- The Problem with Cause Marketing
- 3 Keys to Authentic Social Impact
- Address the Needs of Others
- Garner Internal Buy-in
- Put in Time and Effort
- Summary + Conclusion
- What to do
- About Supur
The Problem with Cause Marketing
Between COVID19 and Black Lives Matter in the past few months, we’ve seen brands (who may have never before) take a stance on the issues – whether it be releasing a statement, donating to charities doing good work, or educating their stakeholders on the issue.
The big question is – as customers, how could we distinguish what is real to what is just marketing? And as businesses or brands, how can we develop campaigns that are real and authentic?
This problem within the cause marketing space becomes more critical as we see our favorite brands trying to stand for social issues. I’m all for attaining the business benefits of giving back, but this cannot be the sole purpose of doing good.
To navigate the problem, individuals often use the word “authentic” - as in, social impact initiatives must be authentic to the brand and organization.
Better yet, the more authentic a social impact campaign is to a brand, the better the benefits will be.
My question is: What does it mean to be authentic?
3 Keys to Authentic Social Impact
While you can’t know the intentions of a cause marketing campaign or social impact initiative, here are three things you can do to ensure the campaigns you see or develop for your own brand are authentic.
- Address the needs of others.
- Garner internal buy-in.
- Put in time and effort.
Address the Needs of Others
My philosophy is always – regardless of the company's intentions (business vs. social impact) - if those in need are getting what they need, the campaign is legitimate. So while a brand may simply donate some money to a nonprofit they stumbled upon, they are helping move that organization’s work forward and deserve credit for that.
The issue then becomes – so donating money where it feels right is enough for social impact?
No, it’s not. As conscious consumers, we must demand more from brands. This leads us to the next two keys for authentic social impact.
Garner Internal Buy-in
Whether it’s your own team or the team behind the social impact campaign you’re supporting, the people putting it out there must believe in it and care about the project. Beyond keeping the campaign authentic, garnering internal buy-in is a powerful employee engagement strategy.
The hard part is, how? At Supur, we typically look to brand value proposition to guide social impact program, as the team and leadership usually have a vested interest in that space. So as a shoe company, donating shoes may be an effective way to launch a social impact program that resonates with your internal team.
Moreover, an effective way for a team to get involved in (and care about) a cause is to see it with their own eyes. Setting time aside to volunteer is an effective way to:
- Get your team involved in your social impact program.
- Prove that you’re invested in your cause (enough to take work time off to support it).
Volunteering is a super effective strategy for garnering internal buy-in, and I believe all companies should do so before putting dollars into specific charity.
Another benefit is being able to better understand the needs of those you’re looking to help, ultimately better serving them.
Lastly – but most importantly – the brand's leadership must be aligned with the cause and campaign. This makes it easier to push forth something authentic, which would otherwise be nearly impossible. Having to make the business case for social impact every time you want to invest more in the program is challenging and will slow the process down.
From a consumer standpoint, when the leadership backs any social good initiative, it just feels right.
Put in Time and Effort
To me, this is the most important.
As a consultant in the space, I see when a brand did not put effort into their social impact campaigns and simply donated to a popular charity that they recognize. As said earlier, donating is fine. But that does not mean simply Googling a charity and vaguely saying “a percentage of proceeds will be donated.”
A deep dive into an organization’s programs, mission, vision, and theory of change model is necessary for creating an authentic social impact program. Perhaps you’re a food company looking to support mental health awareness – maybe an in-kind food donation for a fundraising event would be more meaningful and impactful than donating a percentage of proceeds.
Additionally, many brands often completely skip the vetting process and are completely unaware of the organization's financials and programs. For all they know, the money is spent on ineffective resources and wasted.
In short, do your homework!
For customers – take a closer look at cause marketing campaigns as they continue to flood our feeds. Note which are taking the extra step and which fall short.
So while your campaign may be doing good and have internal buy-in, taking the extra step is necessary. The first two steps are not powerful to stand alone. None of these are.
Summary + Conclusion
To create an authentic social impact initiative, companies must follow the 3 steps above (at least). For brands who think they will get away with less – that will be fine for now, but when the cause marketing space gets saturated, your stakeholders will see right through your unauthentic marketing gimmicks.
If campaigns had only one component, this is what they’d look like:
- Only serving the needs of others: We’ll see tons of cosmetics companies trying to end hunger.
- Only has internal buy-in: Your favorite fashion brand will flood a homeless shelter with more useless merchandise because they are passionate about making an impact through clothing. Meanwhile, the shelter is out of storage and now needs a bigger facility – driving their rent up.
- Only put in time and effort: You’ll ask an employee about their company’s new mental health awareness campaign, but they won’t know what to say. They won’t be able to advocate for the cause or come to work with boosted morale because the social impact and marketing teams focused too much time on making an external impact.
What to do
While not all small companies agree, we believe that creating a social impact campaign that sticks comes with having a dedicated member of your team work on the initiative.
It takes time, resources, expertise, and energy to create authentic social impact.
Anything short of it yields unsustainable change - for your brand and employees.
We created Supur because we understand that many small businesses do not have the budget to hire a full-time employee to focus on these efforts. We're a consultancy dedicated to helping startups and small businesses launch authentic campaigns.
When bringing initiatives to life, we focus on these three components to ensure that our clients see measurable business benefits by doing good and maximize their social impact.