At first glance, cause marketing can seem straightforward: choose a cause, broadcast support of said cause, and watch brand loyalty increase. On paper, this plan should work. Millennials are 49% more likely to purchase from brands that align with causes, and 55% of people are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to making positive social and environmental impacts.

However, it’s not quite that simple. Similar surveys also reveal that Millennials are far more likely than other generations to be skeptical towards brands supporting causes. In other words, it’s not enough for a brand to support a cause on paper (and in paycheck-form); they must truly live and breathe the cause inside and out.

So, with both the holidays and the fiscal year end right around the corner, we’re reflecting on the importance of compelling and meaningful cause marketing heading into 2018. Though we don’t have all the answers, here are a few insights for those who are interested in growing their cause support.

1. Choose a Relevant Cause

Though surprisingly simple, our first piece of advice is to choose a cause that’s relevant to both your brand and your consumers. Fans shouldn’t have to read a manifesto or listen to a two-minute anthem video to understand why your company supports the causes they do. Instead, focus on your ownable brand attributes and find where they intersect with both your target audience and a potential cause.

Take Dawn soap, for example. For 30+ years, Dawn has been committed to saving animals affected by oil pollution. Not only do their collaborations with International Bird Rescue and The Marine Mammal Center boost their consumers’ perception of the brand, these partnerships also reiterate that Dawn is the #1 fighter of grease, both on birds in stress and on everyday dishes.

On the flip side, let’s look at the National Football League. Since 2009, NFL players have donned pink during the month of October in support of breast cancer awareness. But the reasons for doing so have never really been clear. For years, consumers have questioned both the league’s motives, as well as the dispensation methods of the money raised, especially once a 2013 ESPN report revealed that only 8.01% of money spent on pink NFL merchandise was actually going towards cancer research. Perhaps this lack of authenticity is why the league switched to supporting multiple types of cancer during October in 2017.

2. Walk the Walk

Though it really should go without saying, carefully selecting a cause and aligning internally to support that cause should always go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough to simply choose a relevant cause; to truly be successful, your company must also walk the walk. Recently, the start-up feminine hygiene company, Thinx, has been called into question for this. Though the brand arguably achieved much of its success by riding on feminist movement, their founder and CEO, Miki Agrawal, was recently ousted based on a long strew of detailed sexual harassment allegations. No matter how you look at it, this doesn’t reflect well on the brand.

On the other end of the spectrum, Patagonia is a great example of a company that is tirelessly devoted to living, breathing, and executing against their cause. Since their founding, Patagonia has been tirelessly devoted to environmental sustainability. And this devotion is evident in the way they run their business, their internal structuring, as well as their marketing actions.

In terms of running the company, Patagonia has donated 1% of their annual sales to environmental charities and grassroots organizations for the past 30+ years. And in 2012, the company became one of California’s first Benefits Corporations, allowing the staff to focus on making a positive impact on the environment versus achieving maximum returns for shareholders. Internally, the devotion to the environment is also evident. The company pays for two-month environmental internships, provides flex time for outdoor activities, and focus on hiring people that truly care about the environment. Finally, can see Patagonia’s cause followed through in their marketing actions. For years, Black Fridays have been solely devoted to helping the environment — whether donating 100% of all sales in 2016, or focusing on repairing consumers’ gear vs. selling new products in 2013.

3. Talk to Your Fans

Our last piece of advice is to bring your fans into the fold. Listen to their conversations about your brand and chosen cause; find ways to help them. As a brand, you’ve hit marketing gold when an unsolicited fan raves about your product on their personal social channels. And if you’re doing our first two points well, this should happen naturally. Take Dollar Shave Club, for example. When a fan reached out, inquiring on how to bulk buy razors for troops in Afghanistan, the brand instead donated 73 razor kits, shave butters, body wipes, and a handwritten letter from the CEO to the troops. The brand didn’t take credit for the act, but rather was acknowledged through the ecstatic fan’s personal Facebook post.

Whether you’re looking to enter the cause-marketing space, or just want helpful advice on an already-existing initiative, look to these useful tips in kicking off the new year on a good note.

Lauren Sweeney

Lauren Sweeney

Founder & CEO

When Lauren’s not providing strategic direction for the firm or delivering results for our clients, Lauren is outdoors enjoying all that Richmond has to offer or traveling to a new and exciting destination.

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