Don’t Do Cause Marketing Just Because Of The Cause

An Advertising Age article called Yes, There Is an ROI for Doing Good examines the ROI for cause marketing. It discusses the positive returns (business results, not just philanthropic achievements) for some great philanthropic efforts like:

Here’s how the article starts:

Surely all the companies investing in cause marketing must be earning points in afterlife. Unfortunately, under both Delaware law and the tenets of most major religions, corporations technically don’t have souls and hence aren’t eligible for heaven.

My take: I agree with the article’s premise that these type of efforts, while they may be great for society, need to provide some business benefits to the company. Otherwise, corporations would be better served to give the money back to their shareholders who could use the funds to meet their personal philanthropic objectives.

But, I think that the article underestimates the ROI of these efforts by not looking at the impact that they have on employees. While I don’t have any “hard numbers” or analysis to back this up, I would hypothesize that the impact on employees could even provide the biggest return for these types of efforts. If the effort instills or amplifies the sense of purpose that employees see in their company, then I can imagine a lot of positive results: lower turnover, higher commitment, and a positive sense of the company that shines through to customer interactions.

This has a couple of implications: 1) Customers (and therefore the bottom line) are likely beneficiaries of cause marketing efforts; and 2) Good cause marketing efforts need to actively engage employees.

The bottom line: Think strategically about your causes.

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I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Do Cause Marketing Just Because Of The Cause”

  1. Bruce,

    I think the future for publicly-owned companies is going to be shifting from adopting a “corporate cause” to supporting and enabling employees to contribute to their personal causes, and publicizing that they are doing so. Our society is becoming so pluralistic that it will be difficult to engage all employees equally by a single cause (I think the situation is very different for private companies and entrepreneurs who attract employees with a personal vision that blends business and cause, like Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard).

    In the same way, a single cause cannot possibly impact all customers equally (i.e., improve their emotional experience).

    I do fall into the camp that believes publicly traded companies are not social institutions, and they should not be using corporate profits for social causes. They can still engage the hearts of their employees by *how* they do business (e.g. being ethical, environmentally responsible, fair, honest, etc.) and by getting creative in helping employees express and engage in the causes *they* are passionate about. I think that will be a more sure route to winning the hearts of customers too.

  2. Brian: I think we’re on the same wavelength. Public corporations need to be good “citizens,” but they are not philanthropic entities. So their efforts need to at least indirectly serve the shareholders (which happens when you serve your employees and customers). It appears that there may be a few levels of engaging employees with this type of activity: 1) Make them feel good about their company’s efforts; 2) Engage them in the efforts; and 3) Tap into their personal passions.

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