According to a 2010 Cone Cause Evolution study, 83% of Americans want to see brands support a cause; 91% think those companies should focus their efforts in the communities where they operate. And more than 40% say they buy certain brands because of the causes they are associated with.
So what’s the take-away here?
Acts of corporate kindness, programs that raise awareness for a cause, initiatives that are good and green really make really great business sense. The element of sustainability is the icing on the cake.
Cause-related marketing and sustainability used to be two different topics of discussion. But with the extraordinary pressure for companies to operate in a manner that preserves and protects natural resources and the environment, many companies are aligning themselves with causes that focus on sustainability.
To be truly effective in combining the two, an organization must really embrace the notion of sustainability and make it part of the corporate DNA. There is no room for “green-washing” in this game.
Companies that make cause marketing and sustainability part of their DNA can create positive social change and exceed their marketing and sales goals as a result.
There are five key elements to keep in mind in order to ensure that your efforts are successful:
1. Make sustainability part of a corporate mission, alongside the other core values of the company, to underscore your commitment.
Sustainability is a long-term, continuous responsibility. It begins in the C-suite all the way down to the mailroom — everyone must take ownership in the program. Leadership must set an example and get behind the cause of sustainability first.
Companies are using up natural resources — part of the mission must be to give back to the resources they are using and wasting. The value that corporations can yield by taking this stand is considerable.
2. Find ways to execute this mission in a way that is tangible with effects that are measurable.
Show through your corporate actions that you believe it’s important, that it’s part of your mission and here’s what you are doing about it.
3. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch — match social causes and charitable organizations to tie back to the company’s mission.
For example, if you are a company producing children’s products, align yourself with an organization that helps children in need. Make it related categorically. And if you can identify an organization with a strong sustainability component to the cause — you’ve just hit a home run.
When we started Second Chance Toys, a charitable organization that rescues plastic toys from being thrown into landfills, then cleans and redistributes them to children in need, our mission was of particular interest to companies that were closely aligned in some way to what we were doing.
Our two lead sponsors today are Kohl’s, which champions causes for kids and the environment, and 1-800-Got Junk, a company with recycling at the core of its mission.
Make sure your sustainability component of your cause-marketing efforts helps those who you may be taking resource from. For example, Starbucks, with their Ethos water campaign is giving back to the rain forest for taking nuts from rain forest.
4. Get your staff involved and encourage them to become champions of the cause as part of both a good will and team-building effort.
It goes back to the issue that consumers wish brands would support causes. The association makes someone want to buy a product because of it — the opportunity shouldn’t be limited to their consumer-facing involvement but also drilled down into the organization as well.
Most people who work for companies have little idea what causes their employer is associated with. When you develop a program that empowers employees to get involved, it becomes an extraordinary team-building effort. It becomes part of the DNA of the corporate culture.
Habitat for Humanity and KaBoom! are examples of charitable organizations that provide a great team-building component for employees with their community building and recycling opportunities. Our company, Second Chance Toys, strives to do the same.
These opportunities or events should be scheduled during business hours to demonstrate to employees that this team effort is sponsored by the corporation and they will not lose a day’s pay. The value will far exceed the wage expenditure.
5. Promote the value of what you are bringing, not only to the environment but to the cause, and the corporation.
Think about the notion of the mantra, “If tree falls in the woods does anyone hear it?” Remember that the real value proposition is letting people know the good you are doing without pandering.
Coca-Cola does a good job of this by publicizing their “Live Positively” sustainability program on the home page of their website.
If you have achieved positive results and you are finding a solution that is meaningful — share it. Present yourself as a corporate role model.
Companies that are really finding ways to improve the environment, such as Stonyfield Farms with their recycled packaging or Timberland Boots with their environmental initiatives, share their best practices and empower other corporations to jump on board.
The biggest challenge is sustaining these efforts long-term.
As a nation, we are raising a generation of socially conscious and cause-focused people. The growing trend toward social entrepreneurship is fueling this fire. These young people are the workforce of the future. It’s part of their DNA. So it better be part of yours.
Companies that embrace all of this as good marketing sense will be successful at making it part of the corporate culture and ultimately will predispose consumers to their brand.
Sustainability must be a core business strategy to deal with a future of constrained resources. As such, it should also become a core part of the brand identity and corporate reputation.
About the author: Shelly Lipton is co-founder of Grown Up Marketing. He is also a board member for Second Chance Toys, a nonprofit that helps recycle plastic toys and get them into the hands of children in need.