Businesses choose to exercise their social responsibility through cause marketing for a number of reasons. Hopefully, topping the list in every case is a real desire to help those in need and to improve our world. In addition to such altruistic motives, businesses can also strive to increase sales and build their brand.

The 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study, among other studies, validates that cause marketing can encourage consumers to view a company’s brand more favorably. In fact, according to the Cone study, 85% of Americans say they have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause that they care about. And, 79% would be likely to switch from one brand to another that supports a good cause.

Before selecting a cause, consider first which causes align best with your brand and target audience. Here are some suggestions for creating a campaign that’s a win-win:

  1. Understand your brand first. Do you have a mission statement that clearly defines your company’s goals? Do you know how your brand is perceived by employees, customers, prospects and competitors?
  2. Select a cause focus area that aligns with your goals. Consider the key areas that Americans want companies to address in their cause programs, also from the Cone study: Education – 80%; Economic development – 80%; Health and disease – 79%; Access to clean water – 79%; Environment – 77%; Disaster relief – 77%; Hunger – 77%
  3. Ensure you have buy-in from senior-level executives. If key employees and other stakeholders don’t believe in your cause, neither will your audience.
  4. Select a clearly identifiable name for your cause. One that is graphic and unites your goal to your organization will be most effective; e.g., American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women and Target Take Charge of Education.
  5. Cement your branded cause marketing with an integrated strategy. Begin at the grassroots level and engage both community members and volunteers through local fundraising events. Communicate through a variety of channels including e-mail marketing, point of sale promotions, a dedicated “micro” website, public service announcements and local celebrity endorsements. Experiment with social media, too, by creating a Facebook page or inviting followers on Twitter.

Perhaps your greatest asset as a business is your reputation. By aligning your brand with socially significant values, you’ll help ensure your corporate viability far into the future.

- LuAnne Speeter

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