Since 2006, TOMS has been a popular name when the discussion turns to brands that support social causes. TOMS' social cause is more than providing footwear -- it includes initiatives to help provide clean water, eyewear, medical procedures and safe births, local jobs, education and training. It's a robust business model that has helped the company achieve success.
It begs the question: In the digital age, do companies need a social cause to thrive?
Because 87% of consumers would buy a product based on a company's advocacy on an issue they care about, according to the 2017 Cone Communications CRS Study (registration required), I believe it has become almost necessary. I’ve helped many businesses and tech companies adopt social causes that match their brand initiatives. I also work with a nonprofit in Utah to spread the message about the many initiatives and programs it offers.
Of course, as with anything, there are pros and cons of aligning your brand with a social cause.
Let's start with what can go wrong.
• It's easy to misstep. TOMS has had great success with social causes, starting with shoes and moving to water and safe birth. But other companies have made serious mistakes. Remember the time that KFC did a Buckets for a Cure fundraiser to benefit Susan G. Komen? It sold buckets of fried chicken -- food that can contribute to obesity, which increases the risk of breast cancer -- to raise money to cure breast cancer. In a poll by The Washington Post, 56% of readers thought the fundraiser was "misguided," both for KFC and Susan G. Komen. Sure, KFC donated money to the cause, but all the media attention was focused on the ability of the product to contribute to breast cancer in some women.
• You can't walk away. Imagine if TOMS stopped its one-for-one campaign. Or if Patagonia ended its commitment to eco-friendly products. Would the companies survive? Maybe, but they'd lose stature in many consumers' eyes.
• You don't have full control. Unless you start a nonprofit organization, you're likely going to align your brand with an existing charity or cause. So, you don't have total control over what the charity does or how it does it. You can't control how much an organization pays its CEO or how it spends its money or distributes the goods you donate.
Forbes Agency CouncilPR, media strategy, creative & advertising execs share trends & tips Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
POST WRITTEN BY
Sara Haslem Davis
Sara Haslem Davis is Executive Director of Strategy at Osmond Marketing, a full-service content marketing organization.
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Now, let's get to why you should consider adding a social cause to your business model.
• It's what customers want. Surveys show that people want to do business with companies that have a cause. According to the CRS study (registration required), 89% of Americanswould switch from a brand without a cause to one that supported a cause, if pricing and quality were comparable. And 70% of people in the U.S. believe that companies have an obligation to help social causes.
• It's what employees want. A study by America's Charities showed that American employees across all age groups want to work for companies with a social cause. In the study, America’s Charities' president and CEO Jim Starr stated, “The data show that employees across all generations -- Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials -- want meaningful opportunities to connect with their communities and their colleagues, and they want to make a difference.”
• You'll feel better. Connecting to a social cause and doing good in the world and your community will give you that feel-good feeling. But research shows that giving back can also improve physical health and longevity. People in states with higher volunteer rates have lower rates of heart disease and other health problems. These studies also show that people who volunteer live longer.
Aligning A Social Cause With Your Brand
So, you want to align your business with a social cause but aren't sure where to start. America's Charities offers help to companies that are looking for the right social purpose or to implement a workplace-giving program. You can also look around your area. Many nonprofit agencies offer services to impoverished people in communities all over the country. For example, the organization I work with in Utah, Community Action Services and Food Bank, provides emergency assistance and food to those in need and helps people find their own way out of poverty with its programs.
Before you align your business with a social cause, however, make sure it aligns with your brand’s values. You don’t want your business to end up in the news like KFC did with its breast cancer campaign, a cause at odds with the company’s product. So, before you launch a social cause, you need to prepare thoroughly. Do you have a sustainable strategy in place? Have you thought it through? Do you have the team to support your company’s efforts toward the social cause? And are you prepared to fully implement the plan?
Once you’ve landed on the right cause, you have a well-planned strategy and you’re fully prepared to launch, stop and reevaluate everything. Consider having someone outside your company look at your strategy. If you can, use a focus group so you can predict how your customers will react to your effort. Once you’re in, it’s essential to stay the course. The last thing you want is bad press or poor online reviews -- and that’s precisely what will happen if you abandon a social cause or leave a nonprofit high and dry.
Adding a social cause to your business model may leave you with happier and more loyal customers. And it can help your company recruit talent and retain employees. Your social purpose gives workers a more personal connection to their work, and that often changes how they do their job. Plus, as a business leader, this initiative can bring you health and happiness, too!
People want to do business with and work for companies that care. But before your business takes up a social cause, carefully consider the pros and cons and align the right cause with your company.
Originally published via Forbes.