Many businesses are seeking ways to develop a brand story in order to form deeper connections to staff and customers. Giving back to a cause is a powerful way to enhance a brand story while helping others.
Further reading: A Well-targeted Market
Being associated with a cause helps communicate that your brand exists for a purpose other than profit. If done correctly, your charitable contribution creates opportunities to showcase the issues you care about most.
The merger of making a positive difference in the world and letting your community know about it is called cause marketing, or cause branding.
Good Deeds Gone Wrong
Once your company has decided to pursue a charitable cause, you might have difficulty choosing which one. Some brands might make several contributions across a number of causes. Unfortunately, these disparate efforts rarely add up to any significant effort for those charities or the brand giving the donations.
Other brands blindly make contributions to charity, but other than the act of giving the cash, they end up having nothing to show for their patronage. They never follow up on the results of their contributions, and they certainly don’t pass this information on to their employees or customer fan base. From a brand story perspective, the net result in both scenarios is that these good deeds go unnoticed.
To avoid these missteps, we recommend focusing charitable efforts for an overall greater effect by using the following five-step process.
1. Determine What Matters Most
First, identify a topic or issue that aligns with your passions or your target audience. What do you, your employees and your brand care about most?
Perhaps there is a hot issue that you are already actively pursuing within your company. Examples could be: elimination of pesticides, elimination of carcinogens, use of non-GMO ingredients, support of women, fair labor, fair trade, etc.
Perhaps there is an area you feel passionate about but have not yet been able to support internally. Alternatively, there might be a cause that may not directly relate to your business or product offering. By adopting a cause, you can send a message about your values without altering your own business.
2. Make a Big Splash
It’s important to pick an organization for which your contribution will make a significant impact. Occasionally, brands start their own charities or create their own give-back program. This is no small task. It’s one thing to generate the income to fund a cause and another to deliver a benefit to the community. For this reason, we highly recommend finding a charity partner.
We believe it’s important to look for a partner organization that is appropriately scaled for your brand. There is little sense in reaching out to the multimillion-dollar charities. Your contribution will be barely noticed. Rather, we suggest partnering with an organization where you can be a significant player.
Don’t forget to consider organizations whose efforts and outreach have an impact right here in the United States. Too often, brands look overseas and forget about the needs here at home. If you are a brand with local reach, think locally. If you are a national brand, think nationally.
A cross benefit here is the organization might have a target audience similar to your own. You might even meet some new followers and fans of your brand through the organization’s network. After all, you already have something in common: You are fighting for the same cause!
3. Focus the Effort
Once you’ve identified the right partner, the next step is to hone in on a specific task, project or effort. If you’ve chosen an organization that is appropriately scaled for your brand, it will welcome your involvement. Ask yourself:
- What can this organization do with the funds you are planning to donate?
- Where will your contribution make the most impact?
- Is there an issue that is particularly timely or pressing?
- Is there an area that relates to your own business?
- Is this a contribution you can commit to making annually?
The goal of this process is to find an effort you can sponsor, something you can share with your fans and customers. Experienced charities will welcome this collaboration.
Don’t worry if there are other supporters of this project; collaboration is perfectly fine. In fact, the bigger, more significant tasks often require large teams. There is also no shame in taking on something small. Sometimes the basic, everyday needs are most critical.
4. Get Involved
Employees might be eager to donate their time, resources and expertise to the cause, and may even be willing to take a seat on the board. Be sure to volunteer in ways that demonstrate your brand’s best assets.
5. Tell the Story
A crucial part of a brand story is content. Aligning with a brand whose goals are in sync with your own creates a wealth of content. You can share information on the organization’s efforts and facts surrounding the cause through your own social media and communication channels. This content gives you more stories to tell and builds passion within your community.
Whatever the initiative, take pride in what you have been able to achieve. Proudly share images, facts, testimonials and anecdotal stories. Showcase the results any way you can. Share this information throughout the year in-store, online and in pamphlets alongside your products.
Include some of the larger, more challenging facts about the key issues this organization is supporting. This will help reaffirm why your efforts and contributions matter!
Ensure a Clear Narrative
Following the five key steps in this process, you are certain to begin developing a more robust brand story both internally and externally. By integrating your passions, choice of partner organization, and the results of your efforts into one clear narrative you are not only on your way to making a difference in the world, but you are creating more stories for your brand to share.
Continue to support your passions, and you will have a sure-fire cause marketing plan for years ahead.
Sheri L. Koetting (sheri AT mslk.com) is the co-founder and chief strategist of MSLK, a marketing and design agency based in New York. MSLK specializes in helping beauty brands find their voice in today’s crowded marketplace through 360° brand positioning—from overall brand strategy to brand identity, packaging, retail experience, websites and social media campaigns.