‘Flavor of the Month’ for Cause Marketing?

Retail icon JC Penney is at a crossroads. Declining sales, upheaval in pricing and promotion strategies, and turnover at the top of the organization.create an uncertain future for the company. In an effort to define the JCP brand and become relevant again with consumers, the company has announced a cause support program called JCP Cares. Shoppers will have the option to round up their purchases to the next dollar, with the change going to a cause designated by the company. A unique feature of JCP Cares is that a different cause will be supported each month.

A “flavor of the month” strategy might work for selling ice cream, but it is not the approach a business should take for engaging in strategic philanthropy. Cause marketing is far more than a platform for raising donations; it should be used to articulate a brand’s values and meaning. Selecting causes should focus on one or a select few causes that resonate with a brand’s target market. One to three initiatives (general issues or causes) should be identified as priorities. Then, the marketing and human resources a firm possesses can be used for good to provide support.

JC Penney’s intentions are admirable. Among the causes it plans to support through JCP Cares are USO, Boys &Girls Clubs, and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The causes JCP Cares have selected are not the issue; the number of causes supported spreads the resources of JC Penney too thinly. Also, it will be difficult for the brand to be associated with the various causes because of the short-term nature of the cause promotions. Also, with such a large number of causes supported, consumers could be confused about which causes JC Penney supports.

Cause marketing should not be viewed as a sales promotion that can create short-term sales gains. Instead, cause marketing is a means for a company to involve its customers in supporting a nonprofit or charity whose mission and values represent priorities for all involved. JC Penney – figure out what is important to your customers, then marshal your resources to create spectacular cause marketing programs. Your customers will admire you, and the “cause of the month” can be replaced by an ongoing commitment to strategic philanthropy.

Marketing Daily – “Penney Reaches Out to the Right”

Purpose Defines a Brand

As a father of three sons (ages 23, 16, and 12), I realized a long time ago that children have a knack for being able to teach adults… if we can stop long enough to pay attention to what is going on around us. When I allow myself to see the world through the eyes of my children or others that I am around, it inevitably results in a better understanding of what they see and face on a daily basis. I have to remember that I am not a know-it-all adult but rather a person who is committed to continuous learning and development, including obtaining wisdom from children.
The impact that children can have on adults does not include our professional lives – or does it? I have concluded that yes, children can shape our understanding of business. This view was reinforced after reading about how a 9-year-old boy had started a cause and given away a trip to Disneyworld to the family of a fallen soldier. Brendan Haas launched his Soldier for a Soldier Facebook page in February. The idea was to trade items with other people, increasing the value of items traded until he had acquired airfare, hotel, and gift certificates to give to a fallen soldier’s family a trip to Disneyworld. It began with Brendan trading one of his toy soldiers and culminated on Memorial Day with him giving away a trip to the family of a Massachusetts soldier killed in Afghanistan last year. An awesome story of selflessness, taught by a 9-year-old.
What is the takeaway for business, you might be wondering? For me, Brendan Haas and Soldier for a Soldier provide a lesson in branding. Brands are defined by a purpose, a reason for existence. That purpose permeates through every decision, product, advertisement, employee… you get the picture. Brendan Haas’ purpose led to creation of the Soldier for a Soldier cause. Too often, companies undertake cause marketing campaigns as if it is a “flavor of the month” tactic. The supported cause may be worthy, but the execution of the campaign does not demonstrate a direct relationship with the brand’s values.
Job well done, young Brendan Haas! Thank you for the lesson that brands should be directed by a purpose. I have a feeling Brendan is not through yet fulfilling his purpose through Solider for a Soldier or in some other way.

Marketing that Matters

Cause marketing is a strategy for resonating with customers through a company or brand’s support of a charity or nonprofit organization. Nonprofits benefit from the exposure a sponsor’s marketing platform provides, and it has become a valuable source of funding as government funding and individual donations have been squeezed during the recession. Cause marketing is beneficial to the companies involved because it creates goodwill for their brands and often creates incremental sales when donations to a cause are contingent on product sales (e.g., 10% of sales during a time period are donated to the sponsored cause).

The payoffs of cause marketing mentioned here have been recognized for some time. Another payoff is becoming clear: consumers expect companies that they do business with to be involved in supporting causes and they want to buy products from companies that are active in cause marketing. Cone, Inc. has conducted research into consumers’ attitudes toward cause marketing for nearly 20 years. In its most recent study, Cone found that 83% of consumers want more of the companies that they do business with to be involved in supporting causes; 41% said they have purchased a product within the past year because of the seller’s involvement in supporting a cause. That percentage is noteworthy because it is double what it was when Cone first started tracking consumer response to cause marketing. Moms and millennials are two consumer segments particularly interested in companies’ cause support. The percentages of consumers that have favorable views of cause marketing, desire to buy brands associated with causes, and actual purchase behavior of brands sponsoring causes are higher than the general population.

The takeaways from the recent Cone study are clear: consumers expect companies to support causes, and they want to buy products and services from companies engaged in cause support. Other studies have found that one impact of the recession is that many people have re-examined priorities and seek more meaning in their lives. Marketers should re-examine their priorities, too, and ask how they can use cause marketing to bring greater significance to their business impact. The potential exists for cause marketing to touch the nonprofit organizations supported, consumers who buy products linked to cause support, employees, and most importantly, the constituents served by the nonprofits.

Media Buyer Planner – “Consumers Support Companies that Support a Cause, Finds Study”

The Cause Marketing Taste Test

Two recent cause marketing campaigns caught my attention. Both are for the same cause, both campaigns are from well known brands. Yet, one campaign has generated criticism of the sponsor and the cause, while the other campaign receives kudos for the sponsor and the cause. What is the difference in the two campaigns? Let’s take a look.

The cause is one of the most recognizable in the United States in recent years: Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This nonprofit organization is viewed as the standard bearer for raising awareness and money to fight breast cancer. The campaign that has played to favorable reviews is Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” campaign. Players donned pink batting gloves and wristbands, and pink bats were proudly used in yesterday’s games across MLB. Fans can even purchase pink bats at MLB.com, and $10 from their purchase will go to Komen.

The other cause marketing campaign involving Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a partnership with KFC. The “Buckets for a Cure” campaign involves KFC donating 50 cents from each bucket of chicken sold, with a goal of $ 8 million. As of this post, more than $3.1 million has been raised by the campaign. KFC has a microsite dedicated to the campaign and is supporting it with social media. A KFC Twitter post even gives a nod to the MLB pink bat offer as Louisville-based KFC promotes another hometown firm, bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger.

So, what is the problem? KFC and Komen have been criticized for their partnership. Specifically, critics are quick to point out incongruence between a cause promoting women’s health and the unhealthy properties of KFC’s fried chicken. When sponsor and cause are perceived as incongruent, the impact a sponsor hopes to achieve in terms of favorable image, greater brand goodwill, and even sales increases may not be realized. In this situation, consumers call into question the motives of the sponsor- does KFC really care about the cause, or is the sponsor exploiting the cause to make money?

The criticism of KFC’s Buckets for a Cure is unfortunate and shortsighted. First, give the folks at Komen some credit that they see that the partnership will be perceived as a bad fit by many people. To that end, the partnership focuses on KFC’s grilled chicken. Moreover, KFC has a national platform to raise awareness for the cause, not to mention raise money. KFC is succeeding at doing both, and the money that will go to Komen is hardly tainted. KFC’s customer base includes women who will potentially be impacted by the influence of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And, KFC’s male customers are part of the picture, too, as many of them have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters who have dealt with breast cancer.

MLB and KFC have something in common: they have great reach and influence among large numbers of people. One of the most significant contributions a business can make is to use its influence to give back to stakeholder groups that are unrelated to its core business. The need met by Susan G. Komen for the Cure will not go away, unfortunately. If there are brands like KFC that can make a difference in the lives of those persons impacted by breast cancer, they should do it and be recognized, not criticized, for their support.

Is Cause Marketing Clutter a Danger?

My wife and I visited three different stores recently, all part of national chains. The first stop was Toys R Us. When we were paying for our purchase, the sales associate mumbled something about donating to autism. We declined his less than convincing appeal. Next stop: Lowe’s. At the checkout counter was another invitation to donate $1. One more stop to make, a visit to Kmart and a third request to donate a dollar to a cause. I confess that I cannot the specific causes Lowe’s and Kmart were supporting, but when I went to their websites and Facebook pages to see if they were promoting the cause support, there was no information to be found. Big mistake! Maximize the potential of an in-store fundraising effort by letting persons in your community know what you are doing.

Three stores, three causes, three competitors for the emotions and dollars of the consumer. One of the strengths of cause-related marketing is that a sponsor can align itself with a charity or nonprofit that resonates with the sponsor’s target market. Unfortunately, the situation that I observed recently suggests that the impact of cause marketing could go the way of media advertising, where heavy message clutter makes it difficult to get through to an audience and reduces effectiveness of communications. I do not fault the retailers for creating cause marketing campaigns. In fact, I applaud them. Kudos to these companies for committing resources to generate exposure and funds for their cause partners.

A key to successful cause marketing campaigns, or any sponsorship for that matter, is activating marketing programs around the association with the cause. The standard donate-a-dollar promotions are good concepts because they allow consumers to help support a cause. However, too many promotions being executed at the same time can leave consumers weary from multiple requests to help different causes. Should cause marketing campaigns be scheduled being mindful of a timetable for cause promotions featuring competitors? It is not essential, nor will it guarantee success of a cause marketing campaign. However, cause marketing fatigue is possible when consumers are being asked at seemingly every store to do their part to support the cause. Cause marketing works, but be strategic in the timing of cause promotions so that its potential impact is not hindered or even negated by the efforts of other cause sponsors to help their nonprofit partners.

Cause Marketing Grows Despite Weak Economy

Cause marketing continues to be a tactic used to create emotionally-grounded connection points with consumers. According to the International Events Group (IEG), spending on cause marketing in North America will reach $1.55 billion in 2009, a 2% increase over 2008. While a 2% rise does not seem significant, any increase in marketing spending is noteworthy as companies navigate the recession. The 2009 projection continues a trend of several years of growth in cause marketing expenditures.

What is the appeal of cause marketing compared to other types of sponsorship? Cause marketing can be effective when targeting specific audiences. The success of Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign resides in partnering with a cause (breast cancer awareness and research) that has great relevance to a key segment of Yoplait’s target market: women. The fit, or match between sponsor and cause as well as cause and sponsor’s target market are crucial to the success of cause campaigns. When consumers perceive a fit between sponsor, cause, and their own interests, the potential exists for strengthening the connection between a consumer and the company via their shared interest in the cause.

The marketing implications for supporting a cause or charity include opportunities to attract new customers, enhance loyalty among existing customers, positively impact sales, and even have the potential to sell products at a price premium. Past studies on consumer attitudes toward cause marketing have come to these conclusions. Consumers that desire for their consumption choices to go beyond satisfying their own needs and make a difference through supporting a cause or charity are the very audience that cause marketing seeks to reach. Expect to see cause marketing expenditures continue to grow in the years ahead.

Marketing Daily – “Cause Marketing Expected to Show Growth”

Marketing with a Cause in a Weak Economy

Cause marketing is an effective tactic because it enables a marketer to connect with consumers on an emotional level. Associating with a charity or non-profit that a brand’s target market cares about has great potential for positively impacting brand image. It is a great way to convey the message that a company is caring and seeks to make a difference. On a more practical level, cause marketing can drive revenue growth. Consumers may be willing to make a purchase (often at a price premium) because a product has partnered with a cause and pledged to make a donation contingent on product sales.

Today’s difficult economic times should serve as a catalyst for firms to review their utilization of cause marketing. Shoppers need a reason to buy. Low price is a compelling reason these days, but it is not the only motivation to make a purchase (nor the most profitable for marketers). Buying a product because it is tied to a cause that matters to the target market still is a persuasive tool that could nudge consumers to buy the sponsoring brand. Another benefit of being involved in cause marketing is that non-profits often are squeezed in a down economy as private donations and governmental support decline. Their partnerships with for-profit firms provide needed resources and provide a platform to keep the cause in consumers’ minds.

The questions to ask pertaining to the role of cause marketing are “What cause should I align my brand with that will resonate with consumers?” and “How can we use the resources of our company to make a positive impact with our cause partner?” This approach will lead to a greater chance that a cause marketing campaign is a winner for the cause, your customers, and your brand.

Scientific Breakthrough in Cause Marketing?

Results of a study published recently in the Journal of Science may have significant implications for marketers of philanthropic causes or charities as well as companies that align themselves with nonprofits via cause-related marketing campaigns. In the study, subjects participating in an experiment experienced activation of “pleasure centers” in the brain when they learned that money had been transferred from their bank account to a local food bank. The response elicited is similar to experiences such as eating sweets, engaging in social interactions, and sex.

So, what does this mean for marketers? For marketers of philanthropic causes or charities, it could have significant impact on how their organizations should be positioned and the design of advertising messages intended to influence giving. Strategies that seek to link philanthropic support to the benefits of support enjoyed by the giver may be used rather than a more traditional approach of emphasizing benefits received by the cause or charity. Likewise, companies that create cause-linked promotions for their brands can create marketing messages that paint a picture of consumers feeling good (self-image impact) in tandem with the knowledge that they are helping support a company’s social responsibility initiatives. Turns out that cause marketing is not only good, it is also good for you! Link