Cause Marketing: The Only Way to Make it Work is to Make it Real

When I ask clients for an example of a cause marketing campaign they admire, one of the most frequent responses I hear is “Toms” (a former client we worked with for a number of years).

Toms One for One business model is built on the premise that for every purchase a customer makes (e.g. shoes, eyeglasses), another pair will be given to someone in need. In other words, the cause-marketing platform is the business model, so the company and society are benefiting equally.

While we are seeing an emerging trend toward this type of social enterprise (B-corps is a great example), most companies are not structured to address social and environmental issues in this way.

That said, consumers today are expecting companies to give them something to buy into, not just something to buy. Recent research shows that corporate social responsibility influences millennials’ decisions about what to buy, where to shop, where to work, which stocks to invest in and what to recommend to friends.

The good news is that traditional companies can still build a powerful cause-related platform that makes a meaningful impact, while enhancing corporate reputation and driving brand equity and business results.

For starters, here are three essential ground rules:

1. Put a stake in the ground.
Determine a cause or social issue that makes sense for your company based on your brand essence and business model. Beware of common traps, including pink washing, pet causes, or taking on the “cause du jour.” At Ketchum, we use a proprietary cause affinity index to help identify the right cause platform for your company and evaluate its potential success using a set of proven success criteria.

2. Don’t put your cause marketing platform in the corner.
Too often, cause-related platforms are managed in a silo by a community affairs department or a company foundation. In order for a cause to truly power up your business and brand, it’s essential that the platform is integrated into the overall marketing and communications campaign, viewed as a priority by senior leadership and engages employees and key stakeholders.

3. Have skin in the game.
Consumers today are more skeptical than ever when it comes to cause marketing. They see right through companies that simply write a check or rely solely on consumers to contribute to cause marketing programs. The leading companies in corporate giving are allocating a percentage of their pre-tax profit to giving and holding themselves accountable to concrete goals. Further, they are sharing this information publicly with consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders.

Cause marketing can be a powerful tool in your marketing and communications mix if done right. And you don’t need a buy-one-give-one model to make it work for you.