Consumers today are more than cost-conscious. They're also socially conscious: Fully 80% of them say companies should do their part to improve the planet. To appeal to these consumers, brands can't simply offer quality goods and services; they must support good causes and be service-oriented.

Savvy brands understand that cause marketing offers opportunities. 87% of consumers say they would shift their loyalty to a brand that stands for a good cause. Corporate generosity can lead to gains by luring customers from less philanthropic competitors.

The ability for brands to turn a profit by doing good explains the rise of cause marketing. However, success requires that brands understand the nuances of creating a campaign that wins hearts, minds, and customers.

The Basics of Cause Marketing

Cause marketing is the public face of corporate social responsibility. According to the Financial Times, corporate social responsibility can be interpreted many ways; broadly considered, it's a consumer-driven expectation that companies consider how they affect society.

As the importance of corporate social responsibility rises, brands seek to show consumers how they offer benefits to society, not just to paying customers. CSR is an essential way to garner positive media coverage and boost public opinion of a company, according to Double the Donation, an organization that helps nonprofits increase matching donations.

To exemplify their values, brands can donate money to charities or partner with nonprofits.

That said, corporate generosity is only half of the equation. Companies maximize good will by promoting their good deeds. That's where cause marketing enters the picture.

Brands leverage cause marketing to actively build awareness for their positive role in society. It uses the same channels as product promotions, but focuses on how a company helps the world become a better place.

The Balance SMB credits American Express with starting the cause-marketing boom in the 1980s. That's when the company pledged to donate a penny to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty each time someone made a purchase using an American Express credit card. The promotion succeeded, and American Express captured positive attention by generating $1.7 billion in donations.

Partnering with a nonprofit is just one way brands implement cause marketing campaigns. In other cause-related marketing examples, companies promote their commitments to social causes.

The candy company Mars took this approach after it began sourcing renewable energy for its manufacturing facilities in the United States. Of course, Mars didn't keep this to itself. It spread the word via an ad campaign featuring its cartoon M&Ms characters.

The Benefits of Being a Corporate Do-Gooder

Although brands use cause marketing to present their selfless side, they still benefit from these campaigns. After all, cause marketing has little in common with anonymous giving. Instead, it is the corporate equivalent of PDA—except it's a public display of altruism, not affection.

When companies promote their commitment to social good through cause marketing campaigns, they seek to make a big splash with consumers. That splash should ripple throughout society, creating advocates who praise the company and improve its position in the marketplace. Moreover, a campaign may directly help the company increase sales.

Consider the American Express promotion that supported the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. As a result of that campaign, the use of American Express credit cards spiked 27%. The company clearly benefited, as did society, since the promotion generated funding to refurbish a symbol of national pride.

Who benefits from cause marketing?

  • Nonprofit organizations that partner with a brand and appear in advertising
  • Society, as the campaign aids people and nonprofits in need
  • Brands that boost their public image and achieve greater sales

How Companies Can Put Their Best Brand Forward

Helping others is the basis of cause marketing. Companies hope that throwing their support behind a popular cause will reap praise from consumers.

To work effectively, cause marketing requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. To show what it takes to build an effective campaign, AdWeek outlines the four key ingredients of cause marketing.

1. The cause fits the brand

For the effort to resonate with consumers, there must be a clear connection between the brand and the cause. Brands shouldn't pick a cause at random; they should identify a cause that supports their core mission. AdWeek, for example, points to the logical link between Staples, which sells school supplies, and a campaign dedicated to education.

2. Commit to the cause

For the best results, brands shouldn't take a fly-by-night approach to philanthropy. After all, a brand's desire to help a nonprofit won't seem convincing if its support ends the day their ads go off the air. Brands should model the dedication that McDonald's has shown with its support of the Ronald McDonald House for more than 40 years.

3. Company leadership is all in

Before a company delivers a campaign to the public, it should build internal engagement for the cause. It can start by encouraging company leaders and management teams to demonstrate their investment and encourage their direct reports to follow suit. This can turn employees into brand ambassadors who promote company philanthropic efforts to friends and family members.

4. Make helping people mission-critical

Instead of making social responsibility a separate endeavor, companies should integrate it into their value proposition. AdWeek highlights a campaign in which Patagonia encouraged customers to think about the environmental impacts of their purchases. The company brought this idea to life by hosting sessions that taught people how to repair their clothes. Although extending the longevity of clothing may seem at odds with selling apparel, the sessions helped the retailer boost its sales—possibly because the campaign spoke to the company's mission of reducing environmental impact.

Standout Cause Marketing Examples

When carefully designed, cause marketing improves how consumers perceive a company. The blog A-Good Cause has compiled cause-related marketing examples that show how companies can use this tactic for impressive results.

Yoplait and Susan G. Komen

Each year, Yoplait asks its customers to mail back lids from yogurt containers. For each lid received, the company gives 10 cents to the Susan G. Komen organization to assist in its efforts to prevent and cure breast cancer. To date, the campaign has generated more than $26 million in donations, which equates to about 260 million container lids.

Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund

Polar bears have appeared in Coca-Cola's television spots since 1993. When melting ice caps threatened polar bear habitats, Coca-Cola partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to protect areas where polar bears live. Customers took part by texting a phone number that appeared on polar bear-themed packaging. For each text, Coca-Cola donated $1 to WWF. During its first year, the campaign raised $2 million.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project

Personal-care company Dove launched its Self-Esteem Project in 2005. The project promotes self-confidence in young women and combats anxiety related to appearance. Since its founding, Dove has worked with 625,000 teachers to host workshops that promote self-esteem and body confidence. About 1.5 million people have reviewed online materials that Dove created for the project, netting substantial engagement for the brand.

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