Feb 12, 2004

Cause-Related Marketing

Gives Companies and Their Communities Cause to Celebrate

Cause-related marketing has become a cornerstone of corporate social responsibility, which is about aligning business success with support for the community and society as a whole. Specifically, cause-related marketing means "giving back" to communities by joining forces with non-profit organizations to accomplish something for the greater good, while raising public awareness of a company's corporate and product brands.

When the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of American freedom, needed costly repairs for its 1986 centennial celebration, it wasn’t the government, a museum or wealthy philanthropist that stepped in. It was the American Express Co. that launched a three-month initiative, the Statue of Liberty Restoration Project, to raise funds with the help of consumers. For each credit card transaction, the company donated one cent to the restoration fund; for each new card application, it donated a dollar. The public responded overwhelmingly, boosting card use and new applications to raise close to $2 million dollars for statue restoration.

American Express received kudos from the public and the world. Its campaign marked the birth of an exciting business trend called “cause-related marketing,” which has soared in popularity over the last 20 years. As recently as late 2003, American Express continued its tradition of cause-related marketing by launching a campaign to fund safety improvements that would enable the Statue of Liberty, closed since Sept. 11, 2001, to reopen its doors.

Cause-related marketing has become a cornerstone of corporate social responsibility, which is about aligning business success with support for the community and society as a whole. Specifically, cause-related marketing means “giving back” to communities by joining forces with non-profit organizations to accomplish something for the greater good, while raising public awareness of a company’s corporate and product brands.

In today’s socially conscious world, cause-related marketing could be an integral part of every corporate brand and span everything from advertising and promotions to public relations activities. An effective cause-related marketing program not only enhances a company’s brand image, it can enhance its financial bottom line while bringing needed support to communities. Consumers want to give their business to socially responsible companies, so the value of cause-related marketing is well worth the time and effort a company invests.

A good first step is to form a dedicated committee or department that will spearhead a search for the right cause and non-profit partner. This team would perform the following functions.

  • Manage the relationship.
  • Identify any legal stumbling blocks.
  • Develop strategic messaging.
  • Oversee communications and creative execution for all related media campaigns.
  • Measure return on investment with specific criteria such as the dollar amount raised for charity or an increase in sales revenue.

Ultimately, the right cause-related marketing program also will become an integral part of the company culture and involve employees on many levels.

While many businesses have launched cause-related marketing programs successfully, mistakes are common. For instance, some companies substitute cash donations for true cause-related marketing programs. But most consumers today expect companies to do more than write checks; they prefer to see philanthropy in action. Another common mistake is basing a program on an executive’s pet charity rather than on the pulse of the community. Cause-related marketing programs should be developed partly based on employee, shareholder and customer input, which can be collected with focus groups and online surveys.

Cause-related marketing is a complex, rigorous discipline that is both time and resource-intensive, so you also can consider outsourcing to public relations and marketing agencies that have proven expertise. Agencies can help companies handle everything from selecting the right charity and managing the relationship to strategic messaging, creative execution and campaign results analysis.

Creating a program true to a company’s mission and that brings value to both business and community, is critical to success. When done right, cause-related marketing can give companies, non-profit partners and communities cause to celebrate.

About the author

Walt Denny is the president of Walt Denny, Inc. Walt Denny, Inc. is an advertising/public relations agency that focuses primarily on home products clients. The Home Product Agency was established in 1989. For more information on Walt Denny, Inc., log onto www.waltdenny.com; 630-323-0555.

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