Roll Over, Cause Marketing (As You Know It): The Future is Building Causes into Your Business

The Edelman goodpurpose 2010 Study And What it Means for Companies
Nov 4, 2010 2:35 PM ET

We love the idea of disrupting the status quo of corporate giving.  Changing the landscape of corporate philanthropy – and specifically, giving companies an easy way to build causes into their existing business transactions while igniting grassroots giving and (yeah we’re bold) changing the world – is what we’re all about at Benevity.

So when we read that one of the topline takeaways from the 2010 Edelman goodpurpose® Study was that “Nearly two-thirds of consumers feel that it is no longer enough for corporations to simply give money away to good causes, they need to integrate them into their day-to-day business” we were pretty excited.  And when we saw Carol Cone’s choice quote: “Cause-related marketing as we know it, is dead.  It is no longer enough to slap a ribbon on a product.  Americans seek deeper involvement in social issues and expect brands and companies to provide various means of engagement…we call this the rise of the ‘citizen consumer’” we were practically giddy with validation for Benevity’s approach. 

You know the saying, ‘if you’re dead, lie down’ – well that’s how we feel about perfunctory, single-company-single-cause, no consumer or employee input cause marketing and community investment.  It’s time to build causes meaningfully into your business and to give your customers, employees and partners a seat at the social responsibility table.  It is a far more effective way to deploy philanthropic and cause marketing budget if ROI is one of your goals.  And, among other evidentiary ammo - like statistically significant experiential customer results - we have the new Edelman goodpurpose 2010 Study to prove it!

Talking Causes and the Future of Cause Marketing with the Founder of Edelman goodpurpose
And we’ve got back up for our optimism.  Because we had the chance to talk about the goodpurpose Study and some of its implications with Mitch Markson, Chief Creative Officer of Edelman and founder of Edelman goodpurpose.  What a galvanizing conversation! 

Embedded Causes and “Action-sourcing”
At Benevity, we want to help companies tie or embed giving into their existing business transactions to bring greater intimacy and resonance to those investments.  We weren’t necessarily expecting to learn something new about the idea of companies weaving causes into their customer and employee facing processes from talking with Mitch.  But we did.

Mitch introduced us to the new concept of social “actionsourcing”: analogous to crowdsourcing, it’s his idea that companies should think about how they can source collective actions for people to contribute in whatever way they can.  And to be more creative about how companies build causes into their business models. We like the idea – and we’re kinda keen on the new term as well – as it’s something that we’ve been putting into action as we help companies implement our software platform (at its essence a highly customized giving engine) to power their community investment, cause marketing and other corporate giving programs in innovative ways that spur engagement from customers and employees while enabling interaction with multiple causes. 

Bye-bye, old school cause marketing, hello flexible cause choices and real-time matching!

The most prevalent cause marketing M.O., the single-company-single-cause approach, seems to us inconsistent with the findings from and implications of the new Edelman study and the Cone data that came before it.  Benevity’s approach espouses companies to empower more cause choices - perhaps around cause pillars like health, the environment, kids, water, etc.- and to incent corporate chosen causes through matching offers, charitable gift cards and other means.  Just like in a workplace giving context, if engagement is the goal, these campaigns need to be ongoing and changeable throughout the year, so a platform that supports all charities makes sense. 

Mr. Markson, who supports greater choice while also recognizing the strategy of creating company supported corporate causes, noted: “There is no one killer cause.  And there are more examples, like Pepsi Refresh and American Express’ Members project, that allow consumers to source or choose their own causes.  This isn’t just about the company and the cause.  It’s about a brand or company being a catalyst for causes; it’s brand as catalyst – not brand as hero.  It’s about companies facilitating something that your customers and employees can get involved in, it’s a co-creation movement.”

From Benevity’s perspective, we mostly concur.  We think that what’s more important than the connection between the cause and the brand is the connection between the cause and the customers/employees, or, in other words, the extent to which the cause (or causes) resonates with consumers.  We also believe that, generally speaking, as more people get involved in giving back, it becomes less likely that corporate chosen causes will have broad enough appeal to cut across the retailer’s targeted segments or cohorts.  In order to be effective, the cause needs to matter to the customers of the brand.  Don’t forget, in today’s uber-connected social broadcast system, your brand isn’t what you say or do about it, it’s what your consumers and other stakeholders say or do about it. So there is in fact a killer cause: it’s the one that matters to the consumer or employee you’re trying to engage!

That’s a big part of why we’re seeing more companies trying to actively involve their customers in cause marketing by doing things like the crowdsourced cause programs that Mr. Markson mentioned, such as Pepsi Refresh, Chase Community Giving and Target Bulls Eye.  The challenge with most of these is that they are often voting-based programs (where consumers vote on which charities or projects to which the company should donate) that occur on social networks outside of customer experiences with the company and that can be de-motivating to those who care enough to vote but whose causes aren’t selected as winners.  It’s also a reason why we’re seeing such interest in our technology at Benevity: companies are looking for an easy and cost-effective way to embed flexible, choice-driven giving into their existing customer experiences, under their own brands and using mechanisms that not only empower choice, but still enable the company to create bias toward chosen charities or pillars that are strategic to them through donation matching offers, charitable gift cards and other innovative donation incentives.

On the matching front, Mr. Markson’s comment is clear. “This whole idea of matching makes sense.  And companies could approach it with creativity – it shouldn’t be just about money but maybe there are ways to match time and talent and space, whatever companies can offer to help causes.” And it makes sense for all concerned: if I’ve got the budget anyway, am I better off giving a big cardboard check to my chosen charity, or using those funds to incent other activity to perhaps double or treble the impact?  And if I’m a NPO with donors, don’t matching offers give me a good reason to promote your company to my donors, because I can turn $1 from them into $2 or more?  Yes, we’re passionately biased, but to us it just makes sense…

The 5th P of Marketing: Purpose
The 2010 goodpurpose Study highlights purpose as a purchase trigger.  In fact, for four years in a row, U.S. consumers rank purpose as significantly more important than design/innovation or brand loyalty as a purchase trigger when quality and price are the same.  To coin Edelman, purpose is the fifth “P” of marketing, alongside the traditional 4Ps of product, price, place and promotion. 

And knowing that purpose drives purchases, what are companies to do? Mr. Markson suggests that companies look at purpose more closely, more holistically and more creatively.  “Purpose can be part of brand design and innovation.  Even though companies haven’t traditionally considered purpose as part of design and innovation processes, purpose can be ‘baked into’ their product design, innovation and marketing.  Businesses can weave purpose into their processes and be rethinking about how to add purpose to their products, brands and companies, to make it more meaningful.”

We couldn’t agree more at Benevity.  Thinking creatively and interactively, moving beyond the “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done it” approach to cause marketing and community investment and truly thinking comprehensively about how to weave causes and giving – of all kinds, not just money – is what we help companies do. 

Coming next in the Part 2 of this article: From Report to Real Business: How to Take Action on the 2010 Edelman goodpurpose Study