Not All Attempts To Do Good Do Well

It's that time of the year when all the marketing world is awash in its usual sea of pink, it seems like a good time to ask why so much cause-related branding has so little emotional clout. No matter how well planned, breast-cancer pink (not to mention save-the-environment green or prostate-protecting blue) has often become invisible to cause-bombarded consumers.

The challenge is not just convincing consumers your cause is a good one. They know it is, whether you are fighting autism, feeding abandoned pets or defending rain forests. The task is to convince consumers that it's a good cause for them, and for this very moment.

It's important, because consumers increasingly expect brands to do something good: The latest survey from Cone Communications reports that 89% of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality. And 91% want even more of the brands they use to support a cause.



So it's no surprise that this year, cause spending is on track to climb 4.8% to $1.8 billion, according to IEG. But for marketers to make it count, they need to understand why people want to give. Blandly tapping into consumer altruism creates generic campaigns, and won't fill your customers' core emotional needs.

For example, we've done work for a national organization that was involved in historic preservation. Using MindSight, we learned that while people did care about history, their real need was to feel, in a way, immortal. They wanted to do something that would outlive them. Offering them their name inscribed on a plaque somewhere in the building thrilled them.

In another case, we explored emotional connections to a "micro-lending" philanthropy, that lent small amounts of money to aspiring businesses in third world countries. We got beyond the broad notion of a "helping hand." Donors choose this type of charity because they want to treat recipients as equals -- by empowering them to achieve success, where other types of "charity" seemed demeaning.

People are tremendously varied in their emotional connection to causes: American Express' Small Business Saturday has been a huge hit because it makes cardholders feel financially powerful enough to help their communities; Home Depot's programs to house veterans harnesses its DIY DNA-consumers feel more capable and powerful when they wield a hammer for a good cause.

Which emotional drivers are specific to your audience? What cause will best enhance their values connection to your product or service?

Giving guidelines

Once you think you've found the right emotional fit, keep the following ideas in mind:

1. Give authenticallySince you're trying to find an emotional connection, there's no room for intellectual arguments. It's not realistic for brands to think they can use causes to convince consumers they stand for something different than the world thinks they stand for. Coca-Cola and McDonald's can spend all the money they want to try and link their brand names to anti-obesity efforts, but it doesn't work.

2. Give with each transactionPlenty of companies donate some of their products to charitable causes. But a handful, including Warby Parker, the online eyeglass retailer, and Tom's Shoes, for example, make a product donation for every single purchase. The corporate gifts aren't afterthoughts, they are built right into the brand's character.

3. Give by empowering/personalizingSome brands have chosen to allow consumers to make the cause connection themselves. Target, JCPenney, Kohl's and Macy's, for example, align with many causes, from national parks to literacy to breast cancer to children's museums. This approach dovetails nicely into the trend toward more personalized, narrowcast consumer relationships. But the result can have a diluted impact. When a customer reads that a brand is donating $10,000 to Cause X or Y (and believe us, consumers are increasingly reading the fine print on cause promotions), they aren't likely to say, "Wow, that's generous." They expect to see a meaningful number of zeroes.

It is very hard to please all the people all the time. And you can't expect consumers to believe they can make a difference unless you are willing to get your brand's skin in the game, too. With careful forethought and a bit of research, you can doubtlessly find a way to join your consumers in doing good — in a way that helps your brand business do well.

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