The latest downturn in the economy may have companies questioning their spending on cause-
related marketing (C-RM). If you are the C-RM Champion in your company, or would like to be, it
may be up to you to make the case not only for maintaining C-RM, but for ramping it up to meet
business goals. Companies that make C-RM central to business objectives can be successful in
challenging economic times.
The last thing a company should do to weather a temporary downturn is cut back in areas deemed
critical to future competitiveness. In hard times like these, your corporate values will show through
and loyalties are built, and your employees and other stakeholders will notice.
1. Brands should buck conventional wisdom and differentiate themselves in a
meaningful and relevant way.
C-RM is a strategic business partnership between a for-profit company and a non-profit
organization that provides a positive return on investment for the business while raising
money and visibility for the cause. When executed correctly, C-RM is a win-win for a social
cause or nonprofit and the corporation. It’s a business-building tool and a true marketing
strategy, not a charitable contribution or write-off.
2. Consumer mistrust of public and private sector leaders is at an all time high,
and for good reasons.
Bailouts, CEO golden parachutes, corporate greed and scandals continue to be headlines.
Product or service price reductions may have you wondering why you should implement or
continue C-RM in these challenging times. The answer: Cutting back or cancelling C-RM
activities now can damage your brand and lead to accusations of using your partnerships
with causes merely for public relations.
3. Marketing is about making connections.
Utilize C-RM to link your brand to the wants, needs, lifestyle and interests of your
stakeholders. Doing so will help you connect with them in a way no other marketing
tactic can. If you choose to reduce C-RM, it could break that critical link.
4. Consumers demand corporations be socially accountable.
A Snider, Hill & Martin Study (2003) found that 82 percent of respondents believe that
firms should engage in social initiatives, while 76 percent believe these initiatives would
benefit not only society but also the firm. These findings were confirmed in the Cone Cause
Evolution Study (2007), which reported that 83 percent of Americans believe companies
have a responsibility to support social causes, and 92 percent value companies that
positively impact social issues more than those who do not.
5. C-RM is a proven tactic in improving employee recruitment and retention efforts.
In 2007, Harris Interactive found that 87 percent of college students want to work for
companies that support charitable causes. That trend isn’t just among Millennials.
A 2004 Deloitte Touche Study found 72 percent of all employees in the U.S. want to work
for companies that support charitable causes.
Your company can leverage the power of motivated, passionate employees for profitable
growth and employee recruitment, retention and productivity. Companies with C-RM that is
focused on business objectives, based on issues material to each individual company and
responding to societal needs are often successful in challenging economic times.
6. Do more with less. C-RM does not have to cost a dime.
Imagine your workforce establishing and engaging in meaningful efforts and relationships
beyond the holiday party or summer outing. C-RM will enable your brand to capitalize on
the ‘volunteerism’ trend. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of volunteerism
— not just for the cause or nonprofit but for developing superior leadership skills and
encouraging cross-function teamwork among employees. Like your consumers, your
employees are also looking for meaningful connections.
7. Help your employees become brand evangelists.
Your employees can be your brand’s best spokespersons and boosters, and C-RM efforts
can help make your entire workforce become vested in the business. The result: Your
employees work for you not because they have to, but because they want to.
This is especially true with larger retailers that have historically have high turnover rates.
One such company, Staples, is combating the trend with C-RM. Through the Staples Soul
Program, the retailer donates the proceeds of sales of its Easy Button —up to $1 million
annually — to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Also, Staples will donate $3 to local schools
for every eligible ink and toner cartridge recycled at their stores. C-RM efforts such as these
help boost worker retention and will encourage your employees to be brand evangelists.
8. C-RM is a proven way of driving sales.
In 2003, a Cause Evolution Study found that 87 percent of Americans would switch from
their current brand to one associated with a good cause if price and quality are similar.
Five years later, Duke University’s Behavioral Cause Study verified this finding. In the study,
182 consumers were exposed to cause-related and traditional corporate print ads for one
of four brands in a regional magazine, then were sent to shop in a mock store featuring 150
products. The result: Consumers bought brands associated with causes. A shampoo brand
with a C-RM ad saw a 74 percent increase in sales while a toothpaste brand experienced a
28 percent lift.
The second phase replicated the study among 1,000 online shoppers. It found consumers
spent almost twice as long reading cause-related ads versus generic ads. Shampoo sales
gained five percent while toothpaste sales increased 19 percent.
The bottom line is that cause-related marketing helps drive sales while creating good public
relations for your company.
9. Brand specific ROI measures are proprietary, and nobody is sharing.
But that doesn’t mean C-RM isn’t working. Proctor & Gamble has practiced C-RM for decades, executing both brand specific and
corporate-wide programs here and abroad. Do you think P&G tracks the return on
investment for these programs? Of course it does. While the company isn’t releasing ROI
numbers, P&G would not continue supporting and increasing their C-RM efforts if the
returns did not perform at least as well as their other efforts. Just because we don’t know the
numbers doesn’t mean it’s not working.
10 The needs of the community will be increasing.
Strong businesses need strong communities, and vice-versa. Communities will reward the
brand heroes that made a true connection with them. The beauty of C-RM is that it is a
win-win tactic for the corporation and the social cause or non-profit. The cash infusion from
corporations into the non-profit sector is critical, especially today given continued cut-backs
in public sector contributions, and an anticipated drop in private sector contributions.
In the aftermath of past economic downturns, there have been winners and losers. Bradlees and
Lechmere gave way to Target and Best Buy. Pan Am gave way to Jet Blue and Southwest, and so on.
The current situation will be no different, except this time brands have the opportunity to form lasting
connections with consumers by utilizing C-RM. But your C-RM efforts must have purpose and must
be complement your other marketing efforts. When executed correctly, C-RM will pay dividends
in both the short and long-term by positively impacting your community, your consumers, your
employees, and most importantly, your bottom line.