Return Cause Marketing to the Heart of Your Strategy

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So many organizations feel like they need bring causes into their marketing, and similarly, need to add social media to the mix. It’s a bit of a checklist game, and thus the quick drive to add a contest with online voting or simply create a cause purchasing campaign with a popular charity like Komen or a safe one like autism.

What’s often missing is an understanding of how causes can positively impact a corporate strategy and culture. Whether it’s furthering technology issues, addressing some of the ills a product creates, or simply rewarding your employees or customers with an investment in a cause that they care about, a smart cause marketing effort can infuse a corporate brand with some well needed positive karma.

In that sense companies need to look at cause marketing — particularly if it involves engaging customers online — as a tool. It’s one that allows the company to demonstrate acts of corporate social responsibility, and enable its stakeholders to feel a part of the larger enterprise. Like any tool cause marketing needs to reflect corporate strategy, and thus help execute it.

So strategy helps justify cause marketing online, but also maximizes opportunities for success. At the same time, it needs those things that make any communication to a stakeholder work — authenticity, transparency into why the organization is doing it, and frankly, well thought out programs that don’t contradict the intent.

Many marketing and nonprofit people critiqued a recent Komen/KFC campaign from both sides of the fence (check out Bill Sledzik’s excellent discussion). The reality was the intent may have been outstanding on both parts: Fight the impact of fried chicken as applied to obesity via one of the most storied brands out there, combating a disease that weight gain provides a contributing factor, and do it with the largest donation ever to that brand ($8 million). But because the money was funded through fried chicken sales as opposed to grilled or other products, it seemed insincere.

Actions need to follow strategic intentions. When the tactical execution does, the results can be quite amazing.

Consider the fantastic success Haagen Dazs has experienced (case study by J.D. Lasica). Bees, in particular honey bees, are disappearing from our world. There are a few reasons scientists are debating, but the impact on our food supply cannot be underestimated.

Haagen-Dazs, which uses honey in its products, decided to combat the issue: “Honey bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients that define our all-natural ice creams, sorbets, frozen yogurt and bars.” This is a natural tie to the corporate mission, while creating an obvious corporate social responsibility tie. Haagen-Dazs launched a microsite and a Twitcause campaign through the #HelpHoneyBees hashtag, raising $7,000 in two days last November (”Bee Buzz generated: 643,748 tweets”).

Not bad from a branding standpoint, and you never really saw any criticism of Haagen-Dazs for this. It was an obvious win–win-win, for the bees, for customers and for the company. This was an optimal cause marketing program for the 21st century.