To be sure, there is no one answer. Marketers will find success by creating compelling content people wish to engage with. Marketers will find success by utilizing the communicative properties of social media to listen and react to their consumers. We are also seeing that the next generation of consumers (aka people) will demand a new level of social responsibility from marketers. According to Giving USA, in 2007 US corporations gave only $16 billion to charity, representing less than 5% of all giving in the U.S. for 2007. This is during a year in which U.S. corporations spent in excess of $300 billion to convince people to buy their product or service.
So, if people are in control and are becoming more and more socially conscious, and marketers want to reach people, then the amazing potential exists for corporations to redirect a significant portion of that $300 billion spent on self-promotion toward charities instead -- which will, in theory, convince people to buy their products.
This is referred to most commonly as cause marketing. Simply put, if you see a company making a difference in the causes that matter to you, you are more likely to buy their products. And, even better (especially within social media) you are more likely to share that company's products with your friends. And "you" is a mighty strong advocate; how else would "you" win person of the year!
Will Johnson, COO of SocialVibe, and the person I steal a great number of my Spin topics from, has a great write-up on the current state of corporate giving and cause marketing (a term he doesn't seem to like) here: "The $300B Equation - Can Brands Get it Right?"
So we know that there is lots of room, and reason, for dollars to shift from traditional marketing to cause-based marketing. Still, there's a tough issue to face. Under the category of "If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?," companies are forced to ask "If I do good and there is no one there to see it, does it make an impact?
This is a MAJOR role for agencies in the new marketing landscape. Corporations would love to allocate more money toward making the world a better place, but they have to run a business; they employ people and answer to shareholders. But in the new media landscape, there is no reason that with the right marketing strategy, they can't do both!
Imagine measuring ROI for charitable donations. Imagine empowering people, who we all agree are in control, to turn your marketing dollars into charitable donations, because those people can now help you spread your message. This will certainly be written into law in the new contract between people and brands with regards to advertising.
Those of you who know what my company does will obviously perceive more than a little bit of bias in my position. But I will say this: we didn't start on the cause side; people drove the platform to where it is. Listening to people has helped me understand that consumers will demand more meaning from their marketing.
How do you see consumers giving meaning to marketing?