Despite the wonderful work and contributions made by corporate foundations through their cause marketing campaigns, there is a fundamental obstacle that cause marketers must overcome if they hope to truly have the impact our world at scale and build the bottom-lines. This obstacle is the integration of purpose into their for-profit business model. Much like sustainability, for too long cause-marketing has been viewed by many brands as an add-on, afterthought or PR exercise, independent of its profit-driven business strategies. Yet in the social business marketplace, in which brands must increasingly establish why they’re meaningful to the lives, cause marketing is now one of the most effective strategies for business-building and positive impact.
As such, companies now need to end this false separation between profit and purpose, and see cause marketing as a natural extension of the core values of the brand. When a company does that the benefits are two-fold.
First, they enjoy even greater PR benefits thanks to their authentic commitment to a cause, and this translates to customer goodwill, loyalty, and ultimately profits. Secondly, by defining the company’s purpose, and choosing to do cause marketing that’s in alignment with their core values, such cause marketing reinforces the for-profit brand narrative of the company. It also avoids a mistake often made by cause marketers who support an initiative that’s not in alignment with their brand, and so they create a disconnect in the mind of the consumer who then suspects them of cause-washing or duplicitous motives.
In terms of how a brand integrates purpose and profit, and establishes a cause marketing strategy on that basis, there are several choices open to every company.
1. LEADERSHIP: Leadership can determine independently what the brand stands for, its core values, and choose non-profits whose work is in alignment with the objectives of the brand.
2. EMPLOYEES: Leadership can collaborate with employees, engaging them in the process of brand definition and cause-marketing outreach, so that they’re already invested in the social benefits.
3. COMMUNITY: A company can reach out to its customer community, sharing its best articulation of the brand purpose and the causes it would like to support, and ask for the input of its customers as to which one nonprofit or charity they’d like to support. Or perhaps there is a mix of several nonprofits, all of which are in alignment with the purpose of the brand.
The benefits of such an approach are multifaceted. Not only will leadership enjoy a sense of fulfillment through the contribution that they make, but there are many bottom-line benefits.
1. EMPLOYEES: When you create an employee force that knows what a company stands for they feel better about working there because they are making a contribution to that larger purpose. It is far more cost effective to keep an employee than find a new one. Plus companies are far more capable of attracting top talent.
2. COMMUNITY: By engaging employees and consumers in the process of cause marketing, you also create a tight-knit community aligned around shared values, ensuring that they all work towards the success of the brand from the point of view of profit and in terms of their positive impact on the world.
3. SOCIETY: By contributing to a cause that’s meaningful to leadership, employees, and consumers, brands can improve the well-being of society at large, ensuring that there is a thriving economy in which to operate, and a prosperous middle class that can afford to buy their products.
In the context of a persistently dire economy, and record consumer distrust of brands, cause marketing is an absolutely critical element in the mix of business strategies today. A brand must finally integrate purpose into its for-profit business model so that it can satisfy the new demands of consumers which include authenticity, transparency, and accountability for their impact on their employees, consumers, and our world. Those that do this will be the ones that inspire a community to build their business with them, and they will be the ones who will most effectively leverage social media to amplify their message and be the business success stories of the future.
Here’s a list of some effective cause marketing campaigns that effectively align purpose and profit:
• LARGE BRAND: Nike LIVESTRONG Campaign
• PRODUCT BRAND: Pampers UNICEF Campaign
• SMALL BRAND: Invincibelle Hydrangea Campaign
What other benefits do you see to the integration of cause marketing into the for-profit business strategies of a brand? What do you think are the greatest obstacles to more brands committing to this?