Cause Branding Definition
Definition: Cause branding is the process of crafting and marketing a social or environmental identity in order to differentiate a business or otherwise enhance the image of a business’s overall brand.
Cause Branding vs. Cause Marketing
You might be wondering, “What sets cause branding apart from cause marketing?” Cause marketing is a tool to help you execute on the cause branding you define. Think of it this way: if cause marketing is a vehicle, then cause branding is the driver. There must be genuine cause branding guiding your cause marketing campaigns or it is sure to fail first contact with shoppers.
Cause branding is a deeper commitment than a one-off cause marketing campaign, so be thoughtful in selecting a partner that makes sense for your brand. It takes both strong cause branding and well-executed cause marketing campaigns to win over this new breed of socially-conscious shoppers. All the more reason to make sure you have a solid strategy before jumping into a partnership.
Benefits of Cause Branding
Cause branding can be a very effective tool when used properly and with sincere intentions. The benefits can be hard to quantify, but a handful of studies have proven cause branding and cause marketing to be an effective method of achieving a variety of results:
- Help your products cut through the noise by differentiating your brand
- Meet or exceed increasing expectations of social responsibility in business
- Encourage shoppers to brand switch
- Appeal to sought-after demographics: moms, millennials, etc.
- Increase sales
- Help attract and keep talented employees
- Improve corporate reputation and brand sentiment
- Increase positive social media communication frequency
- Provides heart-warming public relations opportunities
With so many compelling benefits, it’s no wonder that the number businesses choosing to add a cause branding component to their larger branding strategy is growing rapidly.
When deciding which cause your cause branding will focus on, the single most important factor is that it is perceived as authentic by shoppers. The businesses that have triumphed in this space frequently cite authenticity of mission as playing a major role in their success. That doesn’t mean you have to find a cause that is directly related to what your business does, it just has to be something that is genuinely important to the leadership and business. If it is, then the business’s actions will reflect it and shoppers will respond positively. If however, shoppers see evidence of inauthentic motivations, the cause branding risks being labeled as causewashing and all the gains can be lost. Don’t let this prevent you from pursuing this initiative though; the benefits far outweigh the risks. Creating a webpage that describes the motivations behind the campaigns is a great way to communicate the business’s sincere intentions and insulate the effort from criticism.
Though the cause you select doesn’t necessarily have to relate to what your business does, it is important to find a cause that resonates strongly with at least one of the demographics you serve. Millennials are passionate about the environment, and mom’s care about health, to name a few. If you can find an intuitive connection between the mission and your business as well, even better. Logical connections make finding a catchy campaign name that’s instantly understood by shoppers a much easier task, boosting the benefits we discussed above.
In 2007, Coke launched a campaign surrounding a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. They initially decided to focus the business’s cause branding on water conservation, but later expanded the effort to include additional environmental causes. Since Coke clearly has a stake in the preservation of this natural resource, this is a great example of an intuitively understood connection. In addition to the freshwater campaign, Coke launched the Arctic Home campaign in 2011 to support the preservation of their winter mascot’s habitat. Because polar bears require large areas of pristine land to thrive, the effort also provides habitat protection for many other species.
Coke made a concerted effort to measure the impact of their water and environmental programs—with well-defined goals around climate protection, renewable packaging, sustainable sourcing, and water efficiency. Eventually shoppers expect to see proof of results, so measurement of impact is often critical to the success of cause branding.
If you are interested in seeing more examples of well-executed cause branding, take a look at our cause marketing examples page.
Not Just for the Corporate Giants Anymore
Increasingly, small business is joining in on the cause branding revolution and reaping many of the same benefits—if not more. In fact, many small businesses are using the differentiation it provides to great effect in gaining market share from the incumbent market leader. Some go as far as to integrate the cause branding into the core of their business strategy and earn the social enterprise designation. Often this is done through some form of the buy one give one model, but there are many other creative models being proven as we speak. Tom’s Shoes, a once small brand, was recently valued at $625 million in the notoriously competitive footwear industry. With successes like these, cause branding can clearly be a winning strategy for small businesses as well.
If you have a suggestion for an update to our cause branding definition or any cause branding examples you think we should add, don't hesitate to reach out to us.