3C campaigns: Company, Customers, Cause

August 1, 2012

By TRAY creative

This is the second in a four-part series examining how companies are leveraging their influence to drive social good, and joining their customers and fans in a demonstration of shared values—all through social media.

The new model for cause marketing is what can be called a 3C (Company, Customers, Cause) marketing campaign: one that builds awareness and support for a social cause by engaging the passions of a brand community. As part of this new wave of corporate charitable campaigns, a brand’s “fans” and customers are actively involved in creating and directing the campaign’s content; donating funds and/or leading pledge drives among their peers; promoting the campaign message via social media; and driving usage and awareness of the sponsoring brand.

Not every company has the resources of a PepsiCo or Amex to rain millions of dollars on nonprofit causes. But any brand, regardless of size, can make a small pledge to make a difference, and inspire its core customers to multiply that impact—in turn, forging a stronger bond with these like-minded consumers.

We’ve compiled a dozen tips on how to do it the right way. Here are tips 1-4.

1. Achieve alignment.

When deciding on which causes or issues to support, focus on those that have at least a broad-level connection to your brand values and brand promise. For example, let’s say your brand stakes its claim on outstanding service, value and innovation. Make the connections: To represent service, you might align with community volunteerism; to represent value, you might align with socioeconomic causes that strike a chord with value-conscious consumers, such as alleviating poverty and hunger; to represent innovation, you might support science and math education.

2. Stay in it for the long haul.

Instead of a one-time campaign in which your brand gains quick equity from the cause association and then moves on, stay committed on a meaningful level. Rather than running a single promotion, consider launching an umbrella initiative under which a series of smaller campaigns roll out over time. Continue to use your brand megaphone after the campaign ends: Leverage your entire communications platform to announce news about the cause, and encourage further involvement among your audiences.

3. Be on the level.

Consumers can spot hypocrisy or a conflict of interest from a mile away. Don’t support an eco-focused nonprofit, for example, unless your own company’s practices are truly in line with the organization’s mission. Case in point: Dawn, the makers of dishwashing liquid, promoted the Dawn Saves Wildlife campaign in the aftermath of the Gulf oil disaster in 2010. Capitalizing on the fact that its products are effective in washing oil-covered waterfowl, Dawn conducted a transactional campaign in which one dollar per bottle sold was donated to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organizations. There was just one small issue, which caused a bit of a backlash: Dawn’s ingredient formula includes petroleum. Spokesperson Ian Tholking said in an interview, “To make the best product, you have to have some [petroleum-based products] in there. To say Dawn’s horrible because of this…doesn’t make sense.” Maybe so, but it was the decision to publicize this particular tie-in that opened the brand to criticism.

4. Select your partners wisely.

If you’re planning to involve one or more preselected nonprofit partners, start your vetting process with Charity Navigator. It’s an objective way to measure the financial responsibility of a wide range of nonprofits. Don’t automatically seek out the largest or best-known organizations—they may be overexposed to your audience, thus creating “donation fatigue,” or they may have onerous barriers to entry for tie-ins with small or midsize companies. Smaller nonprofits may be more nimble and innovative, especially when it comes to building a dedicated social media community. Consider bringing together several smaller organizations within an umbrella campaign, and spreading funds to each.

Coming in Part 3: Tips 5-8 on how to build a modern cause-marketing campaign

Brands and customers joining forces for social change