As noted recently by the Cause Marketing Forum, American consumers WANT to feel good about your product or service. According to the latest wave of the Cone Communications Social Impact Study, demand from Americans for cause is at an all-time high. Skeptics might say the marketplace is flooded with cause-related programs and messages, but consumers don’t seem to mind as purchasing associated with a cause is up a whopping 170 percent since Cone started tracking this data twenty years ago. Cause marketing is typically defined a type of marketing or public relations where a for profit business and a nonprofit organization align for mutual benefit. Other key highlights include:
- 54 percent bought something associated with cause in last 12 months;
- Nearly 90 percent (89%) of Americans say they’d likely switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable quality and pricing – a 35 percent increase since 1993;
- More than 90 percent (91%) want MORE products and services to follow this strategy and align with a cause;
- Nearly 90 percent (88%) want to hear HOW companies are supporting social and environmental causes;
- Consumers want companies to focus on issues they deem to be most important. Economic development topped their priorities (44%); and
- Consumers prefer causes that can be felt locally (43%).
And just as consumers are demanding that charities be more accountable and transparently show the impact of their work, they also expect the same for companies supporting causes. Consumers want to see proof and currently just 16 percent believe that companies are now having a significant impact on social and environmental issues. Though their support for causes is growing, just a quarter of those surveyed believe their own cause-related purchases really make much of a difference.
When analyzed by consumer segment, Hispanics emerged as the most socially conscious group in is the U.S. Hispanics are even more likely than the general population (94% vs. 89%) to purchase products associated with cause. Hispanics are also more likely to get involved beyond product purchases to show their support of a cause by donating funds, volunteering and otherwise advocating on behalf of involved companies. Given the dramatic growth of this consumer segment and expectation that Hispanics will represent a third of the U.S. population by 2015, there is tremendous growth opportunity still for cause-related programs. Looking forward at cause marketing strategy, the Cone Study says that both African Americans and Millennials will be important and influential groups to watch.
From a media relations perspective, cause campaigns typically make good news content and leave audiences feeling good about brands that leverage this strategy in relevant and clever ways. Honda, for example, received a good share of coverage this summer for its Project Drive In, a nationwide effort to save drive ins, which are an icon of the American Car Culture, from extinction. L.L. Bean, in honor of its 100th anniversary, sought to go beyond birthday cake and inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts with its Million Moment Mission Campaign, partnered with the National Park Foundation. They not only solicited a million personal outdoor moments from consumers, but donated $1 for each for a total of $1 million. Companies are savvier about finding causes their most important customers care deeply about, and not only are they contributing money, but further engaging these audiences in their brands. As products and services continue their daily struggle to separate from the crowd and break through the media clutter, these thoughtful efforts create an emotional connection and memorable story that that other brands will have a tough time competing with.