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For the Greater Good: “Cause Marketing” as a Path to Brand Leadership

By Affiliate Ida Cheinman, Principal and Creative Director of Substance151

2010 came to a close to the cheerless tune of slower consumer spending and other not-so-good news, one holiday trend continued strong – corporate charitable giving.

In the past few years we’ve seen numerous organizations making their customary year-end charitable contributions into smart, lasting marketing campaigns that engage their clients, partners and employees at a much deeper level than a one-time monetary donation. Leader brands have come to recognize that social mission plays a critical role in brand building and a company’s commitment to the greater good has a direct impact on its bottom line.

Leader Brands Harness the Power of Social Purpose

Many leader brands have long realized that ultimate success lies at the intersection of economic and social performance and that business leadership, brand leadership and good reputation have become inextricably linked. Many traditionally “profit-first” companies like Wal-Mart, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and GE are already enjoying greater-than-ever brand loyalty and economic benefits that have come from their socially and environmentally responsible business practices and programs. And we’ve seen mission-driven brands like Seventh Generation and Method take the marketplace by storm.

Social purpose as a business value will continue to gain momentum. In fact, future market success will require that brands have social purpose and that corporate strategies create value for their company, their community and the society at large.

Becoming a Leader Brand: Creating a Shared Value

The shift from traditional marketing and advertising to digital and social media brought about a greater expectation of transparency and a stronger trust in word-of-mouth reputation. People want to do business with companies they know and trust – and perceive as holding values aligned with their own.

Building a good reputation requires much more than running a one-dimensional campaign with a primary aim of boosting short-term sales – it requires the clear vision, authenticity and long-term commitment that create a shared value not only between an organization and its audiences but also between economic success and social mission.

Clear Vision

What separates leader brands from their competitors is a clear vision of what’s relevant to their audiences and their ability to create lasting customer involvement. They create relationships versus conduct transactions, engage in conversations versus deliver messages, and share stories versus provide information. Their cause-related initiatives are successful because they are based on real insight into their customers and their customers’ behaviors; leaders understand what resonates with their audiences and compels them to take action.


Most people are aware of the “greenwashing” and “causewashing” that exists in the marketplace and therefore tend to be skeptical of big splashy claims of doing good that have no depth behind them.

According to the newly released 2010 Cone Nonprofit Marketing Trend Tracker report, 61% of buyers take time to learn the details of cause-related corporate initiatives and 75% would like to see the results of the effort.

Provide as much detail as you can about what your company is actually doing and how it will benefit your cause so that your initiative is deemed credible and authentic. And if you are starting a cause-related campaign for a quick PR benefit or simply to jump on the bandwagon – don’t. There’s no faster way to derail your reputation and permanently damage your brand than by engaging in a dangerous game of causewashing.


Social mission requires long-term commitment. Commitment to good must be integrated into an organization’s business strategy and process; it should become a part of its corporate fabric. A real change – both for a company and for its cause – can only be created over time.

Yet, long-term commitment to social mission will help audiences associate a brand with positive social impact and connect strongly with an organization. Like social mission, brand awareness and strong relationships take time to build.

Into Practice: Connecting Customer to the Cause

The cause marketing campaigns of leader brands stem from corporate strategies and are tied to their organization’s social mission. In short, leader brands tend to engage in “strategic philanthropy.” Yet, many organizations rush into creating flashy cause marketing campaigns without establishing strategic goals or measurement metrics for their efforts.

Creating change that positively affects your selected cause or issue and supports your organization’s larger social mission requires a carefully planned approach. Before you begin planning your cause marketing campaign ask these questions:

–        What type of cause or nonprofit partnership aligns with your brand and is relevant to your audiences?

–        What communication channels are best suited to convey your message and engage your audiences?

–        What is your desired impact – both on your company and society?

–        How will you measure success and report it?

–        What will provide opportunities for a long-term engagement and, therefore, a better way to build deeper relationships and trust?

–        Are you looking to create a high degree of interaction or engage your audiences by providing frequent updates on the impact of your efforts?

Consider an integrated marketing strategy where each tactic builds on other communications, creating a strong singular voice for your campaign. Traditional media, such as direct mail, may be appropriate in some cases, while digital marketing can provide a relatively low-cost, but direct, targeted and measurable way to reach your audiences. Social media, grassroots tactics and nonprofit–corporate partnerships can extend your reach, educate audiences about your cause and your involvement in it, and build a community.

Be open and specific about what you are looking to accomplish – for the environment and/or community and your company. And create ongoing communications about how your initiatives have brought about social good (for example, how much money was raised or how many people, trees, acres, gallons of clean water, square feet of shelter, etc., were significantly impacted due to your efforts).

In Summary

Remember that increased sales, greater market share and employee recruitment are only potential outcomes – the short-term goal is meaningful social impact. Use the power of your brand to create change, and the visibility and your good reputation will translate into long-term success for your organization.

Substance151 is a strategic brand communications firm for organizations on the edge of evolution – whether that evolution is inspired by growth, changing conditions, stronger competition, new customers, products and services, or a desire for a stronger, more relevant brand. Our expertise includes every step of the branding process – from strategy through design, across print and digital media, and including all aspects of marketing communications.

To engage us in helping you become a leader brand, please call 410-732-8379 or email


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