Sunday, August 21, 2011


Sometimes you need to latch on to something other than what you sell to draw people to do business with you:

Consumers Are Drawn to Products With a Charitable Connection

When 10-year-old Claire St. Peter of Kansas City, Mo., pointed out a pair of shoes she wanted to buy on a recent shopping trip, her mom was surprised.

"It was this funny-looking pair of canvas shoes," says Anne St. Peter. "I said, 'Claire, they're strange looking. Why would you want them?'"

But Claire thought it was clear why she needed the blue canvas Toms shoes.

"I'd been seeing them on the streets," says Claire. "When my friend told me about their purpose -- how buying a pair of shoes sends another pair to a kid in need -- I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what a really cool purpose. I have to get involved in it!'"

Not only was Claire inspired to get a pair, she persuaded several friends and cousins to get them, too. "It makes me feel really good to know that I and my friends are helping kids in need," Claire says.

American consumers of all ages are increasingly motivated to buy products that have a connection to a particular charitable or social cause. In one recent survey, consumers ranked "purpose" as a significantly more important reason to buy a product than design, innovation or brand loyalty, when quality and price are the same. More tellingly, nearly half of respondents ranked "social purpose" as the No. 1 factor.

"Americans seek deeper involvement in social issues and expect brands and companies to provide various means of engagement," says Carol Cone, a managing director of Edelman Purpose, the cause marketing arm of Edelman, a global public relations firm. "We call this the rise of the 'citizen consumer.'"

Color-coded causes
Over the last decade, the color pink has quickly become the banner color for the breast cancer movement, while green is responsible for generating millions in revenue for environmentally friendly products. There is even a new movement to encourage Americans to "buy veteran" by supporting companies owned by veterans.

But too much of a good thing can have negative consequences.

While consumers are seeking purpose from their products, they also are increasingly burnt out on more traditional marketing campaigns that rely on labeling to communicate a connection to a cause, experts say.

"Cause-related marketing, as we know it, is dead. It's not about slapping a ribbon on a product any longer," Cone says. "Almost half of respondents to our most recent Goodpurpose annual consumer survey say they feel brands only support good causes for publicity and promotion, and not because they really care."

Last year, KFC ran a-fowl with consumers for its pink-wrapped buckets of chicken. While proceeds from sales of the pink buckets went to support the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation's largest non-profit working to fight breast cancer, many questioned the connection, given the health concerns with fried foods.

As for the "green" movement, cause-marketing experts have coined the term green-washing to describe the deluge of so-called green products that have weak ties to the sustainable business practices they tout.

But for companies that get it right, the upside of cause marketing is big. Despite the recession, more than half of consumers say that they are willing to pay more for a product that supports a good cause, Cone's research found. The company surveyed more than 7,000 adults in 13 countries, including the U.S., in 2010.

Which companies are getting it right? Respondents placed Pepsi, Newman's Own and Nike, respectively, on top, thanks, in part, to these efforts:

  • PepsiCo ditched the Super Bowl in 2010 to spend its multimillion-dollar marketing budget on the Pepsi Refresh Project, a crowd-sourced campaign that gives millions to charities and good ideas submitted by Americans across the country.
  • Newman's Own, founded by actor Paul Newman, is famous for giving all after-tax profits to charity. It has given more than $300 million in charitable donations since its founding in 1982.
  • Nike sells some shoes made totally of recycled material. And this month, it teamed with Hurley and Converse to open Salvation, the third in a series of new retail concepts in California. It will benefit Nike's community partnership with Stoked Mentoring, which empowers youth to make the world a better place through sports. Store associates will engage in ongoing projects with the non-profit, promoting access for kids of all economic means to participate in action sports.
Leaving a legacy
"The best companies are using a variety of models. But what they all have in common is a compelling and relevant initiative, and they're making it transparent through comprehensive communications off and online," says Cone. "They're authentic, in it for the long term and provide deeper engagement levels for consumers with the goal of leaving a legacy to the community."

Scott Beaudoin, senior vice president of consumer marketing for the MSLGroup and 15-year veteran of the cause-marketing industry, agrees.

"Consumers are willing to reward companies for their good efforts, but it has to make sense. Tide's Loads of Hope campaign, which provides clean clothes to victims of disasters, is a perfect example of a campaign that makes sense," he says.

When it comes to supporting causes, according to Beaudoin, companies need to ask themselves: What is our reason for existence on this planet? What is our purpose in society? What do we want to stand for?

"These questions are key to helping identify potential causes, and then non-profits that can help deliver on that purpose to society. Brands need non-profits just as much as non-profits need brands these days."

Thanks to supporters like Claire, Toms has helped provide more than 1 million shoes to kids in need in the U.S. and abroad since its founding in 2006.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company employs a "one-to-one model." For each pair sold through more than 1,000 retailer partners in the U.S., they give a new pair to a child in need.

Hoping to build on this success, the company recently launched its second one-to-one product -- an eyewear line whose sales will help provide improved eyesight to the poor.

(Source: USA Today, 07/18/11)

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