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Cause Marketing 101: How to Build Brands by Doing Good

Esther Cohen | April 28, 2022 | 6 minute read

Understand the fundamentals of Cause Marketing and how it can benefit your agency and its clients.

Doing good has never been more important.

And for brands, it has also never been more profitable.

Cause Marketing isn’t new - brands supporting good causes is one of the oldest plays in the book. But for a generation jaded by aggressive marketing and battered by the pandemic, supporting good causes is more critical than ever.

If you want to reach this audience, you have to make Cause Marketing a core part of your marketing mix.

In this guide, I’ll present a case for Cause Marketing. I’ll talk about the numbers, discuss the core philosophy, and show you how you can offer it to your clients.

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Cause Marketing 101: The Important Numbers

The importance of Cause Marketing can be captured in this single chart:

Simply put: Gen-Z and Millennials care deeply about social issues and will choose brands that align with their beliefs, far more so than Baby Boomers.

This phenomenon can’t be overstated - it really does signal a monumental shift in the way consumers choose their brands. Value and quality, while still being important, are not the only criteria for their decisions.

What do these younger consumers care about?

Authenticity. Shared social values. Doing good.

The numbers swing even harder in this direction the younger the demographic. Millennials might care about authenticity and social good, but Gen-Z will vehemently support brands that do social good. It’s not just a “nice to have” for this generation; it’s a must-have.

Consider the numbers:

  • 72% of Gen-Z say they’re more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes.
  • 75% of Gen-Z want to leave the planet in a better state, and will support brands that aid in that mission.
  • Nearly 80% of Gen-Z consumers surveyed by McKinsey refused to buy goods from companies involved in scandals.

Of course, price is still important, especially for Gen-Z which just entered the workforce and doesn’t have the discretionary spending power of older generations. But by and large, the trend is clear: for younger generations, values are as important as price in making purchase decisions.

(Image source)

The pandemic accelerated the trend even more. Corporations and even consumers that might have earlier paid lip service to social good were quickly reminded of the need to work together. 

In one survey, more consumers than ever (76 percent) said that they would only buy products from brands they trust. Another global PwC survey found that customers were far more likely to care about social good, sustainability, and supporting local communities in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Interestingly, the survey also found that affluent (and more lucrative) consumers were more likely to care about sustainability. 

In other words, being - and doing - good is simply more profitable. A win-win for everyone involved.

The data is quite clear: for younger consumers, social good is a core mission, not just a value add. It isn’t enough to simply offer more value or better quality; you also have to show that your products are sustainable, that you support local communities, and that your brand - and company - ultimately stands for social good.

This is precisely the approach behind Cause Marketing. And if you want to win younger consumers, you have to tie your brand to one (or more) cause.

In the next section, I’ll discuss some strategies for tackling Cause Marketing.

 

 

Cause Marketing Strategy: 5 Rules for a Successful Campaign

Cause Marketing can be surprisingly hard to tackle. You can’t approach it as a traditional marketing play where you create a message and blast it out from as many channels as possible. It’s far more subtle and demands far greater involvement.

If you want to add Cause Marketing to your marketing mix, there are a few things to consider:

1. Be authentic

Cause Marketing is an all-in effort. You can’t fake it, nor can you put in a half-hearted attempt. 

I’d even say that a half-baked attempt will detract more than it will help. Consumers can smell inauthenticity from a mile. They can tell when a brand really cares about a cause versus when it’s just running a PR exercise.

Just consider the number of cause-related ads by top brands. In this crowded space, a lack of authenticity isn’t hard to spot.

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Regardless of the scope and scale of your Cause Marketing campaign, make sure that it’s something you truly care about.

 

2. Get management buy-in

Want your Cause Marketing to fail fast?

Easy: choose a cause that upper management doesn’t care about.

Your Cause Marketing campaign will find it much easier to get the budget it needs if your management also cares about it. If senior stakeholders don’t buy-in, you’ll have a hard time getting approvals, resources, and most importantly, the company-wide organization needed for the cause to succeed.

This isn’t something most marketing managers think about when they start a Cause Marketing campaign, yet it's often the top cause for failed campaigns.



3. Align with your brand values

There’s a mistaken belief that brands must only pursue causes their audience cares about.

The truth is that you’ll get a lot more mileage by picking causes that align with your core values and mission statement. 

A great Cause Marketing campaign isn’t a one-off thing. The most successful ones are usually a perpetual pursuit for the company - something embedded in its core culture. 

Think of Patagonia and its mission to preserve the environment. That’s not something the brand adopted because its customers showed an inclination towards it; it’s a core goal for the company.

Sure, factor in your audience’s preferences, but ultimately, do something that aligns with your brand’s culture and values. Only then will your campaign have the longevity necessary to succeed.



4. Avoid trends, choose longevity

The easiest way to ruin a Cause Marketing campaign is to jump from one cause to another depending on whatever the zeitgeist currently cares about. 

You can spot these brands easily - they’ll run commercials about the environment one day, social justice the next day, and before you know it, neither the customers nor the company knows what the brand stands for.

Cause Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. A successful campaign should have a measurable impact on the issue it seeks to fix. If you’re jumping from cause to cause within months, you’re very unlikely to achieve that.

Whatever cause you choose, ask yourself:

  • Can we commit to this for five, ten, or twenty years?
  • How enthusiastic are our people about supporting this cause? Will this enthusiasm fizzle out in a few months?
  • Does this cause align with what we truly believe in?
  • Will people care about this cause in twenty years?



5. Go small before you go big

Most problems that brands seek to address are usually big - save the environment, end hunger, fix social injustice, etc.

Addressing such massive problems on a large scale is impossible, regardless of your budget. Your brand can’t fix the environment on its own. It can’t end world hunger. And it can’t fix endemic social injustice.

What it can do, however, is fix these at a small scale. Maybe you can do something to fix air pollution in your town. Or create a homeless shelter. Or donate to social causes locally.

Small scale solutions will have a far bigger (and immediate) impact - just what you need for a successful Cause Marketing campaign.


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Cause Marketing and Your Agency

Now the big question: where does your agency fit within all this? What role can you play in a Cause Marketing campaign? And more importantly, how do you pitch Cause Marketing to new and existing clients?

The first thing you should know is that Cause Marketing is fundamentally an internally led endeavor, with the agency largely playing a support role. 

You can guide decision making and help brainstorm ideas, but any substantive Cause Marketing endeavor will have to be led by the client itself, especially if the goal is to turn it into something beyond a cynical marketing exercise.

As I said earlier, if there isn’t substantive involvement from the top, the cause is likely to fail, and so will the marketing campaign.

As an agency partner, you can, however, help the brand:

  • Find brand-cause alignment
  • Research and understand audience beliefs and favorite causes
  • Create and collect collateral for marketing campaigns
  • Share and promote results achieved through the cause

It’s important to understand this distinctively new role. Agencies, particularly those that focus on smaller clients, aren’t used to the client leading the campaign - at least the grunt work part. Smaller clients, too, will need to be convinced of the need to take the lead in any Cause Marketing initiative. 

That said, agencies do have a role to play in leading smaller campaigns focused on short-term trends, especially the ones that play into the core causes supported by the brand.

For instance, if the brand supports fighting social injustice, your agency can play a role in creating and spreading content on topical social injustice issues (say, like Black Lives Matter). 

Essentially, think of it as a relationship where:

  • The brand identifies a broad cause and devotes resources to fix it
  • The agency identifies trending issues related to that cause and creates campaigns around it

This dynamic can be a tough sell, especially if you’re trying to convince clients that they need to act on their own to pursue the cause. However, if your clients want to continue winning younger audiences, this is something they’ll have to do. 

Appeal to their own corporate beliefs and values. Point out the causes upper management supports in a personal capacity. And lastly, share the data about younger audiences and their consumption preferences.

 

At the end of the day, doing good is its own reward. But if you can do good and grow your brand’s revenues, it’s even better.

 

Over to You

Cause Marketing is more complicated than simply running a campaign supporting a social or environmental issue. There should be brand-cause alignment and real results to back up the campaign, else you can come across as inauthentic.

However, given the importance younger consumers place on doing social good, developing Cause Marketing as a core part of your marketing mix is worth the effort.

Of course, a great Cause Marketing campaign is a multidisciplinary effort. You need resources from across your agency to make it work. This is why tools like Workamajig are great for getting insight into your Cause Marketing campaigns.

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