People doing volunteer work

Are you targeting your customers’ passions?

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it can be difficult for a brand to stand out. Marketers are looking for new and innovative ways to reach and make a connection with customers. At the same time, growing social consciousness means that today’s consumers are increasingly looking for something to buy into, not just something to buy.

Cause marketing is one business strategy that can help marketers more closely align with their customers’ passion for promoting social good, while at the same time growing their businesses. It’s not a new concept. Look at McDonald’s and its Ronald McDonald House Charities, which was started in 1974. Since then, the program has helped millions of families of children with life-threatening illnesses and has become the cornerstone of McDonald’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan to influence long-term social change

Cause marketing programs have been on the rise in recent years. Today’s consumers are more likely to trust and engage with a brand and a company if they believe it is having an impact on improving society. For marketers, this provides key insights into buyers’ behaviors. All things being equal, 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about, according to a Cone Communications CSR study. At the same time, 55 percent of surveyed consumers are willing to pay more for products from cause-supporting brands.

While this trend likely varies from industry to industry, it makes sense to consider CSR in your marketing mix. In general, purpose-driven brands are more successful at attracting customers, recruiting top talent, retaining employees and delivering financial returns.

Is cause marketing right for your business? It’s certainly not for every marketing situation. However, when done right, it can help make positive changes and impact your bottom line. Here are some strategies to consider.

Align with business strategy – and your customers

Nirvana is reached when your cause marketing campaign aligns with your business goals and customers.  Evaluate your business objectives, your customers and your company culture. What is your higher purpose and what does the company or brand stand for? Does the cause align with your business strategy? Determine if there is a cause or social issue that’s based on your company’s business model and values — and something that is important to your customers.

Bring in as many perspectives as possible and seek input from employees and customers. You need them to be on board and committed. Do your research. What is the benefit that your brand brings to the world through your business? This is the nugget that customers want to believe in. Find that nugget, execute it well, and they will follow you.

Just look at the Thank You Farmers campaign launched in 2013 by fast-food chain Culver’s. While connecting growers to diners, the mission underscores sustainability initiatives and commitment to quality food ingredients at Culver’s. The campaign clearly resonates with customers — just look at the social media engagement. The centerpiece of Thank You Farmers is giving back to family farms through young farmer education and Future Farmers of America (FFA), another important audience. And it’s integrated into everything the company does.

Commit to the cause

This program at Culver’s shows a commitment that is a must for success. A fruitful campaign is woven into the fabric of the company culture and is demonstrated over the long term. It’s more than writing an annual check to a local food bank or conducting a single event. Get some skin in the game and be authentic in your purpose and execution.

The best programs engage people — customers, prospects, influencers — for the long haul. Think of it the same way you think of building a brand; it takes place over time and is constant in its purpose. This drives people to your brand and makes them come back for more.

Toms’ One for One program is built on the premise that for every purchase a customer makes, a product will be given to someone in need. If a customer purchases a pair of shoes, for example, another pair is provided to a needy child (more than 60 million pairs have been donated). One for One originated from founder Blake Mycoskie who, while traveling in Argentina years ago, witnessed children growing up without shoes. He vowed to help do something about it when he created the company. That passion now extends throughout the company, all the way to loyal customers who feel as though they’re making a difference with every purchase.

Get everyone on the bandwagon

The Culver’s and Toms examples show us how a successful cause marketing program is only as good as the people who get behind it — from your cause partner to employees and stakeholders to your customers. When it comes to the cause partner, identify someone who will be all in. You will also want to be able to grow that partnership over time. This will strengthen the campaign and also bring new opportunities and program extensions to light. Toms has continued to revisit its campaign and has extended it from shoes to include donations of eyewear, water and birth kits. The campaign is still recognizable to its audiences, but the campaign has evolved to fill additional needs and keep customers engaged.

Also, look at your campaign as a way to keep your employees engaged and attract new talent. Six out of 10 millennials say that a sense of purpose is one reason that led them to work for their current employer. The Conagra Brands Foundation provides a great example of how a cause becomes an integral part of a company’s culture, focusing on raising awareness for food insecurity and helping to bring healthy and nutritious food to those in need. Through the foundation, Conagra engages its employees as it partners with leading local and national nonprofits with multi-faceted programs aimed at crushing hunger.

American business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett once said that we should look at the qualities we most admire in others and cultivate those habits in ourselves. “Just imagine if you could be given 10 percent of the future earnings of one person you know. Would you pick the smartest person? The fastest runner? No, you’re going to pick the person that has the right habits.”

Your customers are looking to align with the brands and companies that have the right habits — those with whom they believe. Is your business strategy aligned with your customers’ passions?