Three rules for partnering with benefits

Columnist Rob Linden rallies for cause-related brand partnerships that build equity.

“Something To Think About” is a new column by Rob Linden focused on helping improve ROI. It’s a chance to revisit old tactics that have gone by the wayside, hone new ones and take a moment to reflect on whether we’re using our marketing dollars in the right areas in the right way.

Though it may seem like common sense, as a marketer and consumer who is faced with a decision of what to buy with my hard earned dollars, I am routinely surprised by the lack of thought many manufacturers put into choosing the right charity to support.
 Somewhere, somehow, somebody who makes the decisions has lost sight of why they have chosen to spend their marketing dollars supporting a cause. I think we can all do better with just a little thought.
 Causes that your brand chooses to support should inherently help build the brand equity. Plain and simple.
 They should “make sense” to the consumer. There should be a seamless intersection between the brand and the cause itself – the perfect overlap, like a venn diagram. This overlap can centre on reinforcing a product benefit, or a position, or a USP, or even a DNA. All are acceptable, as long as the effort is paying dividends back to the brand, and building it (hence, why our jobs are referred to as brand-building).
  But lately, with everybody wanting to jump on the cause-related bandwagon, it is amazing how many times this is not happening. I’ve seen a telco sponsoring kids’ soccer camps – maybe deep down in the halls of their office there is good reason for this, but to the consumer, I’m not so sure. Would you switch providers because they sponsor the peewee squad up the street?
I also saw a car company making a donation for every test drive to a women’s shelter. Great for the women, probably didn’t sell another car. Cause-related brand partnerships run the risk of turning into contest commodity – when we see a contest that really makes no sense, and is just a contest for the sake of a contest. (Who enters those anyway? People who are probably just searching for contests, and really have no interest in buying your brand.)
 I’m not suggesting that it is always about profit and charity donation isn’t good. Charity donation is good, and we should all be doing it. But charity donation and cause-related partnerships are different. These are supposed to be win-wins. Straight charity donation is one-way. Cause-related provides benefit to both the cause and the partner.
 When searching for the right cause to support, ask yourself these three easy questions before forging ahead (and yes, these are in rank order – the more you answer, the stronger the connection and results).
First of all, would the consumer feel good about knowing that your brand is supporting the cause? Secondly, does linking with this cause make intrinsic sense to the consumer? And lastly, does linking my brand with this cause build my equity?
 In the sea of missteps, misspends, and misappropriation of marketing dollars, there are a handful of excellent examples of these cause/brand intersections that we can learn from.
 An okay example? Bell sponsoring the Kids Help Phone. A phone company providing free toll-free phone calls to those in distress. Good. And it makes people feel good. But does it drive any of the brand equities we as consumers are told about through advertising
about Bell? Hmm.
 A better example? Kellogg’s – which is embarking on a DNA-refresh of nutritious and healthy breakfasts – is proudly supporting a social-action mechanism of a donation of a million breakfasts to the many children who leave home without having something nutritious. Excellent intersection.
 You can watch any cause-related brand sponsorship and identify very quickly if it is a good fit. The great ones don’t need you to watch them with a critical eye – in fact, like good advertising, you probably only need to see them once. When there is a great intersection, it is like a double-shot of recall. And recall, as we all know in the brand world, is the secret, sacred, hidden treasure we try so hard to evoke in our consumers, yet we have such a difficult time doing it.
 Without watching TV or perusing magazines, ask yourselves which ones you remember. Which provoked an emotion in you? Which made you feel better about the brand you were purchasing? How many of the ones that you remember were able to positively answer the three questions?
 Donations and supporting charities make sense. And as corporate citizens it is our duty to help out those less fortunate.
But imagine the power you would have to enact true change and awareness with recall if you partnered with the right cause. The result? Don’t be surprised if consumers adopted your cause as their own, supporting your brand more, entrenching it in their purchase habits, and ultimately driving both. Now that is good ROI.
Rob Linden has a passion for ROI and is always thinking about how to improve it. He spent quite a few years at P&G, most recently leading its scale/capabilities department. He’s currently leading the North American expansion of turnkey request-basd sampling platforms for Tier 1 and 2 CPGs. You can reach him at or via Twitter @LindenRob.