March 8, 2021

Cause Marketing

We spend a lot of time at WJ discovering, highlighting, and enhancing your brand values. While that may seem like just another bit of marketing jargon, in reality, those values are all the things that make your brand unique. They are what you stand for, believe in, and work toward. They define you, and understanding them in full is your gateway to a concept that is coming to define the business atmosphere in 2021cause marketing.  

Cause marketing, sometimes known as ethical marketing, is an extension of the principles that drive your company forward. It means finding an issue that resonates with you and your beliefs and promoting or addressing it through your business and operations. Whether you are focusing on mental health, world hunger, environmentalism, social justice, or another topic that is important to you, cause marketing is becoming a big factor in the purchasing decisions of many consumers. With all the events of 2020 still fresh, ignoring this cultural shift means choosing to stay silent when it’s important to speak up. 



Some companies may hesitate on moving into this realm of marketing because there is a high risk of backlash and poor execution. In fact, it’s probably a lot easier to remember the bad examples – Kendall Jenner’s ill-fated Pepsi ad, Burger King’s baffling 2019 #FeelYourWay mental health campaign, MasterCard’s pledge to donate meals to starving children only if certain soccer players scored – than it is to think of any good ones.  


Burger King 'moody' meals. (from CNBC)


These risks almost always come down to insincerity, confusion, or customers feeling deceived. In the Burger King campaign mentioned above, the backlash came from a mismatch between the company’s stated values and actions, and the cause they were claiming to support. In turn, the conversation they started about mental health quickly turned around to show that they did not even consider, let alone prioritize, those same ideas and ideals within their own daily operations. The whole campaign was topped off with what many assumed to be a thinly-veiled cash grab, the “Unhappy Meals”, leading to an overall sense of shallow opportunism. The cause itself was noble, but the execution was not. Trying to quickly cash in on trending fads will never be successful because real-cause marketing is a long-term investment motivated by values and beliefs – not money or popularity. 

So with such potential for failure, is it worth the trouble? Absolutely. 

When done well, and with the right intentions, cause marketing becomes an intrinsic part of your brand and is associated with who you are. Current and potential buyers alike will know immediately where you stand and whether you align with their beliefs – and importantly, you don’t compromise on them, choosing not to be everything to everyone. You have a vision for the world you want to live in, and you work toward it. 

A great example of this is the outdoor equipment and clothing company, Patagonia. Founded by avid rock climbers and environmentalists, from the very start they have done endless research and development into increasingly eco-friendly materials and practices. They have made difficult decisions that may have cost customers but stayed true to their ideals. When you visit their website, that story dominates everything else, because it is the core of their entire brand. You can immediately tell it is authentic, important, and respectable.  


Patagonia Blue Heart Campaign. (from @patagonia)


How does this translate into real-world brand benefits? It creates stronger brand loyalty, with deep connections and a relationship that goes beyond transactions. It sets you above competitors in crowded markets and builds an association between your brand and positive change. It can have auxiliary effects, like boosting your employee retention and increasing their engagement, ambassadorship, and support. And all of this together will improve your bottom line – which is a bonus, even if it’s not the point of your advocacy. 



So you’re interested in putting your brand to work in a cause-related campaign, or even in a larger cause marketing strategy. How can you make sure you get the best results possible?  

It should all start right at the core of your brand and business. Ask yourself what is important in your everyday work, and what values you exemplify. In other words: why is your brand here? There is no “right” cause to choose, but there is a “right for you” option. Finding one that emphasizes your values is the first step. 

Next, prepare a long-term strategy. Capitalizing on a spur-of-the-moment fad might be good for a single post, but it’s not an appropriate way to use cause marketing – you will have to dig in and really create something genuine and sustainable. Build the cause into your brand story and clearly explain to all stakeholders why you support it. When you intertwine the cause with your own goals, everyone comes out ahead. 

Once the cause and strategy are solidified, go beyond the basics. Contributing money is one way to help, but it’s not the only one – you can volunteer time, create new partnerships, change your operations or policies, raise awareness, and much more. This generates organic and real stories among your employees and others, showing that you are doing more than lip service. Remember, a great cause marketing strategy is one that boosts both sides, not just your own. 



If you’re interested in pursuing cause marketing, it’s important to first know your brand inside and out – and that involves taking the time to discover your values, your key differentiators, and your why. Staying true to these means you are walking on the pathway to success.  

We believe there’s a worthy cause out there for every business. We can help guide you toward it by identifying not only what sets you apart, but also what brings your company together. When you’re ready to take the next step in your brand journey, we’ll be ready to lead the way.