Businesses of all sizes are increasingly choosing to put causes at the centre of their communications strategies – what better way is there to tell the marketplace that your brand is caring and responsible? However, establishing the right cause-related connection requires care and attention.
When selecting a cause to champion, it is important that it is relevant to the brand’s product offering and resonates with at least one of its target audiences. If businesses fail to get this right, the initiative could be perceived as disingenuous. Getting it right, on the other hand, can deliver significant commercial benefit. Research has shown that 87 per cent of consumers would switch brands to buy a cause-related product if the price and quality of the goods on offer was similar.
Once the right cause has been identified and assuming the business can develop its connection with the not-for-profit organisation over a period of time, the initiative can strengthen customer loyalty. Today’s consumers are much more socially-conscious and have high expectations of the brands they choose to buy from. Increasingly, they expect social impact to be an integral part of a brand’s business model.
Some of the most successful cause-related marketing campaigns are those that give the consumer a sense that they are making a tangible difference. For example, the shoe maker, TOMS, has pledged that for every pair of shoes purchased, another pair will be donated to someone in need through the company’s ‘Giving Partners’ as part of its ‘One for One’ initiative.
The initiative features strongly on the company’s home page and is helping to differentiate its brand and its products in a crowded and competitive marketplace.
Inspired by the refugee crisis, the UberGiving initiative allows users of the company’s app to swipe the word ‘Giving’ in order to summon a car to collect blankets or clothes and deliver them to Save the Children in the UK.
The initiative was established and scaled up very quickly following news of the tragic death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi in September last year. In this instance, the speed of response indicates authenticity and demonstrates the agility of a disruptor brand in action.
Businesses can make a difference in other ways too. The Wrigley’s Extra Smile Back campaign, launched last year, is aimed at promoting good oral health. For every pack of Wrigley’s Extra purchased, a donation is made to Action for Children to help fund an educational campaign focused on improving children’s oral health. To support the campaign, a children’s book has been produced called ‘The Lost Smile’ about a boy who has lost his parents and is looking for them.
While they are obviously intended to deliver a positive social impact, these initiatives are also helping to strengthen corporate reputation and improve brand sentiment. Clearly, as well as choosing a cause that is relevant, brands need to be risk aware and avoid partnering with a not-for-profit organisation or other entity that is likely to generate negative media attention. If brands are willing to take a medium to long-term view, cause-related partnerships can be beneficial to both brands; helping to raise their profile and giving them a competitive edge.
For small or growing businesses that are trying to build brand awareness in their target market, cause branding initiatives can deliver significant rewards quickly and cheaply. The campaigns themselves rarely require large amounts of marketing spend and tend to generate a positive social media response. In order to leverage cause branding initiatives to the full, however, brands should seek to feature them in all their cross-channel communication – in particular profiling initiatives on e-commerce sites or in point of sale materials can have a positive effect on buying decisions.
In the future, the most high-profile and successful brands are likely to be those that have the greatest social impact. Based on this, there is no reason for businesses to delay in finding a cause to support.
James White is a consultant at brand communications agency, Vital Communications.