I was sitting at my kitchen counter having my daily bowl of cereal, as many nine year olds routinely do, when I was first exposed to cause marketing: the General Mills* Box Tops for Education program. As a regimented Honey Nut Cheerios eater (with the occasional variation of Trix, if I was lucky), I was able to enjoy my cereal and help my school at the same time! The more I ate, the more I could help - it was a brilliant campaign for a growing kid and cereal loyalist.
Since then, cause marketing has grown in popularity and consequentially, diversified as companies build programs that cater to specific wants and needs of their stakeholders. It helps to keep competitive edge. Provided price and quality are the same, 80 percent of Americans are willing to switch brands if a brand supports a good cause (2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study). Moreover, consumers want the power of voice and of choice – 75 percent of Americans want to offer their ideas and feedback on the company’s cause-related efforts (2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study). With these points in mind, it makes sense to reward consumers with an empowered, active role in helping to guide corporate giving.
Box Tops for Education remains strong since its inception in 1996 and has grown to a network of partner companies that offer eBoxTops (those for virtual redemptions) to reward consumer purchases. Other organizations with loyalty programs have been able to adopt and adapt this approach, from hotel companies like Hilton (Cone client) and Marriott, to major banking and credit card companies such as Citibank and American Express. These global giants offer the option to donate reward points to a charitable organization of personal choice (some with databases of over one million organizations). This simple, successful method has even extended into start-ups like DailyFeats, a website that rewards users with points for tracking positive behaviors. It is a relatively simple concept that can be flexed in numerous ways.
Here’s why it works…
- For the company:
- Drives repeated business - consumers are encouraged to subscribe to the loyalty program and come back to accumulate the points
- Delivers a measurable impact to talk about - how many organizations were supported, how many dollars were given, how many people utilized the giving mechanism
- Invites consumers to take part in a team effort for change - giving back should be done by both companies and consumers, not solely one or the other
- For the consumer:
- Enables loyalists to “do good” at “no cost”- there aren’t any checks written by the consumer
- Empowers consumers with personal choice - they’ve earned the points and can choose a cause they find compelling
- Grants access at a low threshold - giving can be done in incremental amounts (rather than waiting to accumulate for the “big” rewards at the risk of points expiring)
- Offers a more substantive reward for those who may not feel a strong need for other “fluffy” perks
- For the beneficiary organization:
- Lends visibility without the costs of advertising - loyalty programs are yet another way the public can learn about the organization
- Offers the opportunity to build relationships - the organization can follow-up with continued communications (emails, newsletters, campaigns, etc.)
- Provides a direct benefit - the donation
My breakfast routine has since changed to a daily Greek yogurt, but I have also become a frequent credit card swiper. Companies like Citibank make it easy, engaging and personal for me to continue to support causes I believe in by simply rewarding my continued business. With technology enabling loyalty programs to become even more accessible and easier to use, I’m eager to see where companies go next.
Rachel Swirsky is an Account Executive in Cone Communications’ Cause Branding group.