Spring Training: Stop Making These 4 Rookie Mistakes
My favorite line from a baseball movie is uttered by Kevin Kostner in “Bull Durham.” Crash Davis, a veteran catcher trying to school a talented, but undisciplined young pitcher, tells the rookie:
“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
I’m the last person you’d want to go to for baseball coaching, but I do know a thing or two about corporate social initiatives. As complex as these programs can be, I think that it’s crucial to step back at times and get back to basics.
Or as DaveCause (my Twitter persona) would say:
Focus on the cause marketing fundamentals. Embrace a cause, build a strong program, communicate w your audience. Be super transparent.
Our team scouts our field daily to see what new and established players are up to. Season after season, we find that there are some superstars out there, a good number of respectable players and way too many folks making rookie errors.
Among the most common failures:
1. Going to market without clear business objectives – Cause-marketing pioneer Billy Shore, founder of the anti-hunger group Share Our Strength, once sagely told me: “The problem with most cause marketing is that it is too much about cause and not enough about marketing.”
To prosper and grow, cause-related campaigns must have business and social objectives. Business goals can vary greatly from initiative to initiative. Common ones include increasing sales, improving customer loyalty, attracting more job applicants, enhancing retail relationships or boosting online referrals.
This would seem to be an obvious starting point, but year in and year out I see campaigns entered into our Cause Marketing Halo Awards that list no business objectives or results. Or they list the amount raised for charity as a business achievement. Raising money for charity is a noble cause-related outcome that a business can be proud of. Raising money for a nonprofit alone, however, will not keep a company’s lights on or, more importantly, persuade management to keep growing and improving a corporate social initiative.
Put first things first. Figure out your business and cause objectives. Then determine whether a corporate social initiative will generate the financial and social dividends you need to achieve to successfully do well by doing good.
2. Forgetting the three-second rule – People are bombarded with commercial messages all the time. No matter how well intentioned your program is, if it is difficult for people to grasp why you’re embracing a cause in three seconds or less, you are dramatically lowering your chances for success. It’s not impossible for a plumbing company to align with an opera company, but why start off with such a big communications hurdle to overcome? Plumbing and clean water – there’s a no brainer.
3. Failing to create programs of substance – Thirty years ago the novelty of cause marketing allowed even quick in-and-out programs to gain attention and generate results. Since then, cause marketing has become so mainstream that engaging in purpose-driven marketing is not enough to garner much notice in the marketplace.
Today it’s the well-thought-out, long-term programs that are the real winners. The wise players start small with pilot programs, learn what works and what doesn’t on the business and cause sides and then go to scale. (Two great examples: General Mills Boxtops for Education here in the US or Pampers 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine in markets around the world.)
Getting the kinks out before making a lot of promotional noise will enable you to hone your program and diminish the chances of an embarrassing snafu (e.g., a bad fit with a nonprofit partner or press revelations that you haven’t complied with commercial co-venture regulations).
4. Withholding information –With public trust in corporations so low, companies must realize that when they claim to be making positive social impacts some people are going to be very skeptical of their motives and actions.
In the Internet Age, consumers expect clear disclosure of how cause-related campaigns work and have the tools to explore what you are doing and to let others know if they don’t like what they discover. New York and many other states have regulations requiring clear disclosure when a company claims to be making contributions linked to consumer actions (e.g., buy this and we’ll give X, share our page on Facebook and we’ll give Y.)
In spite of that, I continue to be alarmed by the number of cause-related marketing campaigns continuing to use vague language to describe their program mechanics. The marketplace is littered with meaningless announcements that businesses will be contributing “a portion of the proceeds” or “net profits.”
It opens offending companies up to attack and generates skepticism about all enterprises engaged in cause marketing. In my opinion, that’s bush-league behavior.