Corporate social responsibility benefits the community, lifts employee morale and provides a deeper connection between customers and brands. It also has a positive impact on brand image. So much so, it's common for companies to include cause marketing—the marketing of a for-profit product or business, which benefits a nonprofit charity or supports a social cause in some way—into their overall brand strategy.
While intentions may seem altruistic, consumers can see right through the brands that are more interested in their image rather than the charity they’re supporting. It also doesn't fare well for companies that try to use clever tactics that end up falling flat. Take note of these tips so everyone wins: the brand, the consumer and the cause.
Choose a Cause That Relates to Your Business
The charity or cause you align with doesn’t always have to link 100% back to your product or service, but it should match your company’s own core values and not raise eyebrows. The closer you can link the two, the easier it will be to market it. If you’re a food manufacturer, it makes sense to team up with an organization whose mission is to end world hunger. However, if sugary desserts are your main product, supporting a diabetes foundation is probably not your best bet.
KFC learned its lesson when it jumped on the pink bandwagon and donated money to a major cancer research foundation for each pink bucket of chicken it sold. There was one catch. Medical experts have found a connection between eating fatty, high caloric food and the risk for breast cancer. The last thing you want is for your customers to scratch their heads and wonder if you’re in it for the right reasons.
Engage Your Audience
It’s easy to write out a check and call it a day, but if you invite your audience to participate in the campaign, it gives them another reason to feel good about their purchase or using your service. In 2015, Nationwide launched its Make Safe Happen campaign, a program focused on increasing awareness and providing tools to change home safety behavior. Not only did the company invest in various non-profits that benefitted the safety of children and families, it went a step further and created tools and resources and held educational events to raise awareness.
If you do involve others in the campaign, please make sure it’s not an awkward experience. You’d think that’s obvious, but do you remember Starbucks' #racetogether campaign? Imagine walking up to your barista at 7am to order a cup of coffee on your way to work, just to be asked for your opinion on racial issues. It’s hardly the time or place to squeeze in a 10-second conversation on such a controversial topic.
Your Philanthropic Efforts Should be Authentic
If you want the public to take you seriously, your cause marketing strategy should be well-thought out with a clear purpose, in line with your company’s values and show compassion. If it’s an after-thought or thrown together haphazardly, the impact you’re expecting won’t be there.
According to JConnelly’s Chief Innovation Officer Ray Hennessey, “When social commitment works for a brand, it is because of one thing: mission. If social commitment isn’t core to what you do, it shouldn’t be part of what you sell.”