Cause marketing: Are you doing enough?

Following in the footsteps of their B2C counterparts, B2B brands are increasingly turning to causes in an effort to differentiate their brands and strengthen customer loyalty. But are they doing enough?

According to a recent US study, millennials make about 73% of all purchasing decisions in a B2B environment. This is important because we know that this group of consumers have high expectations of the brands they interact with. They prefer to develop personal and direct relationships with the brands they choose to buy from and in exchange they are willing to endorse them.

Brands that are able to demonstrate a philanthropic attitude or those that make a positive contribution to society are also more likely to appeal to modern buyers. In separate research published in the UK by YouGov last year, the majority of consumers are willing to pay up to 10% more to buy from brands that are doing something positive for society or the environment.

Of course, statistics only give us part of the picture. For too long, B2B brands have been deluding themselves that they operate in a different marketing sphere from the rest of us. The truth is that B2B buyers are consumers first and foremost. They have come to expect efficient online deliveries to their doorstep and use online reviews to inform their purchases, so why should things differ when buying something for their employer? As our professional and personal lives converge, brands must work harder to engage their target audience on a more profound and lasting level.

Some B2B brands have been quicker than others to recognise the importance of putting a good cause at the heart of their marketing and communications activity. Since its formation in 1984, Cisco Systems has been a trailblazer for corporate CSR and rather than seeing it as a peripheral activity, it is integral to its brand. The company has put in place a Time2Give initiative; allowing employees to take up to five days’ paid leave to spend time supporting a charity or not-for-profit organisation of their choice. Last year’s successful rebrand campaign, which was based on the slogan ‘There’s never been a better time’ also focused on the company’s CSR activities and the positive social impact they are having in countries around the world. The campaign has been leveraged well across its blog channel and amplified socially.  

When JustGiving established its charity fundraising platform in the UK 17 years ago, its business model was based on hosting charities and enabling them to take their fundraising activities online. While it still does this of course, the business has since developed its offering to provide a place where anyone can come to promote a good cause or to communicate their support for someone else’s. Recognising the power of friend-to-friend cause marketing, the business launched a ‘care’ button, which works in a similar way to Facebook’s ‘like’ button – allowing individuals to endorse causes they feel passionate about and in so doing, become part of an ecosystem of likeminded givers, sharing information and lending support to each other’s ventures. Describing itself as a ‘tech-for-good’ company, JustGiving is aiming to give as much back to the charities it serves as possible by creating a space where any good cause can come to raise awareness and find the support they need.

For B2B brands that want to step up their investment in cause marketing, here are some important pointers:

  • Don’t ignore the power of social – social channels are often under used by B2B brands but for many professionals, social shares and posts are a preferred method of communication. With this in mind, businesses should be using their social channels to share information about the firm’s CSR activities and its positive social impact. Research has shown that such content can help to make the brand more appealing and relevant to millennials.
  • Choose the right cause – authenticity matters when selecting the right cause to support. Ideally, the cause selected should relate to the firm’s core offering in some way and resonate with at least one of its target audiences. The KPMG Foundation, for example, has gained traction by sticking to its objective to support educational and social projects for disadvantaged and under-privileged people; many of which are led by employees at the firm.
  • Shine a light on your cause – lots of B2B brands aim to give back to society by raising money for good causes but relatively few are brave enough to make it a central element of their brand communications. The most common approach for corporates is to set up a carefully-defined fund in order to concentrate fund-raising activities on a limited number of charitable causes. By doing more to shine a light on its CSR activities, however, brands can generate goodwill among its target audience and forge stronger, more emotional relationships with its customers.
  • Spread the word – there is little commercial benefit in giving time or energy to a good cause if your customers and potential customers don’t know about it. CSR initiatives should be visible across all brand communications activity –from e-commerce sites to point-of-sale materials.