How To…Tap Cause Advocates to Boost Earnings

We are in the midst of a holiday season fraught with contradictory needs. The economy needs a boost from consumer spending, but shoppers are wary of parting with their dwindling dollars. Nonprofits have more people in need of help, but fewer funds available to address those needs. Companies need the reputational benefits of contributing to society, but fiscal uncertainties threaten their social commitments.Fortunately, companies can link economic opportunity with social good this holiday season by engaging with one of the most socially minded consumer groups in the marketplace. Meet The Advocates It is hard to define consumers with social or environmental interests--traditional marketing demographics simply do not apply. Yet, the 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study uncovered a group of socially engaged consumers, or "Advocates," who represent a little more than 20% of the American population and who believe businesses should advocate for social and environmental change. Although they are not the most socially and environmentally active citizens ("Activists"), this group is by far the most willing to support causes through consumption. According to the study, 94% of Advocates have a more positive image of companies that support causes that are important to them (compared to an average of 85% for all American adults) and nearly nine in 10 will switch brands to one associated with a good cause (compared to 79% average). Perhaps most telling, of the entire spectrum of consumer subgroups in the 2008 segmentation, the Advocates were most likely to have purchased a cause-related product or service in the last year (46% versus 38% average). But for the Advocates, shopping alone does not suffice. They value the chance to roll up their sleeves and experience the issue: 86% want to learn about a social or environmental issue (compared to 74% average); 83% want to change their own behavior, such as eat healthier or reduce their environmental footprint (compared to 72% average); 81% want to donate to a nonprofit identified by a company (compared to 66% average); and, 75% want to advocate for an issue (versus 64% average). Business Implications What does this mean for businesses that want to engage socially conscious consumers this holiday season and beyond? Lead with the heart: Understanding the issues these consumers are passionate about is critical to developing a marketing strategy to reach them. Generally, they are interested in causes that relate to basic human well-being, such as health and disease (92%), hunger (89%), the environment (89%) and access to clean water (88%). If this consumer feels a personal passion for a cause or for a particular nonprofit, more than 90% will support a company's efforts. Communicate the details: Advocates are highly supportive of cause-related marketing (96% versus 85% average), and they want to hear about it. Almost unanimously (97%), socially engaged consumers believe companies should tell them the way they are supporting causes, but a mere 57% believe companies are providing enough details about such programs. Seize the opportunity to discuss your efforts. Tap social media: Advocates are highly attuned to social media channels. In particular, nearly half use the Internet to search for information about social issues/causes, and 39% will forward such messages to friends and family, a much higher percentage than their consumer counterparts. Offer multiple opportunities for engagement: Provide a spectrum of opportunities to get involved. Engage these consumers by sharing tools that allow them to give individually and provide opportunities to learn about the issues and platforms to speak about causes important to them. Provide ownership: Socially engaged consumers (89%) enjoy the opportunity to choose the nonprofit that receives funds. Campaigns, such as the American Express Members Project, put consumers in the driver's seat. By providing a sense of ownership, they can achieve a deeper level of consumer engagement and loyalty. By leveraging the crucial assets--namely, the hearts and dollars--of millions of consumers, brands can raise funds and awareness for critical social issues. The companies that successfully connect with the Advocates in these tough times will create brand loyalists for tomorrow. PRN CONTACT: This article was written by Devi Ramachandran Thomas, a senior supervisor at Cone.

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