By and large, a cause marketing initiative works best when a company is deeply committed to a particular social issue, and incorporates a greater platform for change than merely transactional efforts. While it has value to tie the proceeds from sales to a particular cause, it has the potential to confuse the landscape if it is not a) made abundantly clear the percentage of the transaction that will be going toward charitable efforts and b) part of a larger, multi-faceted program for affecting change across business functions. (Translation: not only marketing.)
If a consumer pays five dollars for a cup of (RED)coffee at Starbucks, do they feel as though they have contributed that entire amount directly to the cause? Does that, then, give them a sense of doing good without making any additional efforts to help? Would it have been more beneficial for that customer to have given $5 directly to Project RED and forgo the coffee?
These questions bring up the core issues around cause marketing as a campaign [to drive sales/create the perception of social consciousness] vs. an outreach [to drive change/build upon an authentic mission of social consciousness]. It also highlights the importance of transparency around the impact of campaign dollars used and the need for clear communication with consumers so that they can make the most educated choice about their charitable contributions. In some cases, the purchase of a cause-branded item may be better spent as a direct donation with 100% of the contributiion benefitting the charity.
Fortunately, with companies like sweetriot, consumers don’t have to struggle with that decision. Founded on a commitment to create a multicultural world, Sarah Endline, built a company that spells consciousness in every tiny chocolate ‘peace’ candy that keeps cacao farmers employed and underdeveloped countries thriving.
Would you say that sweetriot was built on a CSR-based platform? How would you define how you set out to create sweetriot?
Absolutely. From the very beginning the company had a strong mission and set of values to do business differently from the sourcing and production of our product in Latin America to support farmers and the local community to recyclable, reusable packaging featuring work by emerging artists to the all natural ingredients and nutritional benefits we pack into our products. That mission permeates everything we do, as well as how we think about and promote our company and products.
What is sweetriot’s mission?
To create a more just and celebrated multicultural world for our next generation.
How is that mission exemplified through your marketing activities?
We are working to create a sweet movement to fix the world. A riot, especially a sweet one, never happens alone. Our marketing efforts revolve around enlisting others to join our sweet movement. We do that through building our online communities via our website, Facebook, blog, Twitter, and monthly newsletter. We support our retail partners by sample “rioting” in their stores, and are present at numerous community events such as The Sundance Film Festival, Green Festival, KIVA/GOOD Magazine, and SXSW.
What types of causes does sweetriot support and how do you integrate those efforts with your products?
Our business model builds our causes into our day-to-day business practices with a dedicated focus on Latin farmers, emerging artists and the celebration of culture and diversity. Our goal is to operate as a socially responsible business in everything that we do, internally and externally.
Do you support your causes in ways other than monetary donations? How else do you contribute?
With organizations with similar causes and values, we often donate product, volunteer, spread the word through our online community, and attend the events.
What socially responsible internal and external business practices do you employ?
+ Sourcing and producing our product directly in Latin America, which in turn, supports the farmers and the surrounding communities.
+ Our packaging is recyclable, reusable, and features art work by emerging artists.
+ Our products are all natural, gluten free, dairy free, low calorie, and are loaded with antioxidants.
What impact have your efforts been able to make to date?
+ We are working with 400 small scale farms who are environmentally friendly. All materials used in the process are recyclable, reusable, or recoverable. Most solid, liquid, and gaseous residue is controlled, classified, and disposed of. The farming company has earned the ISO 14.001-2004 certification as a result.
+ sweetriot has sold almost 1 million tins since 2005, and in turn, has reached and educated consumers about being healthy, green and socially responsible.
+ sweetriot has reached over a quarter of a million consumers through events in different cities across the United States and educated them on being green, and how they can reuse, recycle, and collect their tins. This is part of our awareness outreach.
+ We have reached over 11,000 consumers, informing them about our partnership with carbonfund, and ways in which they can offset their emissions when shopping on sweetriot.com.
+ We have featured 9 artists on our reusable, recyclable, collectable tins, and have also featured numerous reusable ideas on the Rin Tin Tin of our website that have been collected from consumers to inspires others to be green. Our customers vote on the final artist from among the 100’s of artists who have submitted.
How have customers responded to your company and your cause-related efforts? Do you involve them in the process other than through retail sales?
We are constantly learning and growing from the rioting community’s feedback. We also involve them in picking the final tin artists. We narrow the hundreds of submission to two artists, and we take the vote live to the rioting community, and they make the final decision. We seek to cultivate an active, involved community as part of sweetriot, not just purchasers of our products.
Do you communicate with consumers the impact of their contributions on your initiatives?
We always lead with the inspirational message of fixing the world. A true rioter knows that when they are supporting sweetriot its more than just a delectable treat — it’s supporting a movement to build a sweeter, more diverse and accepting world.
How important do you think transparency is when running a cause-based business?
I think it’s less about standing behind a specific cause, and more about encouraging and inspiring consumers to stand up for — or “riot” — about something that is important to them personally. It’s about impacting the world in a positive way, which can be done through supporting numerous causes.
What do you think is the biggest reason that a) companies do not embrace social responsibility and b) their cause marketing campaigns are unsuccessful?
I think companies are afraid to take a stand. I think it’s important that companies are authentic. If you try to deceive consumers, they will see right through it. You need to practice what you preach, and have it be something that is maintained, not just a one-time marketing ploy.
What companies do you seek to emulate? Who do you think are good examples of those doing cause marketing well?
I have always love and followed companies such as The Body Shop and Ben and Jerry’s. They are progressive in their thinking and interactive with their consumers in making a real difference.
What are your thoughts on the new breed of ‘conscious capitalist’ where making a profit and doing good are inherent to the business model? Why do you think people sometimes react unfavorably to a for profit company engaging in cause-related activities?
I think people may react unfavorably because it’s a new business model, and sometimes people are slow to change. I think it’s important to earn the trust of the consumer, and show them that you can be a socially responsible company and make a profit ,which in turn, can build an even bigger platform to really make positive changes in the world.
What has been your biggest success to date? Your greatest challenge?
Biggest success: launching sweetriot from a concept to a real growing movement
Greatest challenge: meticulously choosing the right partners with the right values along the way to fuel the growth of the company
Can you share any key learnings and best practices you’ve acquired along the way?
I would advocate a few practices:
1. Take care of your “people.” sweetriot is people centered. I am committed to building a workplace, which is empowered, team-oriented, positive, and service oriented. On the inside of our company, we need to be responsible in order to serve our partners and rioters effectively. I work hard to create fair HR practices such as a health care stipend even though we are a tiny company. I also work with my team on work-life balance issues and making sweetriot a wonderful place to work.
2. Authenticity. If you build something that you really believe in that is authentic, and set out to do good things, it will work in your favor, I am not saying it’s ever easy, but you are working and really fighting for things you believe in, and that makes a noticeable difference.
How do you see the market evolving — particularly from a retail standpoint — as consumer demand for social responsibility continues to increase? How do you think large scale chains and conglomerates need to adapt to meet those demands?
I think the consumer is demanding companies to be green, healthy, and socially responsible. Consumers want to feel good about what they are purchasing and be a part of something great. We always encourage consumers to speak with their dollars. That is what companies, large or small, need to support — taking a stand and taking action.
Do you think there’s a cultural, as well as paradigm shift, that needs to happen such as your support for local artists vs. a total cause/environmental focus?
I created sweetriot and incorporated different aspects of life that I love. Along with working to build the world’s greatest candy company, I wanted to support emerging artists and filmmakers. I think it all goes back to just building something that is authentic.
How would you advise someone seeking to build a mission-focused business like sweetriot?
I would advise them to always stay true to their mission, and to have a mission. However, it is important to also stay focused on growth and revenue because that will continue to help fuel the business and continue to educate consumers in spreading their mission.
What is your ultimate goal for sweetriot?
We want to build a global community of rioters who are all working to fix the world we live in!
One of the strongest qualities that Sarah and sweetriot possess is an omnipresent commitment to making a difference — and a belief that they can do it. It’s their positive attitude and approach to integrating those beliefs across every facet of their business that have allowed them to affect vast change in a short time. Plus, without being reliant on individual campaigns, their cause-related efforts aren’t contingent upon sales, so they are able to allocate funds and resources where its needed most.
Their belief translates into a community of believers (or ‘rioters’ as Sarah calls them) all focused on changing the world. It’s not causal — it’s attitudinal. And those attitudes are exemplified by a group of consumers who share sweetriot’s core values. It’s the mission they’re buying — not a specific cause, or even the candy itself. The fact that the sweet morsels of cacao that Sarah has created also happen to absolutely delicious is just an added benefit.