Why brands that do good must also do it well

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 8 years ago

Image: Brian Gosset

More brands are waking up to their social responsibility and doing good work through cause marketing campaigns. Yet too many still go about it the wrong way. I mean ‘wrong’ in two senses.  Firstly, they are marketing ineffectively, and secondly, as a consequence their positive social impact is not maximized. Let me explain.

There is a growing awareness among brands that in order to participate in conversations that are taking place across social networks, they must join these discussions on the basis of something that is meaningful to their customers. Yet many still make the mistake of thinking that doing good (whether it’s supporting a cause or having their employees volunteer) will instantly win over their customers no matter what else the brand is doing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If a brand’s well-intended efforts are not in alignment with their core values two problems arise.  Firstly, there is a disconnect in the minds of their customers between how they behave in regards to their products, services and marketing, and what they say about themselves through cause marketing.  Secondly, media-savvy consumers quickly jump to the assumption that such efforts are window dressing or cause-washing which means the brand’s best efforts and cause marketing dollars are wasted.

If a brand genuinely wants to make a social contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do. For only when a brand has defined itself and its core values can it identify causes or social responsibility initiatives that are in alignment with its authentic brand story.

The benefits of this approach are two fold.  Firstly, the brand gets to effectively market itself through cause efforts that are meaningful to their customer base.  And secondly, since these efforts are aligned with what the brand stands for the company simultaneously reinforces its “for profit” brand image.

Put this way, doing good is an all-or-nothing proposition for brands. So here’s where they must start:

  1. Define the brand and its core values. In short, its purpose.
  2. Identify causes or social initiatives in alignment with those values.
  3. Authentically commit, both externally (consumers) and internally (employees) to those causes.
  4. Participate in customer or client conversations around these topics in an authentic and transparent way.

When brands do this, social media will amplify their social efforts, brand reputation and customer loyalty. When a brand seeks to naively or cynically use cause marketing to burnish their image, social media will amplify the damage to their reputation. The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability. Once embraced, a brand’s community will not only think more highly of it but happily promote it as well.

Do you know of any brands whose cause marketing seems disconnected from who they are? What about others that demonstrate alignment?


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  1. Avatar Rob Petersen says:


    Great perspective and viewpoint on how deep the commitment needs to go when a brand makes a point of being socially responsible. Thanks for posting.


  2. Thanks for this, Simon.

    What jumps out at me here is disparity across organizations that try to do something that’s outside their core offerings. For example, if a for-profit company of some kind tries to do something that’s not about making money from their direct revenue generators (ie, marketing their causes), they’re in foreign territory and fall into the trap you’ve outlined.

    Conversely, look at a non-profit organization. The overwhelming majority of those have funding issues because revenue generation is outside of their core operation. I think it’s a two-way street and I’m hopeful that social entrepreneurs can bridge this gap so that we can just have organizations doing good things in a sustainable fashion.


    1. Thanks Dave, I so agree, and I believe the trick is for both the expand
      their core disciplines. As Melinda Gates said at TEDxChange, non profits
      need to become marketers as well as missionaries, and the same shift applies
      to brands. Boundaries must dissolve if both hope to benefit each other.
      Thanks for the insights, Simon.

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