Choosing a cause in cause-related marketing

Choosing a cause in cause-related marketing

Cause-related marketing campaigns can help companies to raise awareness of third-sector organisations, while also strengthening their own brands – but it’s essential to choose the right cause up front. Here are five tips to help you decide.

Whether it is the 300 million tetanus vaccines that have been funded through the Pampers and UNICEF partnership since 2003, or the nearly £2m that Innocent has raised for Age UK with The Big Knit campaign, there is no shortage of examples of successful cause-related marketing campaigns to persuade today’s marketer to consider the concept.

Yet, regardless of the potential return, it is a major investment and – as with any major investment – it is vital to pick the right cause to support. The history of cause-related marketing is littered with examples of partnerships that produced little benefit for the brand, and many which produced a negative effect.

For instance, KFC’s 2014 pink ‘Buckets for the Cure’ may have been a well-intentioned initiative, but it prompted a flood of complaints that eating fatty food is strongly linked to breast cancer – hardly the message KFC was looking to promote.

So, how do you avoid mistakes such as this and select the right cause for your organisation to support?

1. Consider your values and skills

Katherine Shenton is the marketing director at digital innovation firm Futurice. It has just announced the launch of its Chilicorn Fund, which has a budget of €500,000 to support organisations and projects that have social impact by providing them with access to Futurice's digital design and implementation expertise. 

Shenton offers this advice on selecting the right partner: “In choosing which cause to support, businesses need to think about their values as an organisation and as a brand. They also need to consider what skills and expertise they have that could make a real difference. The project or cause they choose needs to feel like a natural extension of what they already do as a company.”

2. Choose a cause close to your heart

Sometimes, the issue is more personal. In many cases, the choice of charity partner simply comes down to the life experiences and charitable inclinations of the business owner or marketer making the decision.

“Colleague experiences, personal passions, and what drives our clients helps steer our selection process for charitable activities,” says James Dempster, MD at digital marketing agency Cobb Digital.

“Our prime focus throughout the year is raising money for Rockinghorse Children’s Charity in Sussex. The brilliant team at its special care unit, who looked after my son Archie, rely solely upon donations to carry out their work. In a time of successive government cuts, business involvement at a local level has never been so crucial for the survival of voluntary charities across the UK.”

3. Involve staff in the decision

Whichever approach you decide upon, you should involve staff in the decision. This is a golden opportunity to engage and inspire them in a vision of their company and job as more than simply a way to make money and pay the bills. Energise them with a sense that their work is making a world a better place and the organisation will reap the rewards.

“Rather than it being a top-down decision by management, it's really important to involve employees in the choice of cause to support,” says Shenton. “Ideally, they should drive it. At Futurice, we believe that empowering employees to take part in charitable initiatives is as important a benefit as gym membership or free fruit in the office.”

4. Do your due diligence on the charity

It is a good idea to perform due diligence checks on your potential charity partner in the same way you would with any other partner. After all, you want your donations and hard work to do as much good as possible.

The most basic step is to check that it is indeed a registered charity. Shenton offers this advice: “Take your charitable efforts as seriously as any profit-making project; carry out market research to identify what is out there already, to make sure efforts aren't being duplicated. And make sure the charitable project has clearly identified goals that are measurable.”

5. Commit to long-term activity

Natasha Mudhar, CEO and MD of Sterling Group, has coordinated many high-profile philanthropy campaigns over the years. She advises marketers to see it as more than a simple one-off activity and to build it into a long-term relationship.

“A crucial element of this association is the demonstration of commitment to the cause you have chosen, in the shape of continuous creative and strategic activity,” she says. “Supporting a cause is important, but seeing it through until the key objectives are reached is the defining element of a successful and meaningful association.”

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you and your long-term charity partner need objectives that are aligned from the outset. This requires an open and frank discussion where all involved define their expectations of input, activity, finances, co-ordination and outcomes. Once you have all those aligned, you have found your non-profit partner and are ready to start work together.

Alex Blyth Writer
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