As cause marketing enthusiasts we recently published an article about how effective it can be for business. It’s certainly a great way to raise funds for causes and get the business noticed for doing some good; but we’ve started to consider the question: are some charities actually losing out thanks to cause marketing?
Criticism can come from many quarters, which can be constructive in weeding out the good from the not so good.
So what lessons can we take from what’s come before?
Take Amazon’s Smile program. Customers simply shop through the Smile marketplace and Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price from their own pocket to a charity of the customer’s choice. Sounds great, right?
Not entirely. An article, published just after the program was launched in 2013, points out that the customer gets the buzz of the donation—without the cost. So where’s the problem? Well, it’s claimed that the satisfaction gained from the association with this donation could well satiate a person’s need to donate elsewhere, or to a different level.
Again, the potential downside is that micro-donations do enough to satisfy our inborn desire to do good, the quick fix appeases our consciences, but potentially stops us from making larger and more meaningful donations to other charities or community programmes.
There are also a growing number of services targeted at businesses who want to engage customers in brand-based giving programs. US-based cause marketing agency In/PACT creates digital platforms for businesses that connect buying with the reciprocal act of giving. Again, sounds wonderful. But there’s a downside.
Although customers get to choose their own charity upon checkout, it’s the business in question that makes the actual donation as a percentage of the purchase price. And again, it’s often a small percentage. The customer feels that they’ve made their contribution but in reality they haven’t spent a cent of their own money for anything other than their usual shopping activities.
That well-meaning, and possibly generous, citizen may well pass up future opportunities to support another charity because “they’ve done their bit”.
There are also bricks and mortar checkout donation schemes that have become commonplace over the last few years. Walk into any supermarket or café and you’re sure to spot a charity donation box at the counter. In some cases, particularly in the US, cashiers ask customers outright if they’d like to make a donation. However, these approaches can make us feel awkward and guilted into giving. Is that the lasting impression you want to leave with your customer?
Despite all this, there have been some clever—and successful real world applications. For example, Kmart in the US asks customers if they’d like to donate to its ‘Thanks and Giving’ program through a keypad prompt at the point of sale. Other retailers invite shoppers to round up their payment to the nearest dollar, with the surplus going to charity.
Back in Australia, Woolworths’ Earn and Learn program has donated millions of dollars to disadvantaged schools—and, much like Amazon Smile, all without putting the customer in the position of making a conscious choice to donate.
The challenge, then, is to ensure that the strategy is developed with the customer, brand and charity in mind. Fundamentally, cause marketing activities must provide the customer with a positive experience, one which fits with their expectations of the brand, whilst providing clear and genuine benefits for the charity partner.
So are charities losing out? Well, it’s not as simple as saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’.. but, certainly, it’s worth considering how exactly your cause-related activity will actually affect the nature of customer giving and long-term engagement with your brand.