Cone Inc. Sheds Light on the Cause Marketing Conundrum

causebranding_charms.jpgAnyone who’s heavily immersed Cause Marketing, is already well aware of Cone Inc., and it’s virtually impossible to perform a search on the topic without inevitably returning several results with Cone’s many research studies or commentary. They have spent the past 28 years advising businesses and nonprofits on effective cause engagement, and are without question, one of the leaders in the space.
The pioneers behind blockbuster cause campaigns such as the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women and Procter & Gamble’s Live Learn and Thrive, among others, Cone knows what it takes to develop, implement, and maintain programs that are aligned with core business objectives and designed to make a difference. In fact, cause impact is built right into the strategy for all of the programs that Cone devises, ensuring that they are both profitable and world changing.
So, I reached out to Casey Brennan, Insights Coordinator at Cone, to share some of their recent market findings, as well as offer insights and examples of the companies doing it effectively and some of the key ingredients of success.

Cone Inc. is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on Cause Marketing. Can you share with our readers a little more about Cone Inc, your experience and services in this area?
Cone is a strategy and communications agency committed to building brand trust. We seek to create stakeholder loyalty and long-term relationships through the development and execution of Cause Branding(sm), Corporate Responsibility, Brand Marketing and Crisis Prevention and Management initiatives. As a leader in Cause Branding, Cone has been at the forefront of creating and implementing innovative, strategic cause and citizenship initiatives for corporations and nonprofits for more than 28 years. Notable campaigns include: the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade; Procter & Gamble’s Live, Learn and Thrive; Reebok Human Rights Awards; American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women; T-Mobile Huddle Up; and JC Penney Afterschool.
How do you differentiate cause marketing, cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility? Please share any examples of each.
At Cone, we typically employ these definitions to differentiate the concepts:

Cause Marketing
: A promotional marketing tool used by a company or brand that links it to a social issue by raising money and awareness for the social cause or issue while impacting the company’s short-term financial goals. e.g., Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives program, which has donated more than $19 million to the Susan G. Komen foundation through the sale of its marked packages.
Cause Branding: A business strategy that helps an organization stand for a social issue(s) to gain significant bottom line and social impacts while making an emotional and relevant connection to stakeholders. e.g., P&G’s Live, Learn and Thrive platform, which is a global, multi-program initiative centered around a common mission of improving the lives of children.
Corporate Responsibility: An integrated business approach that generates social, environmental, and financial value for key stakeholders and society. e.g., Starbuck’s C.A.F.E Practices, which are guidelines to ensure its coffee supply is sourced in an equitable and sustainable way.
You’ve service marked the term ’cause branding.’ How do you dinstinguish that?
Cause Branding goes beyond short-term promotions and speaks to the alignment of business goals, resources and assets with an important social issue. It involves philanthropy, cause marketing and the engagement of employees and advocacy groups to help reach a broader range of stakeholders. It engages consumers through cause marketing and philanthropy, but Cause Branding also reaches diverse stakeholders by addressing issues such as reputation management, brand building and establishing license to operate.
How do you think companies should employ these concepts in their business and marketing practices?
To begin, companies need to answer the question: “What do you stand for?” They should evaluate their business objectives and the needs of their diverse stakeholders to identify issues that will meet their business needs, while at the same time can have a lasting social impact. Leadership companies are looking across their organizations to include, not only marketing, but also diverse functions ranging from manufacturing to human resources. For all of this to work, corporate leadership and the “C-suite” need to be engaged as part of a cross-functional team, which has the ability to make decisions and build the program from the inside out.
What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in cause marketing right now, both from a consumer and company standpoint?
In the future, companies will look beyond a single program representing a discrete moment in time to a longer-term, comprehensive approach that translates their corporate values into business and social action. Cause is evolving to new models of social engagement and global citizenship as companies recognize that business growth and societal needs are intrinsically linked, and they begin to evaluate opportunities to drive change. Leaders will approach their Cause Branding initiatives with renewed vigor, reasserting their responsibility to society, not solely as philanthropy, but as a driving force of business growth, including reputation management, license to operate, new market development, product innovation, and employee recruitment and retention.
What do you think has precipitated consumer demand for doing business with socially responsible companies?
While cause marketing has been around for 25 years, in the last five there has been a convergence of vocal business leaders (e.g., Jeff Immelt), politicians (e.g., Bill Clinton), and celebrity figures (e.g., Bono) who have brought the cause case to the community.
There has also been a heightened concern for the environment with the emergence of global warming and other issues in recent years, and the current state of the economy has inspired people to be more compassionate about the welfare of those around them.
In addition, recent corporate scandals have destroyed trust among consumers, and they now expect companies to go beyond business as usual. They want to support companies who are contributing to their communities and are nurturing the environment and society in a meaningful way.
Do you think the emergence of cause marketing activities and customer-facing messaging around social responsibility among companies is a result of that demand?
Absolutely. When you look at companies like Yoplait, who have been doing this for years, not only is there a consumer demand that is being met through the sale of its products, but Yoplait has raised more than $19 million for a cause that resonates with its consumers. In our 2008 Behavioral Cause Study with Duke University, we found evidence of product differentiation for products associated with a cause, as these showed higher brand recall and increased purchase across all product categories tested. In addition, participants spent nearly twice as long examining advertisements with a cause affiliation versus general corporate messages. Consumers want to see companies align themselves with causes to help achieve greater good and are taking notice of companies that do.
Why do you think more companies are embracing cause-related campaigns?
Companies are paying close attention to consumers’ increased interest in cause-related products. Something that was once a marketing tactic has evolved into a powerful business strategy that gains attention in the marketplace. A full 85 percent of Americans say that they have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about and 79 percent would be likely to switch from one brand to another if the other is associated with a good cause. In today’s marketplace, those figures can be a powerful force of differentiation for a brand or company.
How important do you think transparency and authenticity are when it comes to cause marketing?
In these times where there is little trust in business, transparency and authenticity are critical for credibility and long-term support. Reporting and communicating progress toward cause-related goals can be vital to gaining the support of savvy cause consumers. Results could include reporting business returns or social returns on investment, but regardless, Americans want to support a company who can show the impact it is having on a cause to ensure their investment of time and money is well used. Companies whose campaigns lack authenticity and appear to be jumping on the cause bandwagon, so to speak, just for the potential marketing return, run a great risk of being exposed and losing their credibility. Damaging criticism can spread quickly online through citizen activists or watchdog groups.
Has your research shown that consumers want to know where their dollars are going and the impact of their retail contributions?
Yes, impact is critical. The personal impact consumers stand to make on the cause (75%) and the company’s impact (80%) on the cause are important factors in determining a consumer’s willingness to support corporate efforts.
What companies do you think are the gold standard in effective cause marketing? Why?
Target continues to show strength through its cause program and annual contributions and is highly regarded in the cause marketing space. With a focus on education, it has even empowered consumers by allowing them to donate to the school of their choice when they use their Target card.
Yoplait is a company that was able to align the concerns of its consumers with the need to drive sales, and its cause-related program Save Lids to Save Lives recently celebrated its 10th year of success. Not only is the length of this promotion impressive, but Yoplait has donated more than $19 million to help fight breast cancer.
Can you offer an example of a well integrated cause marketing campaign and the components that made it successful?
A recent one that was just launched in the U.S. in the last two years after seeing great success in the UK is Pampers “1 pack= 1 vaccine,” which helps babies in underdeveloped regions, especially Africa, get off to a healthy start. Each time a consumer purchases a package of Pampers, a vaccination is provided via UNICEF to a child in need.
The success of this campaign lies in alignment of the product with the cause. Pampers chose an interesting global issue that was relevant to its business and was able to execute it through various channels. So far, more than 50 million vaccinations have been funded. P&G ultimately hopes to eradicate maternal and neonatal tetanus through this effort, saving tens of millions of lives.
What would you say is the biggest mistake a company can make when implementing a cause-related campaign?
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is not walking the talk — when their actions conflict with their cause efforts. Consumers today are more in tune with cause and the issues our world faces, and they will see right through any inauthentic efforts. In addition, thinking a cause promotion is an easy solution that will solve any business challenge or will counteract negativity in the marketplace is false.
What is the greatest piece of advice you can offer for social entrepreneurs who want to build their brand — and a sustainable revenue model — around a cause?
Look to where the puck is going, not where it is today. There is a great need for cause-related programs that create innovative new products and services to address global needs. The goal is not simply donations, but to create new tools that foster healthy, thriving communities.
Many leadership companies today are recognizing that when society thrives, their business thrives and many industries are collaborating to create broad market development. One company that has effectively innovated their products to help benefit society, while also making a profit, is Exxon Mobil, who witnessed the destruction of its workforce as a result of malaria. By providing affordable mosquito nets, Exxon could help prevent disease and the loss of skilled workers, reducing the time and cost of training and improving the lives of workers and their families. P&G’s Pur, a low-cost filtration product that purifies mud into safe drinking water, is another example. To date, it has helped purify more than a billion liters of water, no doubt saving many lives.

Walking the walk…

In all of the examples Casey highlighted, the common theme centered around connection to the cause above all other variables, reinforcing the critical need for companies who engage in cause marketing to be able to walk the walk. With a cause savvy consumer market, talk is cheap, and attempting to associate your brand with a cause for selfish reasons can have serious ramifications to your company’s reputation and negatively impact brand perception.
Despite the fact that it’s called cause marketing, success requires removing a pure marketing focus from the equation to pull your efforts through all aspects of the business — stakeholders, internal communications, culture, public relations and even human resources — which is probably why Cone calls it cause branding. Because it’s not a promotional tactic; it’s a full representation of your brand — internally and externally. And it produces the greatest results for your company and your cause when it’s conceived as a mission, not just a marketing message.

Gennefer Gross is a writer, producer and co-founder of Gross Factor Productions, an independent film and television company focused on scripted comedy. An avid writer, author and idea cultivator, Gennefer thrives on creativity and contributes regularly to Triple Pundit on a variety of sustainable business topics. She also pens the popular series Hollywood & Green, exploring socially responsible cinema that helps connect consumers with important causes and environmental issues. And somehow she finds the time to write for her own blog, Tasty Beautiful, covering food and fashion in and around Los Angeles. Gennefer will also be launching Philanthrofoodie(TM), a charitable venture designed to spark social change through shared food experiences. An eternal student of life with an eclectic background, Gennefer brings unique insights on everything from breakthroughs in renewable energy to the latest dish in celebrity consciousness.

3 responses

  1. As someone who works at ExxonMobil I can attest to the fact that we recognize that improving the lives of the communities in which we operate is essential in laying the foundation for economic growth and development, while at the same time achieving our business objectives.
    There is no better example of this approach then our efforts to fight Malaria in Africa. As we became aware of the unacceptable human toll of malaria through our operations in that country, which has 90 percent of the global malaria cases and where it is the No. 1 killer of young children, we decided that we needed to act – not simply to protect our workforce but to protect their families and the communities in which we operate.
    I am proud to say that in the 10 years since we founded the Africa Health Initiative we have saved countless lives through the deployment of more than 3 million bed nets across Africa and through our support for the acceleration and development of new anti-malaria drugs like Coartem Dispersible – the world’s first malaria drug for children. For anyone who would like to find out more of what ExxonMobil is doing to fight malaria I attach a link to our Chairman’s recent comments at the World Economic Forum where he talks about our ongoing efforts to complete the malaria mission.

  2. GREAT post. Thank you.
    And it’s stunning to see the results.
    We’re on precisely the same path with the exception right now that we’re working with SME’s building a world-wide movement (as opposed to individual brands) and a wonderful ‘plumbing’ system to make it all happen – automatically every second, every day and in every way.
    Check it out and feedback at

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