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Canadian Companies and Charities Discuss the Future of Cause Marketing


By Elizabeth Dove

Not that long ago cause marketing – leveraging a brand to encourage consumer participation in a cause effort – was the practice of just a few Canadian companies. Often it was a point-of-sale request to buy a leaf or shoe cut-out you sign and the store mounts, or give an extra toonie when you buy your java to help a kids' cause. Now cause marketing is considered an integral part of marketing for both business and charities. And, as evidenced at Toronto’s inaugural Companies and Causes Canada conference on Oct. 28, execution has become considerably more innovative, measured and refined based on evidence.

New data shows Canadian consumers open to new techniques

Ipsos Reid announced the results of its recent study, A Canadian View on Cause Marketing, at the conference. It showed that Canadians prefer and most often engage with a company-supported cause by 1) giving a donation at the cash register and 2) a cause-embedded purchase, which are arguably the two most used cause marketing methods. Interestingly, giving at-cash is the only area where those surveyed show less inclination in the future than current behavior. Buy one-get one is the greatest area of opportunity for companies as it shows the biggest gap between past consumer behavior and participation opportunities they “would consider."

This is good news for at-cash employees, as evidence suggests they are uncomfortable with asking for donations: In the effort to win an external audience through at-cash requests for a cause, companies may be turning off their internal audience. Presenter Phil Haid of Public encourages companies who wish to respond to the evidence of at-cash engagement preference to create a campaign that makes it compelling for customers to ask to participate in-store versus being prompted by an employee.

Give where your customer lives

The Ipsos Reid survey also proves customers want specifics about the actual impact of their participation and prefer it to be close to home (e.g. will donate $2.50 which will pay for 22 meals at the local foodbank). Specific preference on geographic area of cause impact of those polled was 44 percent Canada, 38 percent local – (evenly split on province, city/town) and 18 percent global.

These findings support the efforts of companies such as conference presenter Telus whose multiple cause marketing campaigns, such as #givewherewelive and Go Pink, have employed innovative, sharable techniques (using selfies, social media) and locally-tailored campaigns with trusted charities like WWF and a focus on local impact. Telus gave more to cause charities in 2013 than all of the telecom companies combined and can quantify the payoffs of their techniques with metrics such as: decreased customer complaints, increased employee engagement and a larger share of Facebook followers than all other telecoms combined; additionally, 55 percent of customers say Telus' cause commitments influence their decision to stay.

Determine what social impact your consumer will pay for

Choosing the right cause depends on in-depth knowledge of your consumer. As presenter Sue Tobias of Mission Measurement put it, “It’s great to save the world, but if it doesn’t touch the consumer, it’s not going to move the needle on business.” The key is to determine the social impact your customer will pay for through attractive functional benefit (e.g. fuel savings), emotional benefit (e.g. "I feel good that my higher priced java means fairer wages for workers") and/or identity benefit (e.g. see my ethical TOMS shoes).

Your data-informed campaign has to employ the preferred techniques of your consumer. Millennials are far more likely to respond to a campaign that has tools built in to allow them to share their participation with their social media network than one where they simply pin on a button. Choice of charity partners also must be informed by alignment with cause, your consumer and your brand. But of course there is so much more that needs to go into creating the best partnership fit, which presents an opportunity for next year’s conference to explore.

Bigger, more focused investments by companies

With slick television and print ads, events, the contributions to partner charities, and often involvement of third parties – like sports teams – the financial layout for cause campaigns is considerable. As a result, companies are getting more focused, often down to a single cause they are behind. As Brian Collins of Purolator said at the event while discussing the company's award-winning Tackle Hunger program, “Purolator is not listening unless you can connect your cause to hunger.” It also means that charities are finding it harder to break in to cause marketing while others with high trust and desirable segment appeal (e.g. Free the Children’s hold on millennials) enjoy multiple corporate cause marketing partners.

Bold leadership on underexposed causes -- the next frontier?

One of the most impressive presentations showcased the multiple commitments of Unilever, including their leadership to recognize previously underexposed issues – like women’s self esteem (Dove’s ‘Self Esteem Project’) and preventable disease spread through poor hygiene (Lifebuoy’s ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign) -- and bring them to light, leveraging the company's global reach. As part of the company's motivation for the ambitious Sustainable Living Plan, John Coyne of Unilever framed the business case as self-evident, “We know the economic cost of inaction is more than action.”

But short-term business interests often trump this. What will it take for more businesses to take this long view on sustainable change investment -- and step out from the safe issues multiple businesses rally behind -- to bring more of the root causes of inequity and eroding sustainability to light?

Image credits: 1) Elizabeth Dove 2) Telus

Elizabeth Dove is a specialist in strategically engaging the public, companies and government on sustainability and social change. She has worked as senior staff and consultant for initiatives that support the arts, child welfare, public health and particularly international development. Passionate about the power of collaboration, she seeks out projects that bring together actors from different sectors to create value for their organizations and the broader community.  She is Senior Vice-President, Strategy at The Divinsky Group and an Associate at Open Spaces Learning, a Canadian change management firm helping companies realize business and social impact. Twitter: @EDove5

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