Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cause Marketing

I attended a dinner this past Tuesday with a handful of marketers in Boston. There were a number of us meeting for the first time so there was the usual banter of what do you do, where do you work, etc. In answering the where do I work question (Delta Dental) to a subset of the diners and expanding on the oral health knowledge I’ve accumulated over the past year plus of working there I was struck by one question I received. One of my new colleagues wanted to know, outside of being a dental insurer what value does Delta Dental offer the community. As in, how does this large insurer use its assets, both financial and non-financial, to give back to the community? It was nice to have a wealth of good deeds to spout off, but I’m not interested in using this post to extol the virtues of my employer so I’m not going to repeat them here. I’m much more interested in exploring the value of linking a brand with a cause. Cause marketing has always been an interest of mine. And this question made me think of the companies that intertwine their cause with their brand exceptionally well, Stonyfield Farm and Avon come to mind. But I suspect the majority of companies aren’t doing a great job of integrating their giving with their brand. And should they? Cause marketing can sometimes be perceived as a brand exploiting a charity for the brand’s good. There’s also the question of how many charities should one enterprise embrace in order for a cause marketing strategy to be effective. One cause per brand keeps efforts more focused, but it also limits the perceptions consumers’ hold about the brand. And the bigger question - in today’s marketplace where partnering with a cause is commonplace does the gesture become less genuine and add less value to a brand? My position is that if you have a brand that inclines itself well to a certain cause you should embrace it. This is where Stonyfield Farm excels. The company sells organic milk, yogurts, ice cream, etc. and its cause is environmental sustainability. If your brand doesn’t lend itself well to a cause don’t force it, but explore a variety of relationships that can form the basis of a giving program that aligns with the aspirations of the organization.

1 comment:

Rishi said...

You bring up an extremely relevant topic of "Cause Marketing" and how should brands/ companies potentially approach it. For one, it has to be in built into the fabric of the brand/company's ethos and should not be an afterthought. It has to be an authentic gesture on the part of the brand, else they stand the risk of being seen as commercializing philanthrophism and will backlash.
There are certain companies and brands where the spirit of improving lives of consumers is so engrained, that it is pretty much their corporate mantra - an example of that is Procter & Gamble (my company!!) where the mission of the company is " Touching lives, Improving Life" and this pretty much shows in most company initiatives, right from product initiatives, to brand communication.
For companies/ brands who might not have a history of "Cause marketing", a very interesting way of contributing to the bigger cause is through projects like "Product Red". Its a great way to be a part of a bigger effort that has the benefit of scale and scope, and all it needs from the participating brands is customization in the form of red colored products. While the jury still might be out there to see whether or not product red is a commercial success in the form of accumulating enough to make a meaningful difference, or what it might have done to the brand image and perception, to me a step in the right direction