Getting it right

Let's face it, cause-related marketing is relevant in the minds of consumers, corporations and non-profit organizations. But don't be fooled into thinking that this directly translates into more money raised or better image scores for all concerned. The only way to ensure success for the company, consumer and non-profit organization is to understand how to create a winning relationship for each constituent.

Let’s face it, cause-related marketing is relevant in the minds of consumers, corporations and non-profit organizations. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this directly translates into more money raised or better image scores for all concerned. The only way to ensure success for the company, consumer and non-profit organization is to understand how to create a winning relationship for each constituent.

Many non-profit groups have an image and set of attributes that mean something to consumers. This feeling, when associated with a brand or company, can have a positive effect – or transfer phenomenon – on the consumer’s perception of the brand. Properly aligned, the brand and non-profit group have the opportunity to build each other’s brand equity and enhance each other’s marketing plans.

However, when non-profits align themselves with corporations or brands that are not relevant to their own brand or consumer’s perception of them, they will create confusion and harm not only their equity, but also their credibility.

Brands are driving marketing today. As brand loyalty diminishes, marketing executives continue to look for more relevant ways to connect with their consumers on an emotional level. With this in mind, non-profits are being considered partners in a brand’s marketing strategy as they represent the emotional connection to a brand’s consumer base.

This is obviously not a new story for the likes of McDonald’s (Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities), Tim Hortons (Tim Horton Children’s Foundation) or CIBC (Run for the Cure), which long ago recognized the benefits of touching their audience on an emotional level with causes that were relevant and exclusive to their company’s image.

However not all companies or non-profits have been successful in their endeavors to find the perfect partner, often because they failed to do their homework before entering into a relationship. To be successful in partnership marketing, both a company and a non-profit have to ask themselves a number of questions to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.

It has been my experience that the following steps need to occur to ensure expectations are met and success is derived for all concerned:

A casual date or a long-term

relationship?

Does the corporation want a relationship that is perceived as a donation, strategic philanthropy, cause-marketing effort or sponsorship with the non-profit partner? Depending on which category is chosen, a different emphasis is placed on the degree of marketing to the various constituents.

Do you share anything in common?

It is essential to research the degree of brand alignment to ensure that everyone concerned gets it. This is the most common flaw in relationships between companies and non-profit groups. Think about it: does it make sense to have a relationship between Boston Pizza and the Heart and Stroke Foundation? You decide.

Are you in it for the long term?

Is there a desire to work the opportunity through marketing and business practices, or is it just a promotion? Caution is the word here if it’s just a promotion, as no one wins in this scenario.

Are you serious?

Are both parties really interested in exploring ideas that will help each other’s business? Are they committed to raising money to fund research for the non-profit as well as help sell more products for the company? Is there an opportunity to create joint communication to raise awareness for the non-profit and to create content

for a company’s brand messages?

The Canadian Tire Children’s Charities program is a good example of serious co-operation between the company and a number of charities. The school programs, Web presence and retail programs show that the marketer is committed to long-term, integrated programs that help build brands for all concerned.

On the other hand, Kellogg, in my opinion, missed an opportunity with its past association with Toronto’s Children’s Own Museum, as the marketer could have reached out more to schools and children’s groups to get the message out.

Making compromises

Are the parties prepared to enter into a working relationship? Are the executives from each organization committed to spending the time necessary to share information, attend joint working sessions and involve all constituents in the process? When the answer is ‘no,’ the usual outcome is failure.

One of our clients, Coca-Cola, has an association with Harry Potter that’s a great example of how to do it right. Coke committed to the development of reading skills for youth and Warner Bros. provided access to material and support. Coca-Cola was sensitive to the need for a low-key grassroots-type program and proceeded to make donations and support the communities where their consumers live. This represents a win-win situation for both sides.

Partnerships can – and do – work when the relationship contemplated is easy to understand and relevant to the trends of the marketplace. When the corporate world and the non-profit world get together and spend the time to answer this five-step process, success will prevail.

Mike Lang is the Toronto-based president, consumer insight and partner at The GEM Group North America. He can be reached at: mlang@gemgroup.com.