With the ability to closely follow companies on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, consumers are becoming increasingly invested in and connected to their favorite brands.
"Consumers now have higher expectations of what a corporate brand is and what it does than ever before," says Carline Jorgensen, MD in the brand marketing practice of Burson-Marsteller Los Angeles. "Social media has created this incredible open forum that leads to debate, discussion, and opinion sharing, so there's a greater opportunity for brands to share all the efforts of their commitment to making the world a better place."
An emotional bond
Recognizing the importance of brands building emotional relationships with shoppers, Burson launched the specialty group "Caring Consumer" in October to help companies translate philanthropic efforts in a relevant way to consumers.
Jorgensen, who leads the new offering, says brands need to make sure their cause-marketing efforts resonate with employees so they can "become mouthpieces for the brand and the cause."
Partnering with other organizations that have a similar mission is another key to making cause-marketing campaigns relevant and successful, says Erica Swerdlow, Midwest market leader and MD of brand marketing at Burson. She says teaming up with an organization doesn't always mean branding the efforts as much as "keeping your eye on what you want to accomplish and making sure that trumps everything."
Research by Kraft Foods, which runs many cause-marketing efforts, shows 65% of consumers feel satisfied and emotionally rewarded when helping others, and 79% of those people say they will even switch brands based on a company's philanthropic work.
"Consumers want to engage and really focus on issues that are important to them and to society," says Nicole Robinson, senior director for community involvement at Kraft. "Even in this economic downturn, people really want to help."
One of Kraft's largest cause-marketing programs is "Huddle to Fight Hunger," a joint venture aimed at ending hunger in the US with Feeding America, a nonprofit partner of more than 25 years.
During the first year, Kraft donated 20 million meals to Feeding America through the "Huddle" effort. As it enters year two, Robinson says the goal is to reach 25 million meals.
The campaign builds brand equity for Kraft, she adds, while also raising tremendous awareness of hunger issues in the US.
"Twenty-five million Americans face hunger and 12 million of them are children, so it's really relevant," explains Robinson. "Consumers understand that."
Handling a cause-marketing crisis
Sometimes crises can pop up for cause-marketing programs because of issues related to money or consumer feedback.
If this occurs, "brands have to be completely transparent," says Jory Des Jardins, cofounder and president of strategic alliances at BlogHer.
She adds that almost all companies have relationships with media outlets or bloggers, and those constituents need to be kept well-informed so consumers know what's being done to rectify the situation.
Benefits of research
Online community and women's blogging network BlogHer always researches and test runs its cause-marketing efforts before making them public, says Jory Des Jardins, cofounder and president of strategic alliances.
She says research is imperative for cause marketing as bloggers can "dig up" anything, including where funds are going and what organizations are involved.
Last November, BlogHer got involved with the "Create Jobs for USA" initiative, which was developed by Starbucks to encourage consumers and business leaders to support job creation in America. BlogHer has committed to donating $5 for every blogger in its network who writes about the program.
Starbucks, which has 17,000 stores in 50-plus countries, focuses many cause-marketing efforts locally, getting employees and customers involved in its programs, says Valerie O'Neil, VP of partner communications and engagement.
"Yes, we are a global company and because of our scale we are able to do a lot of collective good for the world," she says. "At the same time, we want to make sure we're impacting every neighborhood in which we serve to truly create thriving communities."