Ad Age is one of my requisite weekly reads. I am constantly searching for the latest in the marketing arena that is cutting edge, as well as the weekly news. I always read the CMO-bylined column to see what wisdom is being shared.
One recent column stopped me dead in my tracks. It was six areas to pay attention to as our economy continues to rock and roll. Some of the guidance was standard: adapt your brand so there is some innovation; don't focus on promotion, but still plan for the longer view. But the sixth area was surprising: Do Well by Doing Good.
Avi Dan, the writer, went on to say, "People tend to vote for a brand with a social conscience, and smart CMO's will incorporate social responsibility programs into the fabric of their marketing activity."
Wow. How amazing to have a CMO strategy column concurring with what we have been saying for 2+ decades. Linking companies and their brands with causes (I believe Mr. Dan was talking about cause alignments, not operational CSR) has become a mainstream attribute that marketers must embrace. He went on to say that "respect for the environment, helping fight AIDS in Africa and rebuilding New Orleans are AS IMPORTANT AS A GREAT AD CAMPAIGN in shaping brand image." (My emphasis, not his.)
This is great advice for a CMO, but a bit of caution here. Linking with a cause must be authentic. The level of strategy applied to a company's overall marketing should be replicated with the same amount of thoughtfulness towards adopting a cause. A great way to do this is create a cross-functional senior executive team of individuals -- marketing, human resources, communications, company foundation, operations, manufacturing, chief executive's office, research, finance...even legal...to deeply analyze the why's, how's and where this should go. This team should be led by a CIO -- what we call a Chief Integration Officer -- an experienced executive who has cross functional relationships and access to the CEO, someone who can bring all the elements of the company together to create and execute a cause program of substance.
When all the senior parties believe that a company has not just an obligation, but a true benefit in embracing social issues that are in alignment with the brand and the business and that are thoughtfully planned and executed, a company can develop substantive programs achieving results that truly add long term value to the brand.