Today's consumers wear their values on their sleeves—literally. From yellow "LIVESTRONG," to blue "DEMOCRAT," and red (my personal favorite) "GIVE BLOOD, PLAY HOCKEY," wristbands are all the rage. Couple this with the popularity of cause-related ribbons stuck on vehicles across America, and you have a societal trend.

Americans today are putting their passion for various causes on display—on wrists, cars, and clothing. We want others to see us as ethical, caring, good citizens. But this trend goes more than skin deep. Americans want to align themselves with brands, employers and even investments that stand for something we believe in and that we can feel good about. And smart companies are responding.

According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, American companies spent nearly $1 billion on cause related marketing campaigns in 2004. What's the return on this investment? Turns out, good works are good for your business as well as your cause.

Loyal Customers

You can leverage the emotional bond consumers have with a particular cause by aligning your brand with it. Effective cause marketing results in both increased purchases and ongoing brand loyalty. It can spike sales with a short-term promotion, or build brand equity over time.

Target's Take Charge of Education program has donated more than $120 million to the nation's schools since it was launched in 1997, while further distinguishing the Target brand from its competitors.

And who would have thought more than $1.2 million could be raised for breast cancer awareness by having people send in their Yoplait yogurt lids at 10 cents per lid. That's 12 million lids and 12 million purchases.

Committed Employees

Today's employees are looking for more than a paycheck. A recent survey of MBAs from top US and European business schools found that 97% of students were willing to trade income to work for a company they considered to be socially responsible and ethical.

Cause marketing companies don't merely attract good employees, they keep them. Nearly 90% of employees report strong loyalty to companies that support a cause, compared with two-thirds of employees at other companies.

Bank of Goodwill

Supporting a cause that resonates with stakeholders also builds equity in the bank of public opinion. When a crisis occurs, as it inevitably will, you can make a withdrawal and still have some goodwill in the bank. Wal-Mart ignored the public's concerns about its business practices for years and only recently began a campaign designed to show that it is, in fact, good for small town business. Unfortunately, the campaign looks suspiciously reactive.

Some brands are built on values. The Body Shop's simple core values resonate with customers, employees, and investors—resulting in loyal, returning customers, motivated employees, and satisfied investors. The company's commitment to these values is so profound that it issues an annual Values Report as well as a traditional annual report.

Get Started

Even small businesses can leverage the bonds consumers have with causes. First, select a cause that resonates with your stakeholders. While it's nice if the cause relates to your business in some way, such as a food company working on hunger, it's not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is to make sure that your cause is in line with your customer's beliefs.

Then, let people know how you're supporting your cause of choice. Do proceeds go directly to the charity? Do customers need to take action to ensure they do their part—e.g., visit a Web site, send in a form? The goal is to get customers engaged in your cause, and your company.

A cause marketing program should permeate both your marketing and internal communications plans. To reach consumers, consider packaging, point of purchase displays, ad campaigns, Web site, and signage. Always look to take it a step further. If you're an event sponsor, take product samples along and invite employees to attend en masse wearing your logo.

Internally, go beyond informing employees that you're contributing to a cause. Let them become engaged in your cause. Here at Two West, we work with DeLaSalle Education Centers, a private school system for kids who don't make it in public school. Each of our employees visits the school and gets to know the students. We teach classes on marketing and branding, mentor the kids, and even host the annual Two West Pumpkin Patch for DeLaSalle. It's not just Two West management's cause; we all contribute to DeLaSalle and feel good about it.

Finally, don't forget to ask your cause organizations to promote your association with them. Request that they mention your charitable promotion in their marketing materials. It's not enough to find the heartstrings of your customers. You have to give them a good tug.

Today's consumers want to know what your business stands for. Including a cause marketing component in your marketing plan helps answer this question, benefiting the cause as well as your business.

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Sherlyn Manson Sherlyn Manson is vice-president of Two West Inc. (, a brand consulting firm in the Kansas City Crossroads Arts District.