Don’t Make ‘Tactics’ the Enemy of Your Corporate Citizenship Strategy

Jun 11, 2014 4:10 PM ET
Anne Erhard, ‎SVP, Cause Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility at MSLGROUP presents “Cause + Video Closeup” at Cause Marketing Forum 2014.

By Anne Erhard, ‎SVP, Cause Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility, MSLGROUP

After attending Cause Marketing Forum 2014, I left with renewed excitement for businesses today committing to social good. If I’m being transparent myself, despite being a self-proclaimed “cause marketing freak,” I entered the event fearing we were collectively losing our way in this space. However, I left the events hopeful that we’re getting back on track to successfully bringing together public and private sectors for long-term progress.

What had been making me nervous about the fate of cause marketing, was that in this fast, changing, competitive, budget-cutting world, we were getting caught up in the latest, coolest, quickest tactics…to the detriment of spending enough time, budget, and energy on the strategic foundations. The clutter, the noise, the mini fundraising drives, the one-offs, the “fakes,” – they may get short-sighted attention, but miss the boat on driving real business impact and can give cause marketing a bad rep.

Don’t get me wrong, the tactics are changing and we must change with it. As a marketer, I don’t ignore this. The content, engagement, stories and channels are evolving. We must keep with overall marketing trends to get our cause marketing messages heard. And we learned plenty of ideas for how to do this – my own presentation even focused on the tactic of video storytelling within the broader marketing mix.

  1. INVITE participation
  2. ENGAGE and reward
  3. TELL compelling stories
  4. SHARE multi-channel, mix up content

So what is making me so hopeful? The overarching themes that struck me from the speakers, presentations and award winners was that sound strategy and big bold goals continue to be king. We heard from solid corporate citizens about best practices and success secrets across CSR and shared value initiatives. I’m thrilled to report, they fell back on the strategic principles my colleagues and clients have been driving forward for a decade:

  1. CLEAR business/brand alignment
  2. REAL, needed social impact
  3. MEASURABLE business results
  4. EVOLVE for long-term commitment
  5. SUSTAINABLE solutions
  6. FOCUS on niche issues

It’s true – these are not new principles. We know this formula – it works! As such, we cannot confuse the best tactics with the strategic underpinnings needed. So I was thrilled to hear about corporate brands either starting with great storytelling tactics and backfilling impactful strategy, or re-evaluating promotional processes and frameworks to ensure solid strategy at the outset.

TOMS was one of the companies that threw away the rule book on cause and innovated with their “1 shoe given for 1 shoe bought” business model. These guys were rewriting the rules. Yet, these innovative storytellers and smart marketers — who admittedly were not in the business of cause marketing or economic development when they started – are now, through trial and error, adhering to some long-standing strategic best practices.

They realized (with the help of consumers, partners and activists) that shoes weren’t the only or biggest need in some markets. So, they partnered with the right NGOs to get the shoes to the right people and compensated them for the operational expense of doing so. They realized that gifting shoes may jeopardize small business, so they started creating a supply chain in the countries they are giving in to build jobs and markets to make impact sustainable and long-term. They realized that the one-for-one model may result in the best story but not always the best solution.

And now sales of TOMS eyeglasses help provide eye care and treatments as well as actual eyeglasses based on the biggest need. The marketing team was challenged to simplify communications and engagement but the company was able to do the due diligence, listen to experts, and deliver on both the bottom line as well as the social impact. It helps that social good is literally baked into their business model so their social good challenges became business imperatives to solve. In fact, it is their innovative business model and breakthrough storytelling, paired with traditional truths in cause marketing that are making real magic happen.

MARS INC. did an audit of their cause marketing efforts across the globe and realized the ones that weren’t working and weren’t having a business impact were the short-term, one-off examples that were not strategic, particularly business or brand aligned, or very attractive to retail partners or customers – all of which are necessary for ensuring the sales success in addition to social good success. So, they are focusing on delivering a framework with the most brand aligned models, along with piloting and testing in certain markets to ensure longer term, more sustainable, successful social impact and case studies.

I challenge marketers, nonprofits and companies to tell some amazing corporate citizenship stories this coming year, while ensuring they are not making short-term splash the enemy of smart, sustainable, long-term strategy or real impact.