I encountered a bad case of cause related marketing recently in my local convenience store. As I paid for my purchases I was told that they “were supporting a local charity” and asked would I like to “donate some of my change.” My response was to ask if they would be matching my donation and the young man behind the counter couldn’t answer my question!
Obviously, his lack of knowledge / enthusiasm (maybe it wasn’t his fault) didn’t inspire me to donate so I left feeling a little annoyed actually. I mean, even if they were to match my donation, I still might not have donated but at least I would have thought about it more. As a result, everybody lost out and that experience prompted me to write this blog post.
So, I want to write about the topic of good corporate citizenship and the use of cause related marketing mainly. I will also touch on the topic of marketing and philanthropy in our tips section below.
Good Corporate Citizenship and Social Partnerships.
In a previous life, I used to manage corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities for a large corporate. Since then it has become an even more popular opinion that companies should become good corporate citizens. The public is beginning to expect businesses to do more good. Fair enough I say but what does that mean, really? How can they?
In simple terms, I would describe a business doing good, as having a positive societal impact, and not just economic stimulation. Think about my local shop experience above – what if the guy did respond that they would be matching my donation? What if he outlined the charity’s work and explained why the shop was involved? Then, more than likely, I would have donated funds.
The result would have been awareness and funds for the charity. I would have felt better about the shop owner (and myself of course). Consequently, the shop / brand would have reinforced its community image of good corporate citizenship.
The main point in recounting this story is that while being a good corporate citizen does work, it is up to the business (and to a certain extent the non-profit) to undertake formalised communications to make sure that the partnership is a win-win for both parties. This is what we refer to as a social partnership.
We will touch on communications later but at this stage, we should highlight the need for solid research before social partnerships are agreed. Ideally, businesses should choose a cause that is a fit with the shop’s business objectives, a fit with the charity’s values and one that fits with general customer sentiment.
Other considerations for businesses to bear in mind would be how closely a cause connects with their brand e.g. children’s clothes retailer and children’s causes. In light of some recent non-profit controversies in Ireland, it is important that the charity chosen adheres to strict governance and procedural guidelines.
This is a hard one but, I believe that businesses should really avoid personal fund-raising drives as in the absence of controls it may backfire and hurt the brand eventually. They should also be conscious of the level of customers’ interest in a particular cause – perhaps there might well be a popular local cause that requires support.
The biggest threat to a business practising good corporate citizenship is apathy. This may be due to lack of customer / public awareness, a weak link to the charity or worse – the business is only doing it to raise profits for itself.
Our attitude in O’C&K is that whilst businesses might proactively indulge in good corporate behaviour – by all means, let people know about it but care should be exercised that it does not become just another way to grow profitability.
Of course, let’s not forget the other partner – the non-profit. In an increasingly competitive and noisy world, they have to constantly devise new and innovative ways to raise awareness of and funds for their particular cause.
Unfortunately, their passion being focused on providing solutions to societal problems, at times they sell their soul just to source funds for their cause. However, one way that has constantly delivered for both parties, over the years, is cause related marketing (CRM).
Is cause related marketing good corporate citizenship?
In answering this question, we should probably differentiate it from philanthropy.
We outlined our definition of philanthropy in a previous post as being “the desire to increase the well-being of others, expressed by a donation of funds to a cause. No return of monetary value is expected, by the philanthropist”.
CRM, on the other hand, is the coming together of a non-profit and a for-profit to raise awareness and/or funds for a specific cause. It should always have a communications campaign built around it so as such, it is a marketing activity and can be viewed as part of a business strategy.
Cause related marketing nearly always requires a communications campaign which is in itself, a marketing activity.Click to tweet
So we can say that even as part of a business strategy, a non-profit partner can still benefit in ways that will help it pursue its cause. Therefore, yes, CRM can be included as evidence of good corporate citizenship.
Usually, philanthropy is associated with large corporates and CRM with SMEs but of course, a business should undertake whatever social partnership suits.
Because CRM must be understood as a joint marketing activity – both parties should benefit. The non-profit benefits from the funds / expertise / customer base of the business. The cause is promoted across a whole new set of people, across many communication channels and can even receive a % of sales directly.
Similarly, a business benefits due to exposure across a new audience and even a direct increase in sales. As long as the fact that it is a joint business promotion is understood by both parties then various types of CRM can be pursued. Here are some examples:
- CSR, community element – community grant giving by business
- Corporate Fundraising Events – third party events for mutual benefit
- Employee Giving – salary deductions
- Individual Giving – CEO using business to support cause
- ‘Pin-Up’ campaigns – e.g. paying for a star on a Christmas tree
- Point-of-sale donations – see my opening paragraph of this post
- Purchase triggered donations – matching funds donated through purchases
- Product licensing – placing a non-profits name / logo on a product
- Message communication – business uses its channels to promote the cause’s message
As alluded to already in this post – the main challenge is to align the objectives of the cause and the business from the beginning. Also, it is really important that both parties choose the activity that makes the most sense for their organisation, resources-wise.
Based on my own experience in the past, here are 6 tips that businesses might bear in mind when undertaking cause related marketing:
- Align your business values with that of the charity / cause
- Involve all employees from the get-go
- Create relevant merchandise for the campaign, e.g. tee shirts, mugs, games etc.
- If successful, turn it into an annual event
- Make it social media friendly i.e. shareable
- Keep in touch with donors and communicate the impact
There is a caveat here that I should mention. Because CRM has been so successful and is so ubiquitous, it is almost becoming a victim of its own success.
The general public is becoming increasingly aware of the need for donation impact and a deeper level of engagement. There seems to be a move towards support for brands (e.g. TOMS shoes) that have a purpose rather than just a giving attitude towards the communities in which they operate.
The way we see it is that medium length social partnerships are the way of the future because they are based on relationships rather than monetary transactions e.g. charity of the year.
Tips about marketing and philanthropy
We mentioned at the start of this post that we would touch on the topic of marketing and philanthropy. You see, as philanthropy is the giving of funds to a cause without reciprocity, for most philanthropists, it can seem awkward to expose such activity. As a result, any form of communications / marketing is shunned.
This need not be the case.
If corporate philanthropy fits under the umbrella of a CSR programme then awareness can be generated under a marketing banner. This is because a CSR programme can help deliver name recognition, reputation management, improved staff relations and heightened recruitment efforts. The CSR programme may have its own communications campaign and central message.
If your philanthropic activity does not fall under a CSR programme then recognition for same is usually obtained in a more subtle way:
- Increased audience reach – supporters of the cause may be different to your customer base
- Seen as giving more than just money – recognition of time, energy and creativity inputs
- Community appreciation– if not on the Board of the cause then definitely attending events
- Online authority – promoting the cause online boosts both party’s visibility and recognition
The new consumer generation (millennials?) are definitely much more conscious of purposeful businesses than their previous generations. As a result, more companies are re-evaluating how they impact on society. Genuine philanthropy is one such method and seems to be working to strengthen the relationship between brands and their customers.
Yes, a business can still be a good corporate citizen using cause related marketing. CRM works but may be becoming a victim of its own success. There is a fresh breeze of doing good blowing through the corridors of business and social partnerships are becoming a reality. This is in response to people wanting to see more authenticity in return for their custom.
There is no doubt about it but when business and customers join together to make a real difference, positive change happens. Social partnerships can be a good and profitable solution for all parties involved.
“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.
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