Thom Villing headshot

By Thom Villing, former president & co-founder of Villing + Company (retired)

At the end of November, the Michiana chapter of the American Marketing Association will be hosting a special event highlighting several area non-for-profit organizations. It will not only be an opportunity for these charities to tell their stories and get some good counsel from the marketing professionals in attendance, but it will also enable those professionals to identify potential cause marketing opportunities.

In recent years we have seen a marked shift in terms of consumers being more attentive to socially minded businesses. According to Forbes, “Seventy percent of consumers want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues and 46% pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when they buy a product.” Other studies I have seen indicate that the importance of social responsibility is even higher among Millennials and Gen-Xers.

There are many ways for marketers to increase the value of their brand and they are as elementary as the golden rule. An international study by the Edelman PR firm revealed that 83 percent of people are willing to change consumption habits if it can make the world a better place to live. Specific causes that consumers personally care about are:

  • Protecting the environment – 91%
  • Improving the quality of healthcare – 89%
  • Reducing poverty – 87%
  • Alleviating hunger and homelessness – 86%

Based on these findings (and common sense), there are opportunities for marketers to “do well by doing good.” But lest the cynics think they can spin insincerity into marketing gold, I believe consumers are often intuitively equipped with phony-finders. While commitment to a cause can be a powerful marketing tool, it must also be part of the company culture. Disingenuousness or failure to live up to one’s stated ideals not only debilitates trust, but they can also do major harm to brand.

Basically, it is a matter of trust. This discussion reminds me of the writings of Al Golin. Golin was a confidante of Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder, and Golin’s agency has provided public relations counsel to the company for over a half century.

Golin’s theory was a simple one. He believed that building consumer trust is like a savings account. Positive actions like quality products, good service, fair pricing and organizational integrity are deposits into the trust bank. Over time, this goodwill account grows and pays dividends. Withdrawals can come in the form of missteps, mistakes and scandals. Ideally, the assets in the trust account are more than sufficient to withstand any negative activity.

I call it “Doing Well By Doing Good.” Building brand trust around a cause (commonly referred to as cause marketing) has its rewards as well as its risks. Neither should be taken lightly. But at the end of the day, don’t you feel better doing business with a company that is really trying to be a good corporate citizen? So do most people.