In the 21st century, it is not at all unusual for companies and brands to sponsor or prominently associate with charitable causes. For some companies this is a matter of conviction or values (as it should be, but more about that in a moment). But for many, cause-related marketing is a strategic decision based on the assumption that such associations improve overall brand perceptions among a company’s customers and the general public.
Now, a shopper study reveals that cause-related marketing really does influence brand perception, and in some cases, brand purchase.
The study, conducted by The Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research, queried 1,200 US shoppers of both sexes on a number of cause-related strategies. The leading finding was that “personally relevant causes” are the biggest driver in determining whether cause-related marketing will influence a purchase, with 70 percent of respondents identifying this strategy as effective.
Personal relevance holds appeal for both sexes, but women identify more strongly with “emotional” causes. Women identify most with brands supporting medical research and disease prevention. Other emotionally appealing causes include social change, faith-based causes and animal and child welfare. Ease of purchase also affects women’s support of cause-related efforts; women show a clear preference (44%) for buying brands where every purchase triggers a donation, such as Yoplait’s “Save Lids to Save Lives” 13-year affiliation with breast cancer research. Surprisingly, when asked to choose between two similar brands supporting the same cause, donating with every purchase was preferred even when the brand not using that method was willing to contribute more to the cause. (This is the kind of consumer decision making that drives analysts and account planners nuts!)
Among men, more rational appeals are effective; men are more likely to contribute to causes that effect social change through direct monetary benefit, such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or similar organizations directly serving the public good. The second most-supported cause among men is faith-based charities. In general, men are less likely to make a brand purchase because of cause marketing or sponsorship than the general population, while women are more likely to do so.
According to Integer’s “The Cause Report” (Issue 3.11 of The Checkout), brands and companies investing in cause-related marketing should consider the following:
- Tailor cause marketing to the target audience. Male audiences like rational appeals, women go for emotional ones. Also consider what cause will be most appealing to the audience, and what tactics will best serve the promotion.
- Customers need to have a stake in the cause. Personal relevance is a key success factor; what matters in the lives of the brand’s customers and prospects? The goal of cause marketing is to build personal connections that will translate into brand support and purchase.
- Tying purchase directly to giving doubles cause marketing benefits. Not only do customers like donating with every purchase, but many will buy more frequently because of the donation element.
- Brands should commit for the long haul. The top brands cited by survey respondents have a lengthy history with their specific causes. Yoplait, General Mills’ “Boxtops for Education,” Campbell’s and Girl Scouts of America, etc., are campaigns consumers know and trust, because the brands have supported these causes over many years.
- Cause marketing should focus on the cause, not the brand. The benefits will come back to the brand over time, but striking the right tone matters to consumers. You’re not selling, you’re giving.
A final word on cause-related marketing: Select a cause that fits your brand and company values. Today’s savvy consumer will spot a “bad fit” quickly, and virally contaminate the cause effort via social media and Internet blowback. The right cause affiliation, on the other hand, will build the brand, its credibility and reputation—and move more product.