Re-engineering Cause-Related Marketing

Marketers Get to the Core of Cause as Consumers Demand More

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Cause-related marketing programs are often looked at cautiously by consumers who have many purchasing options. Despite the controversy surrounding it, KFC's "Buckets for the Cure" campaign raised more than $4 million for breast cancer research last year. Both the charity and the brand took hits on their images as numerous organizations and donors questioned the relationship between a company selling fried food products and a healthcare organization. Yet, as an ongoing trend, cause marketing's staying power is due to marketing and foundation officers getting much more strategic in reaching their core audiences, consumers, retailers and employees.

At Allison & Partners, we have talked for years about how cause-related marketing should be ART -- authentic, responsible and transparent -- and numerous surveys have shown that customers and employees are demanding that companies be more transparent about their giving endeavors.

So why are marketers saying cause marketing is dead? Well, let's start with the obvious: The quote grabbed headlines and made people think. Yet, over the past few years, marketers have been paying more attention and their programs can be more direct through social media and employee engagement. Campaigns such as KFC's have led marketers and nonprofits alike to question even further why they do what they do. Is it about sales? Is it about reaching a specific demographic audience? Of course it is . Nonetheless, consumers and employees are demanding more; they are looking for relevancy that adds more credibility to the brands to which they are loyal. And they actually have higher expectations.

If we look at the Cone-Roper reports since the mid-1980s, they have all emphasized the value of customers' opinions on cause marketing and their willingness to switch brands and retailers. The million-dollar question corporations have been trying to answer is , "Can we build deeper relationships with our customers (retailers and end users) through a cause relationship and still increase sales?"

If we could re-engineer cause-related marketing, better questions would be, "If we could make our company really stand for something important, will our customers follow us? Can we create sales programs that can truly impact a social issue, not just make press headlines?"

Allison & Partners recently implemented a corporate study in conjunction with the Cause Marketing Forum to gain an understanding from executives at 35 corporations on why they believe such cause marketing programs succeed or fail. The top three findings indicated that :

  • The cause must be a good match for the company, brand and target audience; therefore, more importance should be placed on employee and consumer feedback.
  • Internal alignment on the business case must be achieved before the campaign is launched -- this could happen by engaging senior leadership and employees earlier in the process through research.
  • Unsuccessful campaigns are hung up on low sales results while successful campaigns use additional metrics to determine their achievements. Companies must be innovative when developing success metrics.

Allison & Partners has been active in the realm of cause-related marketing since the agency's inception and has executives who have practiced it for more than 20 years. As we counsel clients to make the proper long-term choices for their brands, we spend time aligning their core values and decision-makers with their employees and customers to help them determine the issue they want to address rather than just jumping on the bandwagon of the cause du jour. If the brand selects an issue for its corporate communication platform -- a platform we call Corporate Socialanthropy -- this foundation can be used for all internal and external communications, and presents companies with an opportunity to make a long-term impact, not just meet short-term sales objectives.

This process empowers a company to pick an anchor charity partner, but does not limit it in finding new ways to help solve a problem by aligning with other like-minded organizations. If a partner cannot fulfill its partnership obligations, the corporation doesn't have to drop the issue and start anew. Instead, this approach allows it to find similar, compatible organizations that can help bring its mission to life without confusing the customer or employee.

The bottom-line message to the C suite is that creating effective, meaningful cause relationships is a long-term process that will help them create a brand legacy, not merely a quick sale. It's about employee recruiting and retention, and creating the next generation of leadership that not only embraces the corporate culture but also helps to create a better tomorrow for consumers. Marketers need to embrace the idea that this is not a quick-fix marketing solution but a long-term commitment to a cause that is relevant to a long-term relationship with your customers. It's not a date, it's a marriage.

Scott Pansky is a partner and co-founder of Allison & Partners, a midsize public relations and public affairs firm celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month.