Cause Marketing Part 2: Golden Rules to Market By

October 22, 2018

When, if ever, is it appropriate for a company to leverage political or socially-charged issues in its marketing campaigns?

Nike took a risk selecting Kaepernick as the face of its recent ad campaign. Sales spiked and their stock dipped after their ad campaign launched. (We dissected the Nike ad Kaepernick ad campaign in detail in Cause Marketing Part 1: Nike Kaepernick Case Study.)

When a brand is “on mission,” should it care about issues like police brutality and racism? The American Marketing Association CEO Russ Klein tackled this issue in his blog post titled Nike and the Arrogance of Moral Certainty. Klein wrote that, “…there are times when it is more important to be provocative than pleasant. However, from a marketing point of view, it is my counsel to brand owners that it is unnecessarily dangerous…”

Yet the majority of U.S. consumers expect businesses to have agency in social change and maintain transparency about their views. 53% of consumers think that brands can do more to solve social problems than the government can. Whether a company deploys cause marketing like Nike did, or shares an official position statement regarding politics or social issues (such as supporting a political candidate), the company is taking a risk.

What is a company to do? We present our 3 Golden Rules of Cause Marketing and offer some tips for deploying cause marketing.

Golden Rule #1: It Must Make Sense for Your Company

About 2 in 3 people say that businesses bear as much responsibility as governments for driving social change. 90% of Americans are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause if the price and quality are comparable. Almost 2 in 3 shoppers (64%) choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues, the 2018  Edelman Earned Brand Brands Take a Stand report found.

The Edelman report calls these “belief-driven buyers.” These belief-driven buyers span all income levels. While most U.S. consumers agree that a company’s reputation for social responsibility affects their buying decisions, the number of people who agree varies by age group.

80% Millennials say a company’s social media responsibility impacts their buying choices

75% Gen X say a company’s social media responsibility impacts their buying choices

76% Baby Boomers say a company’s social media responsibility impacts their buying choices

72% Seniors say a company’s social media responsibility impacts their buying choices

But just because most consumers expect it doesn’t mean your company should jump in and take a stance. The issue must be relevant to your company. What does police brutality have to do with a grocery store? Not much, if at all. But it does make sense for a grocer to campaign about poverty and feeding people who are going hungry.

This also applies to taking political sides, which is highly divisive by its nature. How do politics factor into your company? If a politician is also an investor/former investor or regular patron, then the business clearly has a stake in said politician.

Golden Rule #2: It Must Matter to Your Audience

Taking a stance about a cause generates attention. It’s also one way that a company can maintain a connection with its audience.

But finding a cause or issue that is relevant to your company isn’t enough. Your audience must care about the issue.

That doesn’t mean all your customers need to be passionate activists about the cause. Don’t look at your customers as just one group—segment your customers and assess whether the issue matters to each of your customer segments.

Nike’s Kaepernick ad campaign is a masterclass in delivering a targeted message with a specific, known audience—Millennials and Gen Z-ers and kneeling protest supporters. Nike knew their controversial campaign would not resonate with the public at large but rather this niche.

Golden Rule #3: You Must Prepare for All Possible Outcomes

A multi-billion dollar company like Nike is in a much better position to absorb potential losses had the Kaepernick campaign been a complete disaster. Before launching a cause marketing campaign or sharing an official opinion about a charged social or political issue, plan for all potential outcomes.

Outcome 1: Success. Do you have talking points prepared about how the issue fits in with your company’s mission/business practices? Do you have a point person or team ready to deal with a potential flood of media and public queries for all of your channels (phone, email, social media channels, etc.)? Do you have enough stock on hand to meet a spike in demand for your products?

Outcome 2: Failure. Do you have talking points prepared for angry customers? Prepare counterpoints for common arguments against your cause. How much of a loss can your company afford to take? Under which circumstances should your business issue an apology, retraction or clarification?

Deploying Cause Marketing

When done correctly, cause marketing can have several benefits, including:

meeting Millennials’ expectations

helps companies retain top talent

has a halo effect on the brand

informs the public of their corporate culture and values

helps offset declining public trust

just 52% of consumers trust businesses, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

ulfills the need to stand out

meet the increasing accountability demanded from shareholders

Follow these steps to help you deploy your cause campaign:

Research the cause you have in mind. Which segments of your audience care about this cause? What has already been said and done about it?

Identify how the cause fits your company’s mission and why it resonates with your audience.

Thoroughly plan for success and failure. Make sure you have answers for the issues laid out in Golden Rule #3.

Craft messaging that targets your audience’s values/beliefs/interests.

Assemble a response team and make sure everyone is on the same page and mission before deploying the campaign.

Deploy your campaign on the most relevant channels. Nike delivered its message on the channels that resonated with its target audience for the message.

55% of U.S. consumers think brands should make it easier for consumers to see what their values/positions are when the consumer is about to make a purchase.

Be bold to make your cause marketing heard. When executed with care and caution, cause marketing can be a powerful tool that entrenches customer loyalty.

This two-part blog series was coauthored by two Fisher employees: Anna Cachares, who handles public relations and customer service, and Beth Kramer, who is a digital marketing specialist.

Service Tags: 
Marketing Strategy
Multi-Channel Campaign