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Marketing With a Mission

3 practical ways to draw consumers in with a socially conscious message

Much of what we do as marketers is motivated by world trends driving demand for our products. For example, GM tried (and failed) for years to build a mass-market electric car, but that was before words like "green" became part of the common lexicon. Now that consumers have caught up, major auto marketers are in a race to capture market share with their own brands of fuel-efficient vehicles.

While socially conscious businesses have always been around, now more than ever, consumers are making buying decisions based on a preference for doing business with organizations and brands that demonstrate an authentic involvement in supporting our communities and our world.

So which social marketing movements have longevity? Here are three to consider--and some practical tips on how to make them work for your business over the long haul.

1. Cause Marketing

  • Why it's important: The concept of "Ubuntu"--I am because you are--is fundamental to doing business across the African continent. Many multinational corporations are taking advantage of the concept of doing good in business to build authentic corporate reputations and drive enduring brand preference. These companies are responding to a seismic shift in social awareness, which, as consumers' values change, is impacting the sales register.

    But Western companies have been slow to embrace and monetize this powerful opportunity.

    Cause marketing takes the notions of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility one step further by engaging the consumer in a brand or company's social work. In recent years, marketers have become more aware of the fact that connecting brands with the right cause can be a powerful way to create an emotional tie between the product and its consumers. Over time, consumers will associate a brand with a positive cause and even regularly purchase a brand because of its affiliation with the cause. It's a win-win situation for both the charity and the company and is an increasingly popular strategy. In fact, the " IEG Sponsorship Report " predicts that cause marketing will be the fastest-growing category of sponsorship spending in 2010, rising 6.1 percent over 2009 to reach $1.61 billion.
  • How to make it work for you: The trick to making real, long-term brand connections between a cause and a company is finding the right strategic partnership. The most effective campaigns are those that transparently connect both sides' enlightened self interests--making the proposition believable and worthy of the resources and effort that successful partnerships require.

    If you're building a new social responsibility platform for your company, don't just choose a random cause--consider this an opportunity to learn about what's most important to your business. Take time to consider causes that best match your company culture, and ask your employees about the causes that matter to them. If you can't see and easily explain the connection between your brand and your charity, consumers won't buy it (pun intended), and it's unlikely the effort will sustain commitment.

    Cause marketing is a natural fit for experience-based campaigns. Whether this means directly engaging consumers in a face-to-face conversation, creating a memorable event or installing a pop-up store, companies that utilize cause marketing have a variety of opportunities to build long-term consumer awareness, support and loyalty.
  • Real-world case: To maintain a long-term cause-marketing effort, companies must find a sustainable way to fund them. Practically speaking, marketing dollars alone cannot support a charitable commitment for long. One effective solution is the sale of branded goods and services. A good example is Product Red, a coalition of consumer brands such as Nike and Apple that donate a portion of the profits from their specially designed red products to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The phrase "cause marketing" often conjures up images of co-branded products where a percent of sales is donated to a charity. In fact, the most savvy cause marketers are flipping the equation and approaching their efforts as marketing causes, not "cause marketing," applying the full range of marketing strategies, engagement tools and expectations to cause-related efforts. Look at Whirlpool: It doesn't simply give a percentage of profits to Habitat for Humanity. The company outfits Habitat homes with appliances, launched a community outreach program to support build efforts, and has funded standout advertising campaigns featuring celebrity endorsements.

2. Sustainability

  • Why it's important: The public now believes the wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates that climate change is real. When the recession stripped consumer credit and buying power, a back-to-basics lifestyle became more popular--which happens to be healthier for the wallet, the planet and people.

    The Boston Consulting Group's " Global Green Consumer Survey ," released in 2009, found that 66 percent of consumers think it's important or very important for companies to offer green products, and 73 percent believe companies should have a good environmental track record. The survey also pointed to an increased interest in sustainability. From 2007 to 2008, respondents who systematically attempted to purchase green products increased from 32 to 34 percent. Consumers who said that they were willing to pay more for a green product also rose from 20 to 24 percent.
  • How to make it work for you: If your company is already producing a product that is natural or sustainable in some way, don't be afraid to talk about it. The backlash from greenwashing (making false environmental claims) has made many companies hesitate, so the caveat is to be transparent about what you do and communicate your message without being strident. No company can be 100 percent sustainable; everyone is working toward improvement. Acknowledging this fact and finding an authentic way to tell consumers your story are paramount.

    If your company doesn't already use sustainable practices, investigate changing the way a product is manufactured or packaged, or consider how some of your internal business practices can become more environmentally sound.

    Sustainability does not negate profitability. Hard numbers show sustainability can actually drive costs down over time. Some of these gains can be measured in concrete terms (such as Walmart's influence on supply chain efficiency); other intangible considerations, such as risk mitigation and corporate reputation, can have an immeasurable impact on the long-term health of a business.
  • Real-world case: Procter & Gamble's commitment to creating a sustainable business drove it to apply its innovation and resources to communities in need. P&G's PUR Purifier of Water is a powdered water clarification and disinfectant treatment that comes in small, disposable packets. In partnership with global health organization PSI (Population Services International), P&G has distributed free PUR packets to people living in areas with high cholera outbreaks, where access to clean water is a matter of life and death. Since 2003, P&G has helped provide more than 1.3 billion liters of clean drinking water to people in more than 40 countries.

3. Global Interconnectedness

  • Why it's important: Technology has opened up endless possibilities for business-to-business connections around the world at a low cost. I tend to steer clear of the word globalization, since it implies that we need to lose our individual identities in order to relate to one another. Instead, we're becoming increasingly interconnected--and that's a good thing!
  • How to make it work for you: There are many ways to create marketing campaigns that are both globally and locally relevant. Regardless of where we come from, we have shared experiences and emotions, such as love, competition, unity, peace and positivity. The first step is to determine which of these common experiences relates most closely to your brand. Ask yourself "What is the enduring emotion I'd like to evoke from my consumers, wherever they are on the planet?"

    One of the best ways to strengthen an interconnectedness campaign is to combine it with cause-marketing and sustainability strategies. The idea of making a positive difference in the world--in some shared, specific way--can be an uplifting rallying point for effective collaboration. This can spur and strengthen alliances that go far beyond a single program and campaign, increase financial return and become a way of doing business. Most find that financial benefits follow, further cementing their "interconnectedness."

    Lastly, when planning an interconnected marketing strategy, it's important to understand how each constituency's interests align with the other and where you can leverage the strengths of the partners or the group.
  • Real-world case: In Rwanda, the fair-trade Misozi Coffee Company shows us how to combine interconnectedness and sustainability in one model. In 2007, the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative began working with a co-op of Rwandan coffee farmers to help improve their products, strengthen their organization, expand operations, increase sales and develop the company into a profitable enterprise that sustains increased incomes and encourages more investment in farming communities. Thanks to these efforts, the Misozi Coffee Company's beans are now widely recognized as Rwanda's finest coffee.

    That initial partnership became the first link in a supply chain of companies committed to sustainable business practices. The coffee beans were bought at fair trade prices by Union Coffee Roasters (a UK-based ethical coffee company), which then introduced the coffee to the British market, selling exclusively through the Sainsbury's supermarket chain. Within a year, the Misozi Coffee Company's production volumes increased by 20 percent, coffee sales expanded by over 30 percent, and the farmers increased their profits considerably.

Cause marketing, sustainability and global interconnectedness are fast-growing and enduring marketing trends that will characterize the most effective campaigns of 2010 and beyond. Organizations and brands that truly embrace opportunities in these areas are poised to build lasting shared value and marketplace success.
 

CA Hersom is CMO of ignition , the award-winning experiential marketing agency behind some of the world's most ambitious campaigns: Coca-Cola's Olympic Torch Relays and FIFA World CupT Trophy Tours, the Live Earth concert and the Blue Planet Run. CA oversees ignition's creative services, cause marketing, and sustainability practices and has more than 20 years of international marketing communications experience, much of it focused on building sustainable brands.

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