Cause marketing can feel like a dangerous topic, but there are big opportunities for mission-driven firms and not-for-profit organizations alike. So how do you take advantage of those opportunities while avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing and insincerity? There are a few strategies that will help to design and execute your cause marketing plan while increasing your likelihood of success.
Cause Marketing Must be Credible
When you’re outlining your specific cause, or the good deed that you’re doing for your local community or for society at large, consumers must be able to believe. Greenwashing has become so rampant that socially and environmentally conscious consumers are on the lookout for it. If your cause marketing efforts seem out of character for your firm, they will face closer scrutiny.
So how do we make our efforts credible?
We must ensure that our cause marketing efforts are aligned with our company’s values. For example, if your firm is beloved for its commitment to Christian values, advertising a donation to an LGBTQ organization or to Planned Parenthood may not go over well with either your existing customers or your prospective customers.
On the other hand, if you’re a firm dedicated to preserving the natural environment, making a donation to help people without homes may seem out of character, unless you couch it in environmental terms. You might point out how the poor and people of color suffer disproportionately from pollution.
If our efforts aren’t credible, the consumer will not feel the urge to give, and your cause marketing effort will fail.
If you haven’t thought about your company’s values, do it now. 72% of American consumers say that it’s more important than ever for their purchases to reflect their personal values, according to the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics Study.
Cause Marketing Must be Consistent
This is related to credibility: the more consistent your cause marketing efforts are, the more likely the consumer is to believe. A one-off cause marketing effort will be seen as a PR stunt or an attempt at greenwashing. This doesn’t mean you need to do continuous back-to-back cause marketing campaigns; they can get expensive. But do try to do a few a year, and repeat them so that customers come to anticipate the opportunity to give (or help you give) to your cause.
Many companies run campaigns during the holidays that give to the less fortunate, whether in food, funds, or gifts. It may be the only time of year that they execute cause marketing, but since it’s consistent, it’s believable.
You can see how that expectation, that consistency, makes your efforts more credible, and that’s vital to successful cause marketing.
Cause Marketing Must be Transparent
If the details of your cause marketing campaign are handled with secrecy, your customer may cease to believe. Customers giving to a cause want to see that they’re making a difference. Tell them how much money they helped you give, or how much waste they helped you eliminate. Post a picture of a check to your chosen charitable organization on your social media. This helps the customer feel like they were really a part of your effort, and that’s a strong way to build loyalty among consumers.
There’s another reason for transparency; in the internet age, any skeletons in your firm’s closet will be revealed eventually. The more you grow, the more likely this is to happen. Transparent supply chains and production (excluding trade secrets, of course) helps prevent that from happening. If your firm has opportunities to do better, be honest about them and outline a plan to do better. If your firm makes a mistake, own up to it, apologize, and make a commitment to fix it.
Doing so makes your company appear more responsible and more committed to doing good, which in turn makes your efforts more credible. If you wait for problems in the way your firm does business to come to light some other way, your remediation efforts will ring hollow.
Cause Marketing Must be Relevant
Your cause marketing efforts must be relevant. Relevant to your target market, to your local community, or to the current political climate. If you’re targeting young people, environmental messages are likely to resonate, since Millennials and Generation X tend to care more about the environment than older generational cohorts. If your local community is experiencing an environmental battle or crisis, environmental messages will play well with them. If an environmental problem happens to be having a moment on the news, or if environmental regulation is under debate, people are likely to be more engaged and more receptive to environmental messaging.
This might sound a bit mercenary, but it’s the marketing part of cause marketing. You have to be plugged in to what people are thinking, to what the culture is debating. Responding to culture is part of what marketing is. Don’t be afraid to pick a side; you can’t be all things to all people. Just make sure that the side that you pick is consistent and credible for your company, and relevant to your target market.
These are the four basics you have to cover first when considering launching a cause marketing effort. If you don’t put thought and consideration into each one, your effort could fail, and you could alienate existing customers at the same time, resulting in a net loss.