Why cause marketing matters and how to avoid customer cynicism

Libby Margo in Growth hacking on 19th of Sep 2019

Why cause marketing matters and how to avoid customer cynicism

In the old days of advertising, marketers spent their days selling their company’s products rather than trying to align their brands with worthy causes. Fast forward fifty or so years, and things have changed — and we’re not just talking about the volume of booze marketers consume on the job.

In this new era of corporate social responsibility, what you don’t do can actually cost you. Cause marketing is now the norm and when potential customers visit your website and look at your advertising, they’re expecting you to share their desire to make the world a better place by supporting a worthy cause. And if your business doesn’t stand for a cause, your customers may be more inclined to turn to your competitors. A study by Cone Cause Evolution found that the number of customers who insisted that they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand was associated with a good cause has increased to 87% in recent years. Digital marketers are also paying attention; from 2012 to 2017, cause-related ads on YouTube quadrupled.

The downside of cause marketing’s popularity, however, is that we’re seeing more customers becoming increasingly cynical towards it. On one hand, customers are expecting brands to be aligned with a cause; on the other hand, we’re seeing more brands frantically fighting for a piece of the social good pie — and some brands are aligning themselves with causes that have nothing to do with their core business. The result? There remains no semblance of authenticity and customers become cynical towards cause marketing efforts. In fact, a study by San Francisco-based agency Traction found that 41% of today’s customers thought cause marketing was “just spin.”

We’re not saying that your brand should avoid cause marketing altogether — far from it. But if you’re planning to dabble into cause marketing, you’ll be required to think harder about your approach to ensure your customers aren’t quick to assume that you’re just in it for the PR brag. Here are some tips to guide you along:

Identify a cause that’s compatible with your brand

Many brands make the mistake of aligning themselves with the trendiest causes to get more ticks of approval from customers. But if the cause has absolutely nothing to do with your product or company mission, your customers will see through your approach and be completely turned off. On International Women’s Day this year, for example, many brands were criticized for being vocal about celebrating the contributions of their female employees — while failing to incorporate gender parity in their marketing messages or hiring policies for the rest of the year.

In contrast, Australian fast food chain Zambrero has nailed cause marketing from the word go. Founded in 2005 by then-medical student Dr. Sam Prince, Zambrero is a Mexican restaurant that also aims to help people in need. Its cause marketing strategy revolves around its Plate 4 Plate initiative, which aims to combat world hunger. For every burrito or bowl purchased, Zambrero donates a meal to someone in need in the developing world. Zambrero also partners with like-minded organizations such as Rise Against Hunger and Foodbank. The team at Zambrero has understood that a successful cause marketing strategy revolves around something the business already cared about. Not only does it make their job easier, but their customers were also less likely to accuse the business of being inauthentic.

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Get your inclusive marketing strategy right

The messaging behind your cause marketing is crucial — and so are the people featured in your campaigns. Inclusive marketing refers to the practice of creating content that genuinely reflects the audience that your brand serves. This means that you should be elevating diverse voices and role models, decreasing cultural bias, and leading positive social change via thoughtful and respectful content.

So if you’re running a marketing campaign on a particular issue, think about featuring the people who are closest to it. At Autopilot, we believe in marriage equality so we were thrilled to partner up with The Equality Campaign for the postal vote in 2017. The Equality Campaign team used Autopilot to encourage people by sending out a series of timely emails and SMS messages. To celebrate the success of the YES vote, we created a video featuring the smiling faces behind the campaign.

This video remains a small but not insignificant part of our content marketing strategy — it allows us to show, not just tell, the world how our product has played a small role in helping millions of Australians vote YES.

Make sure you follow up

Your customers don’t trust words, they trust actions. Therefore, it’s important to make sure your company is doing all that it can to make a difference for the cause you’re supporting. You may have produced the most fantastic cause marketing campaign on paper, but it will mean nothing without concrete actions. For example, we are passionate about supporting local not-for-profits, so we regularly run charity drives throughout the year, offer discounts to not-for-profits, and will shortly donate the proceeds from our $1/month plan to the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

Make cause marketing work for you

Cause marketing is an excellent way for not-for-profit organizations and businesses to work together. If you’re looking to implement cause marketing, it’s important to acknowledge that you have a responsibility not only to take a stand but to take action as well.

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