Today I’d like to talk about support for causes and how I believe this can affect the marketing communications approach for brands both now and in the future.  This was the post that I originally intended to write last week but got distracted when my favorite writing tool was offline.

CausesI was reading an excellent post earlier by Augie Ray where he says ‘in 2010, your brand will be more defined by what you do and who you are!‘  I couldn’t agree more, and to me this is the essence of where business is heading.  Think about it – when you hear about a specific cause that you believe in being championed by a brand, don’t you feel a closer connection to that brand?  I believe that this kind of connection is going to be vital for the successful brands of the future.  The age of advertising as we once knew it is over.  We can’t rely on the ways of the past or ‘better creative’ to be the saviors of our brands.  There has to be something more.

What does your brand really stand for?

People are paying more attention to what brands are doing and what they stand for than what they are saying about themselves.  People are talking with each other and discovering things about brands at a staggering pace, so naturally the more positive associations people find with brands they are considering, the better.  And of course, with the addition of real-time search to the equation, this is only compounded in importance.

We can all learn a valuable lesson from the Toyota social media fiasco that is really picking up steam right now.  I won’t get into the specifics, but you can read about it here.  The idea though is that it appears that this was approached using old thinking in a new medium.  Instead of trying to come up with a clever ad campaign to advertise the Yaris, they could have asked some better questions like ‘how can we connect with potential buyers and give them something positive to talk about in relation to our brand or the Yaris in particular?’  Or maybe ‘how can we make a difference in the lives of the people that we hope will buy a Yaris,’ or ‘what are some of the social issues that this group of people are passionate about and is there a way to align our brand with organizations or causes that are helping?’  Instead, they took a risk on the shock factor in what looks like a slick commercial in the name of ‘user generated content’ and have alienated a lot of potential buyers in the process.

Asking better questions

Instead of trying to get clever with your messaging, why not try thinking smarter by understanding how humans think and behave and how your brand fits into the bigger picture of this dynamic.  What if you take a percentage of your budget and dedicate it to social causes that will resonate with your target?  What if instead of always talking about how wonderful your brand, product, or service is, you help make the world a better place to live and let that message spread organically?  Which do you think is going to resonate and get people talking more?  Is it worth a shot?  I think so.  After all, if people are going to talk about your brand, wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice positive theme running alongside the discussion?  And it should go without saying that the support should be authentic, not contrived or opportunistic.

Remember, ‘social’ is not just a function of the Marketing, PR, and Customer Service departments.  All aspects of business are affected and can benefit from becoming more social.  The entire organization should be listening to what’s happening out there and responding with ideas and programs that will resonate with the participants of the conversation (special thanks to Daina Middleton for sharing her thoughts about ‘participants’).

So, let’s start asking better questions, ok?  Here are few thought starters:

  1. What does your brand stand for?
  2. Do you take a strong position on any specific cultural or social issue?
  3. Is there a way to use this point of view to connect with the people that use or could use your products or service?
  4. Is your organization making a difference in the world?  If so, how?  Do people know about it?
  5. Can your alignment with a cause or multiple causes help you achieve your business objectives?
  6. Would you be willing to put more focus on the causes you support and less emphasis on your overtly promotional messages?

What are some other questions you think we should be asking?  Let me know what you think about this in the comments.  As always, thanks for stopping by and reading.

Bonus Video

One final thing – if you have 10 minutes and haven’t already seen it, please watch this incredibly inspiring video by Simon Mainwaring.  He touches on this topic and really has a strong point of view on social causes and business.