Local corporate giving efforts provide a valuable authenticity

This week we include our first-ever consumer survey, focusing on attitudes toward companies' cause marketing programs.

This week we include our first-ever consumer survey, focusing on attitudes toward companies' cause marketing programs.

Among other things, we asked people from each of the three age groups which company they think "does an especially good job of supporting a charity or social cause."

Microsoft came out on top - a result, no doubt, of multiple headlining factors, including Warren Buffett's enormous financial commitment to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the increasing role its namesakes are playing in the organization's work.

But look at number two on the list, and you see a significant indication of what really drives feelings of good will about corporate giving. Target takes the second-highest spot, owing in large part to its school donation program. REDcard users have 1% of their purchases donated by Target to a school of their choice, linking the retailer's charitable instincts inextricably with the consumer's own community.

Responses for other companies yielded a similar affinity for the local programs and impact of companies to make a difference in their customers' backyards. That fact alone is not surprising. But how does it reconcile with the large-scale efforts, like the Campbell's Soup can rebrand for breast cancer awareness, which attract the largest investment and media attention?

They are not mutually exclusive concepts, and large, national efforts will garner attention for local efforts, in the same way smaller-scale giving and programming is a necessary extension of large-scale campaigns.

But perhaps the reason for the favorable response to local efforts is the recognition it demonstrates of the value of the environment in which a company hopes to successfully operate. It gets to the heart of the concept of corporate citizenship, the definition of which has changed dramatically in the past few years.

Large corporations in particular have an implied requirement to give back; it is virtually cost of entry today. But writing large checks is no longer sufficient.

Local campaigns, whether they are extensions of large programs or independent, rely on specific knowledge of the area they are targeting, including its needs, priorities, and attitudes. To ensure that, corporations must have authentic ties to the community, either independently or through partnerships. Taking the initiative to do it right on the local level is every bit as strategic as the largest national launch.

Surveys like ours and similar ones generally find consumers saying they spend more money on products or companies aligned with causes they believe in. But where that conversion actually takes place in the process is hard to determine. How does a company successfully connect at the level where ideals drive action?

We are finding the answer every day in the continuing proliferation of information channels, and that directly links to the theme of local engagement. Create programs that are relevant, targeted, and also relevant to your consumers' world, and everyone benefits.

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