of these tools. Consider that social provides a means to directly interact with customers who have already identified themselves as loyalists. Similarly, for some brands in-store communications provides another channel to communicate with customers.

4) Cause marketing often fails to go beyond broadcast communication to directly involve the stakeholder in real cause-based activity. Slacktivisim in the form of likes and reshares achieves a basic marketing purpose, but does not address long-term societal issues and meaningful actions for all parties. Measurable theories of change are not enacted.

Before I discuss my thinking on one part of the solution, here’s a recap of some the stats shared on Danny Brown’s site and one of my prior Inspiring Generosity posts:

  • — 71% of consumers are giving as much (or more) as they were before the economy dipped (IAB).
  • — 87% of consumers would switch brands to deal with companies associated with good causes (IAB).
  • — 50% of consumers would pay more for brands associated with good causes (IAB).
  • — 83% of Americans wish brands would support causes (AdAge).
  • — 41% have bought a product because it was associated with a cause (AdAge).

These statistics show that every brand should seriously consider activating their willing customers in cause-based programs that enhance their user experience.

Crafting Cause Marketing Strategies

Cause Marketing Wheel
Cause marketing involves many eating together intricacies for brands.

Cause marketing communications represents perhaps the most complex form of brand communications because it blends so many elements. In addition to the difficulties listed above, there are the continuing challenges of multichannel integration in general communications, the need to deliver ROI with any communications, the complexity of weaving cause-based activity into an overarching brand message, and finally working with a cause to develop a meaningful program that will actually achieve something.

These sophisticated intricacies make crafting cause-based marketing and public CSR programs that much more difficult. That’s why the community development work Starbucks supports publicly, in contests, in ads, and at every one of its stores really impresses me. Starbucks embraces CSR and its sister cause marketing as part of its very fiber.

But for every Starbucks, there are 99 companies that perform at a lesser level. Most marketers don’t even know where to begin. To me, that’s the real issue.

Frameworks, best practices, and methods need to be better communicated to achieve better communications programs. As always it starts with objectives. Those objectives need to include traditional ROI and marketing outcomes, as well as KPIs for customers satisfaction with the program, and social good impact. One of the things I am working on a is a methodology to build cause marketing programs that are mapped from the user perspective.

Some questions that need to be answered by each brand:

  • — What does the brand want to achieve, business wise and for its community?
  • — When is the right time to introduce conversations about the cause-based activity?
  • — What are the points of contact?
  • — How can they engage?
  • — Will the actions provide paths for customers to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment?
  • — How will those actions create a better bond between brand and person?
  • — What is the long term impact of the program?

What do you think? Why you do brands struggle with their cause based initiatives?

5 thoughts on “The 4 Challenges of Cause Marketing”

  1. Many companies have a “community relations” department and I wonder what you see as their role in cause marketing? Do such departments view cause marketing and community relations seperately? When it comes “campaigns” they seem to function under tight restrictions and exclusionary operating practices that discourage new partnerships and integration with the larger communication/marketing/social media efforts of their companies. I’d like to see these departments more obviously integrated with brand and general communication efforts, but I assume large companies see little or no benefit if the community relations programs are local and their communications are global. What are your thoughts?

    1. u00a0Yeah, it’s a damn shame that happens. It’s really very common.u00a0 I wish more parts of companies talked to each other to make things happen. It’s not really happening these days, and that makes it tough for them to be successful online.

  2. For most brands, lack of consistency poses the biggest hurdle. Instead of looking at Cause Marketing as an everyday part of their brand, they have CM programs that run for as little as a few weeks to as long as a few months – some companies stick with the same cause or charity partner for each program, but many switch causes or NPO partners with each campaign. This makes it very hard for the consumer to maintain a feeling of connection to the cause the company is supporting and even harder for the consumer to remember what good community work a company has already done. Another problem is that many companies choose to create CM campaigns around issues that don’t really mesh well with their brand image. For example, Dawn’s efforts to support wildlife is admirable, but besides not doing a great job of letting their consumers know they’re doing it, a company whose products make clean dishes might do better to support clean water initiatives.u00a0nnOne of the most long-standing and best run cause marketing/CSR initiatives, in my opinion, is McDonald’s/Ronald McDonald House for many reasons:nn1) McDonald’s leverages their market segment that is a busy family getting fast food into a program that supports families who need to be far from home when their child is facing a serious medical condition.u00a0nn2) They utilize their children’s happy meal packaging to let both a child who is old enough to read and/or the parents who buy happy meals know that a specific portion of their meal price is helping support Ronald McDonald House. Very often, this isn’t just small print at the bottom of the packaging, but includes language or activities that help children better understand what Ronald McDonald House is, who it benefits, and that teaches children empathy and compassion for children less fortunate than they may be.nn3) They have donation boxes at the register and the drive-through windows for any consumer to donate their change back into the Ronald McDonald House program, allowing consumers to participate either with a purchase or with their own money.nn4) Many McDonald’s locations display posters inside the store with the story and picture of a local family that has been helped through Ronald McDonald House charities, giving the consumer the satisfaction of knowing that their donations or purchase is not just helping “some family somewhere”, but that they are directly helping their own community.nn5) The McDonald’s website has a prominently displayed box for Ronald McDonald House charities on the home page, right next to their current food/drink promotions, making it easy for consumers who visit the website for nutrition or location information to be reminded of what McDonald’s supports in their communities.nnnnAll of the above combine in a masterful way: there’s not a single consumer of McDonald’s who couldn’t know that McDonald’s CSR/CM program is Ronald McDonald House, or how they themselves could support the program. If all brands seeking to integrate CM into their marketing strategy approached it from the direction McDonald’s has they’d increase their success dramatically.

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