Cause Marketers: Stop Beating Yourselves Up!

A headline recently stopped me in my tracks: “Marketers don’t practice ROI they preach.”

The Ad Age story revealed the “emperor has no clothes” truth about much marketing spending: it is often tough to quantify marketing impact, even tougher to forecast ROI.  

It cited a Columbia University/American Marketing Association survey of senior marketers that found 57% don’t use anticipated ROI as a criterion when setting budgets. Twenty-eight percent admitted they based budget decisions on gut instinct.

Having spent the last decade studying, and often defending, cause marketing, this news about the state of overall marketing made me laugh. It outed the hypocrisy of some critics of cause marketing -- the strategy of achieving business goals by linking companies and brands to social causes – who argue that it is too difficult to measure the impact of campaigns designed to do well by doing good.  

Balderdash.

There is nothing unique about the challenges of measuring or anticipating cause marketing impact. Cause marketers face the same bevy of challenges that confronts other types of marketers:

  • A dearth of data: In many cases there is neither the time nor budget to conduct market research that would quantify a campaign’s anticipated impact. And program impact research – which would be used to benchmark and better plan subsequent campaigns – is frequently cut when budgets get tight.
  • Too much data: Many packaged goods marketers are drowning in so much data (e.g., syndicated consumer research, retailer data, coupon redemption figures) that they have trouble digesting it.
  • New media: With so many new forms of digital and social media hitting the market, techniques for measuring the value of these types of impressions and interaction are still being invented.
  • Differences of methodology and opinion: The Ad Age article cited an example from the recent Marketing Accountability Standards Board summit. The value of General Electric’s brand ranges from $30.5 billion to $50.3 billion depending on which brand valuation firm’s report you are reading.
  • Politics: The same data can be interpreted to tell very different stories based on the attitude and objectives of the presenter.

My point is not that cause marketers shouldn’t be analytically rigorous and data based. They absolutely should be. It’s dumb not to do your best to use data to plan effectively and build measurement into campaign designs.  And if a cause marketing campaign can’t deliver business and social dividends, it should be fixed or dropped.

On the other hand, cause marketers should stop beating themselves up about the difficulty of measuring the business impacts of their programs. It’s a major challenge for most marketers.

I’m happy to report that research for an upcoming book  uncovered an expanding body of data-rich case cause marketing studies shared by businesses like Procter & Gamble, Marks & Spencer, Subaru of America and General Mills.  For example:

  • Subaru has data showing that its annual Share The Love Event has boosted sales, improved brand perceptions and reduced the need to offer consumers other incentives – all while raising millions for its nonprofit partners.  During the year-end program, Subaru offers to donate $250 to each new car buyer or lessee’s choice of participating nonprofits.
  • Procter & Gamble’s Pampers has experienced significant sales lifts and improvements in brand image among Western European consumers aware of its “1 pack = 1 vaccine” program. The campaign has already provided UNICEF with funding for vaccinations to immunize 100 millions mothers against maternal and neonatal tetanus.

These and others provide hard evidence that well conceived and executed marketing and corporate social initiatives can build a better world and the bottom line.

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1 comment about "Cause Marketers: Stop Beating Yourselves Up! ".
  1. Joel Johnson from GMMB , April 9, 2012 at 9:50 a.m.
    David, I couldn't agree more! One thing I want to add to the discourse, increasingly, cause marketers are turning toward social media. We have seen an explosion of nonprofit technology, social innovation technology, and social media cause programs. From Razoo to Crowdrise, it's plain to see, campaigns with results. When brands partner with Care2, Do Something or Ashoka, these organizations are prepared to demonstrate and show results and case studies. Because these tools are digital, the lend themselves very well toward measurement. And they even work when integrated into a holistic program with "live" grassroots campaigning. I think we as cause marketers must remember that we're marketers first and therefore must make ourselves conversant with the tools of measurement as they continue to evolve, particularly in digital.