Getting Rid of the Fear in Cause Marketing

Self"s 'Good' Survey Reveals Ways to Move Past Skeptical Consumers

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Kimberly Anderson Kelleher
Kimberly Anderson Kelleher
When it comes to getting active in cause marketing, one thing can paralyze a company. Self VP-Publisher Kimberly Anderson Kelleher tells what that factor is, based on the magazine's latest Good 1.5 research being released next week, and how smart companies can overcome it.

Fear. It can be a paralyzing emotion. In the area of cause marketing, it often has exactly that effect on companies.

So what is everyone so afraid of? Well it's not really what but whom. Whom do they fear? I would say no one is more feared than the skeptic. So how do I know this?

Since October 2007, Self has been traveling across the country with our Good research, which explores women's emotions resulting from the good a consumer perceives she does by purchasing socially responsible products and brands. Skepticism was the area most questioned by those who saw the study and was actually the top reason companies gave for not talking about the good they were doing. We don't think fear should ever drive action, so we set out to really understand this scary person to see, first of all, if the fear was justified, and if so, if there was a way to conquer that fear.

To start off, our study asked four questions that touch on skepticism. Three questioned company intentions. One even questioned truthfulness. It's interesting to see that in none of the four individual questions was a majority skeptical:

The Skeptics: Percent in Agreement

  • I feel like the company is only doing good things to get me to buy its product: 39%
  • I feel like the company is trying to distract me from the bad things it's doing: 32%
  • I feel like the company is trying to make me feel guilty: 11%
  • I don't trust the company is doing what it says it is doing: 33%

These four questions identified true skeptics. To qualify as a true skeptic, women had to agree with at least three of the four statements. Only 16% of those sampled did so. In other words, skeptics are a small segment of the consumer population. Still, fear of skepticism is stopping companies from embarking on or talking about a good program.

It's not good logic. By sitting on the sidelines, a company does nothing to allay the skeptic. And for the vast majority of customers, who are nonskeptics, they are not given the opportunity to experience the emotional benefits that we see come to women from knowingly supporting companies that do good.

The Skeptic Revealed

Self's research uncovered a lot about the skeptic. As expected, she is more inclined than the average person to focus on the negative. While she is more likely than nonskeptics to pay a lot of attention to the good things companies are doing (51% vs. 42%), she is even more likely to pay a lot of attention to the bad things companies do (66% vs. 48%).

So it would logically follow that they would be less likely than others to purchase a brand that does good, right? Actually, no. In reality, the skeptic isn't only more likely to frequently purchase products from companies doing good things -- but by a wide margin (53% vs. 41%).

So how do we reconcile this contradiction? We need to start by looking at what is personally motivating the skeptic. This person has a deep emotional stake in good. Skepticism is her way of guarding something in which she is truly invested. So her reactions are protective.

Self's study included countless results showing that skeptics are among the consumers most involved in good, but I'll share one to make the point: They are more likely to be involved in 13 of our 14 measured causes -- sometimes by differentials as high as two times.

So rule No. 1 in thinking about skeptics: They are coming from a place of caring. Good matters even more to them, and they react protectively or defensively. Think of them as a group not to be feared, but one to be embraced. They want to get on board; it just might take a little more effort to get them there.

Derailing the Skeptic

So how can companies "declaw" the skeptic and head off the skepticism they fear so much? The two key words to apply are transparency and constancy.

Let's start with transparency. It needs to mean more than "full disclosure" and instead be about a commitment to ongoing communications about your program. Think of it more as a dialogue:

  • First off, always show where detailed information can be found, whether in ads, collateral, etc. And provide as much detail as possible about where the money is going. Even go a step further if you can and include third-party sources who endorse what you're doing.
  • Explain the fit between your company and your cause. Don't assume consumers understand. For example, show your consumer how your involvement has made a difference in your culture and workplace, and she'll be better able to appreciate how genuine your efforts are. I can't tell you the number of wonderful stories I've heard about how employee enthusiasm has driven cause efforts within companies. It actually allows employees to feel proud of where they work, and that pride is contagious.

Constancy should include emphasizing the length and continuity of your cause commitment. But again, make it mean more:

  • Prove that the initiative is not a "one-off." Provide a time line of your commitment. Even better, extend it into the future and help consumers look ahead with you.
  • But also expand it to include adherence to a code of behavior that applies to all aspects of your business. It's not about doing good on one side to hide the bad you are doing on the other. It does matter how you treat your employees, how you manufacture your products, how you interact within your community.
  • Finally, be sure to respond proactively to any negative press, comments or buzz. Don't wait for it to become a huge issue. And "respond" doesn't necessarily mean "refute." Explain the situation as best you can and what you plan to do moving forward.

So stop thinking of the skeptic as your enemy. Instead, nurture the connection and welcome her questions. She can be your best friend.

To learn more about Self's Good Initiative, or to refer yourself, a co-worker or employee to receive Self's Good Works newsletter, contact Kimberly Anderson Kelleher, VP-publisher, Self magazine, 212-286-3945, kim_kelleher@condenast.com.

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