It’s not too difficult to spot the brands who have hopped on the cause marketing bandwagon recently, tying their promotions to a charity in the hopes of sparking increased sales and reaping the halo benefits of goodwill for their image. Today’s consumer is smarter and more informed, and wants to do business with socially responsible companies, so it makes sense that businesses would react to deliver on this growing market demand.
But as consumers continue to rally against the old capitalism paradigm, companies need to demonstrate a deeper commitment to doing good than using a cause as a flavor-of-the-month marketing technique with no clear tie-in to their business, product or brand position. Coastal Contacts is one such example of a business focused on giving back to society in relevant and meaningful ways, so I sought out Patty Gibson, their Advertising Director, to learn more about their strategy behind cause marketing, and share their success stories for effectively linking a cause to people – not dollar signs.
Coastal Contacts is considering a cause-related marketing initiative with guide dogs. Will this be your first CRM effort?
No, Coastal Contacts has been an active member of our community, donating to multiple charities and organizing our team to raise money for a number of causes. Coastal Contacts has also partnered with the Lions Club to run a program where people can donate their used glasses which will be refurbished and sent out to people in need all over the world.
Why have you decided to go the route of cause-related marketing? Is it something you are just testing out or part of larger strategic imperative?
Coastal Contacts feels that it is important to be active in the community and to give back where we can. We all feel very fortunate to work for a great company that allows us the time and support to be able to give to causes that we choose jointly as a team.
Is Costal Contacts a socially responsible company overall? What other types of conscious activities do you engage in?
Yes, Coastal Contacts regards social responsibility with high importance. And we are dedicated to helping improve the lives of others through our growth. Since our inception in 2000, Coastal Contacts has donated to charities such as the Lions Club, Easter Seals, the Tsunami Relief Program, and the Food Bank. Our staff also organizes food, toy and clothing drives every year to help support local charities. Coastal Contacts has also entered corporate teams into the 24 Hour Relay (Easter Seals) and Race for the Cure (breast cancer).
Have you observed any market trends around buying behavior as it relates to cause-marketing?
We are customer focused and want to make sure that we are providing more than just what our customers expect. We always want to go above expectations and support the causes that mean something to our customers. It’s about making that personal connection for us – above just the transactional level.
Do you think there are certain verticals where CRM is more critical than others?
It’s important in every sector in this day and age. Consumers have a multitude of options so companies need to find a way to develop more meaningful ways to connect with their customers and potential customers. CRM is another way to display your identity as a company by letting people know what is important to you.
Why do you think more companies aren’t wholly embracing cause/philanthropy-driven efforts as part of their business practices?
In these tough economic times, many companies are focusing on driving more immediate sales and revenue. CRM is not designed to do that. Coastal Contacts believes that embracing causes that are important to us – and our customers – offers a way to connect with us on another level, which has a value of its own, apart from sales. Our customers can feel good about doing business with us in the long term, not only around a charitable promotion.
How would you like to see these efforts evolve from a retail perspective?
I would love to see more companies participating actively in their communities. It helps by giving your staff a rallying point if you choose carefully and find a cause or charity that people really believe in, and give them a vehicle for getting involved and donating their time, not just money. Team Coastal is a value that we cherish and actively pursue.
Can you give us some examples of retail companies whom you feel are effectively harnessing cause-related marketing? What do you think is the common factor in their success?
A great example of effective cause marketing campaigns was done by Pampers for Unicef. They took the BOGO concept, but changed it from Buy One, Get One to Buy One, Give One. For each pack of specially marked diapers, they donated the cost of one vaccine against newborn tetanus.
This is a perfect product tie-in that appeals to consumers on a deeper level because of the clear and obvious connection of helping babies. The BOGO format allows the customer to feel that they have directly contributed to the cause.
One of the biggest issues with cause-related marketing revolves around companies choosing arbitrary charities without a true integration with their product or service, making it appear to be more of a disingenuos sales ploy than genuine commitment. What other issues do you think spark consumer skepticism? What would you recommend companies do to avoid falling into the trap of selecting an irrelevant cause?
Coastal Contacts did an employee poll to see which charities mattered most to our employees. If the cause is close to the hearts of the employees, you are more likely to get a better result. In addition, we made sure that all of the options were charities that were relevant to our business, and the issues facing our consumers.
Choosing arbitrary “fashionable” charities that have nothing to do with your product or service could lead to customers feeling that you are jumping on the bandwagon to generate hype. A company can be more helpful and effective in an area that they specialize in because they really understand the problem and have the resources and contacts to do something about it. That’s when powerful change can happen, and we want to be a part of that.
What companies do you think have missed the mark with their CRM programs? Why?
I think it is always a positive thing when a company tries to help out a charity or a cause. The challenge is finding a cause that really matters to both your customers, as well as your staff, and thinking from a long-term perspective instead of quick hits.
Aside from price and product quality, what other attributes do you think consumers are seeking in a company other than charitable donations?
A company they can trust, a company that makes their lives easier by being convenient, a company that saves them money, and most importantly, a company that is consistent in their message, quality and commitment. I believe that Coastal Contacts is all of those things to its customers, and we continue to strive to ensure that value is evident in all we do.
What best practices would you share with other Advertising Managers hoping to incorporate CRM and social change-related programs into their tactical mix?
It’s imperative to select a cause or charity that your staff can really embrace wholeheartedly. It is a clich√©, but if you genuinely care about something, it will show. It’s equally important that you select a cause that you can affect directly with your products or services.
Sure, it’s always great to fight world hunger, but it would be a better fit for a catering company to get their staff together once a month to support a local soup kitchen by providing dinner. One, you get your team together doing something fun. Two, you are using your existing products and services to help the community. Three, you can leverage elements like photos and videos into other marketing efforts, like posting them on your corporate Facebook page. Making it relevant to your local community and sharing the results is a much more compelling proposition than just writing a donation check.
I think one of the most important distinctions between Coastal Contacts and other companies engaging in CRM is a value system that permeates their overall culture. From senior management to employees, there’s an inherent commitment to doing good, and customers who share those values make a lasting connection that isn’t contingent upon any specific campaign. Then, there becomes a cumulative effect in consumers continuing to support a business who they feel is genuinely invested in making a difference, and through whom, they can derive a sense of ownership in contributing to that as well.
The other critical element that Patty highlighted is local relevancy. Being able to see the results of impacting your immediate community is far more powerful than throwing cash at a high profile cause, so companies should consider grassroots efforts that their customers can relate to directly.
Donating to the United Nations World Food Programme is a worthy endeavor but what if you could help a family down the street who was the victim of layoffs and can’t afford to feed their children? Everyone knows someone who has been laid off in this tough economy, so reaching people on a personal level can be much more meaningful in building lasting relationships.
The key is not to think in terms of blockbuster sales or quick hits, but in terms of values, impact and relevancy. Contributing to the greater good starts with your own backyard, and being a company who genuinely cares about visibly improving the lives of the customers within their community, fosters an emotional connection that has long-term impact.
In the end, you can be the company who added another zero on a corporate check, or who helped Sally and her family eat or the homeless in your area find shelter. There is definitely merit to contributing to global efforts, but it speaks to authenticity and core values when you’re mindful of using your success to help those around you. Remember goodwill begets goodwill, and planting solid roots leads to ongoing, sustainable change one act of kindness at a time.