Proper alignment strengthens the cause

The relationship between a corporation and charitable effort should be clear and meaningful.

The relationship between a corporation and charitable effort should be clear and meaningful.

As cause marketing has become more common in corporate America, it becomes more important for companies to carefully consider the best fit when choosing the right partner. Corporate and nonprofit relationships are most valuable when both parties are clearly aligned.

“A consumer should be able to understand the connections between your brand and the cause within three seconds,” says David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum, which offers resources such as research, online forums, classes, and conferences to companies and nonprofits.

“When choosing a cause, consider the demographics of customers and the nature of product or service you provide,” he adds. “It might be... that the contribution of [a] good or service can greatly help a charity.”

Hessekiel cites the example of Wal-Mart using its trucks to deliver goods to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina as helping with its CSR turnaround. “With creativity, most companies can find a [good match],” he adds.

Susan Puflea, EVP and director of the Change responsibility practice at GolinHarris, explains that it's often necessary to “take a deeper look” at a company's business to find the right cause partners. Last year, Golin client Dow Chemical successfully partnered with the nonprofit Blue Planet Run Foundation to support a global relay race to raise money for, and awareness of, the lack of safe drinking water in impoverished communities worldwide.

“Dow [ensures it uses] resources in a way that makes sense, and water is a big part of the production process,” she explains. “[It wants] to make sure people in developing communities get the resources they need and that [its] business doesn't negatively impact that.”

Puflea notes that cause partnerships must “be approached as strategically as any other business proposition.” She stresses the importance of establishing goals and expectations, and of understanding stakeholder audiences and the competitive landscape. “It has to be meaningful,” she adds. “It has to make sense to the company, the nonprofit, and the stakeholders.”

Stacie Bright, senior communications marketing manager for Unilever, doesn't believe cause marketing is right for all brands or companies. She advises against partnering solely for marketing purposes.

“Consider how a cause fits into the overall DNA of the brand,” Bright says. “Consumers want to buy with minds, hearts, and wallets. Appeal to where their hearts and loyalties lie... Understand why it's the right partnership and why it's good long-term. If you're changing causes like [you] change clothes, you're never going to get an association that will resonate with consumers.”

Marketers for Unilever's Dove brand surveyed women in 2004 and found that only 2% worldwide felt beautiful. As a result, the company created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, a company-funded initiative that develops and distributes resources that support self-esteem.

Bright says it's vital for companies to make sure they have the resources to support the cause they choose. “Resources don't have to be monetary, they can also be time or materials,” she adds. “Be sure you can make a difference.”

Puflea agrees, noting that it's important to be realistic about how much the company can give and to look for causes it can truly impact. She adds that authenticity is also important.

“Choose partners that are consistent with the brand's character,” suggests Puflea. “A humble Midwest company isn't going to make sense aligning with latest flashiest thing.”

Puflea notices that clients are increasingly “taking the lead” in identifying cause partners rather than just responding to requests: “It enables companies to be much more strategic about what they're doing,” she says.

Technique tips

Establish a clear link between the company and the cause

Consider the things that are important to stakeholders

Select partnerships that are beneficial to both sides

Align with a cause solely for marketing and PR purposes

Pick partners that don't bring something to the table

Be inauthentic or unrealistic about resources

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