Corporate Cause Frameworks

It will come as no surprise to corporate executives that “cause” has gone mainstream. We have seen evidence of this recently in our 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Survey, where a shocking 30 percent drop in “word of mouth communications about a product or company after hearing about a company's commitment to social issues” was reported.

One reason for this is the increasing number of cause campaigns that are not properly aligned and executed with corporate strategy. It is my opinion that in the same way we require authenticity, focus, credibility, interactivity and other business drivers from brand and product performance, we should also hold our cause investments accountable. When we do this, we can deliver programs that last and break through.

Two impactful frameworks for integrating cause and business that I have had success in developing and have observed move the needle with stakeholders (employees, consumers, the public at large, etc.) include:

Cause as an extension of the brand:

  • Involves developing a signature cause program and outreach infrastructure
  • Includes diverse engagement components such as volunteerism, grants and content communications
  • Has a distinct marketing communications budget
  • Uses public relations to support the issuance of grants and related activities
  • Can achieve business results including corporate reputation, employee pride, stakeholder relations and permission to operate, while driving meaningful social impact

Great examples of this include: ConAgra Foods' Feeding Children Better and Crest Healthy Smiles.

Cause as part of the brand DNA:

  • Incorporated into differentiation strategy emphasizing customer experience, building community and heart, connects with stakeholders on emotional levels
  • Becomes a tangible demonstration of the brand promise, driving consumer experience and engagement
  • Used as reference point to communicate human, emotional and inspirational brand messages
  • Incorporated into overall marketing communications budget
  • Can achieve business results including aforementioned, plus increased sales, customer loyalty, consumer switching/sales person overrule and consumer acquisition

Great and diverse examples here include efforts by: Whirlpool, Aldo and Ben & Jerry's.

Both frameworks have terrific merit and adopting either is sure to be an evolutionary process. No matter which is right for the business based on your goals, resources and institutional will, each forces an understanding of purpose, an integrated approach, diverse engagement options and the assignment of results – ultimately insurance that a program will be in line with the business, brand, and stakeholder expectations. And, when a corporate cause does that, it gets noticed.

- Kristian Darigan, Former Vice President, Cause Branding


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