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HumanPic1What do you think of when you hear the term cause-driven marketing? Is it about charity? Marketing? Brand? Or a company? The hazy cloud around this type of positioning makes me pause, considering that the basic function of marketing is pretty clear: activities involved in bringing products, service, or ideas to market. In essence, meeting demand with supply. So what does “cause driven” have to do with demand and supply?

I’ve worked in the marketing and promotion business for more than 30 years, and though everything is different, nothing has changed. Since the days of Darrin Stephens and Don Draper (or Draper Daniels, as it were), the promotional “P” of the marketing mix has scorched a path of skepticism between consumers and cause. Even as sustainability and cause- or purpose-driven campaigns trend higher, there seem to be only a few organizations that use these labels as little more than an emotional corkscrew to open consumer pocketbooks. And the organizational commitments often seem to fade as fast as the campaigns themselves. In my experience, weak credibility is often the consequence of attempting to position marketing as philanthropy.

All this said, the few organizations that base their corporate visions and values on a focused humanitarian purpose truly enrich society in ways that exponentially improve the quality of life for creatures of Planet Earth. In my opinion, the brands owned by these organizations earn their right to profitability every day in a way that deserves longevity. And today’s new millennial mind set contributes a very effective “BS filter” to help police exploitation of real causes. This blogpost presents some important distinctions between the different types of cause-driven efforts; distinctions that can make the difference between exploitation and salvation.

Type 1: Cause-driven campaigns

These are marketing campaigns for goods and services in almost any category that donate a portion of their profits (in money or resources and/or supplies) to a cause, such as a charity.

Type 2: Cause-based organizations

In contrast to campaigns, cause-based organizations directly tackle a social problem with a donor-funded business model. Saha Global (http://www. http://sahaglobal.org) for example, began by enabling Ghana’s women—traditionally the ones in the home who are in charge of water—to become entrepreneurs through a training and monitoring program. Saha Global programs like this one teach the Ghana women how to collect and purify water by hand, and then sell the potable product at an affordable price. It addresses the issue of scarcity of potable water for villages while providing income for the women entrepreneurs.

Type 3:  Cause-driven brands

Brands that are driven by cause focus on developing commercialized products, services, or programs to help solve issues that benefit society. Examples can be found in biological pest control (biocontrols) or crop protection product companies who research, develop, and manufacture natural solutions to keep insects and weeds from reducing food production of farmland or threatening public health. Considering that the earth will need to produce as much food in the first 50 years of this millennium as it did in the last 10,000 years, and the threats of vector disease such as the Zika virus, biocontrols are a big deal to everyone. Add to this many centuries of chemical pesticides stripping soil of nutrients and accumulating toxic residue that can end up in the food chain, and you’ve got a bona fide cause within a for-profit business model.

Another example of a cause-driven brand is Toms Shoes (http://www.toms.com/improving-lives). Toms Shoes is a unique socially conscious shoe company with a mission to improve the conditions of children living in poverty. There are no complicated formulas, simply for every pair of shoes purchased, Tom’s donates a second pair to a child on in need.

CAUSE-DRIVEN2A conspicuous distinction of cause-driven brands is that they don’t focus on only cause-driven marketing, but operate on a commercial cause-driven business model. There’s a huge difference. A true cause-driven brand exists to serve its selected humanitarian issue by applying specific commercial solutions to targeted facets of that issue and thus leverage the economics of mass consumption to serve the cause. Unlike campaigns that come and go, donations that are ad hoc, or non-profits that directly address a humanitarian cause as their main course of activity, the cause-driven business model unites commercial and humanitarian motives. Rather than manufacture need, as in the case of the vast majority of brand marketing—or ask for handouts as in the case of cause-based organizations—cause-driven brands tackle existing humanitarian issues continuously as a part of their pursuit of profitability.

The cause-driven brand perspective can help unite and galvanize the entire value chain. The participants in the value chain—consisting of manufacturers, distributors, processors, retailers, and consumers that bring value to one another—can all focus on a purpose of greater good as common ground. This facilitates commerce among them all while solving real world problems.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if every commercial brand operated this way? Let us know your thoughts.


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from Amazon.com.