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Why Brands Must Get Social To Scale Their Cause Marketing

Posted by: Trisha Stezzi on 11/15/2012

Cause Marketing | Social Branding

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Simon Mainwaring, author of the New York Times bestseller We First and the social branding expert who has created marketing campaigns for brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Toyota and Motorola. We’re going to ask Simon a few questions about how brands use social media to scale their cause marketing.

Question 1: Simon, why is it so important for companies to become social brands now?

First, thank you for the chance to speak to your community. I think your blog is fantastic and so respect the work you are doing.

As for your question, it’s absolutely critical to be a social brand if you want to grow as a company in today’s social business marketplace and have the important impact you want through your cause marketing. This is simply due to the fact that the market has moved on. In the early 90s we saw the arrival of the web with some companies moving online and enjoying a first mover advantage. The same is true with social media today. You only need to look around you and see all the advertisements from the world’s largest brands featuring social buttons that connect customers to their brand pages on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Or look at how dependent people are on their smartphones and how much time they spend on social networks like Facebook. And when everyone from President Obama to Lady Gaga to Coca-Cola is building their brand through social media, you realize it’s time for you to act or risk being left behind.

So if you want to reach your customers where they are and engage them around your cause, you need to accept that they are spending more and more time on the web using their smart phones to share their lives across social media channels. This means you need to develop the fluency and skills that make your brand an effective social media communicator. This includes the ability to inspire customer engagement, especially over the long term, and build a self-sustaining customer community that is committed to your cause. And the more you inspire social customers help you to grow, the greater your impact on that cause will be. 

Question 2: Why is it urgent for companies to do this now?

I’ve touched on the fundamental shift towards social media that we’ve all experienced in our own lives. But more than that, we’ve reached a point of mass adoption where the majority of people on the web also have a social media presence. At the same time the majority of large brands, whether it is Coca-Cola, Nike, IBM, Dell, or Starbucks also have a substantial social media presence. For instance, Coca-Cola has over 50 million Facebook fans now. And every one of these brands can sell products and services directly within their brand pages on PC’s or smartphones. In fact, as Google revealed in January this year, the amount of time people spend surfing the web on their mobile phones has actually surpassed the amount of time they spend surfing on their desktops.

All of this is very important because what I’m describing is a powerful intersection between the amount of people on the web, the amount of people with smart phones, and the amount of time spent on social media. This intersection is reshaping our lives and marketing and, as a result, it must change the way you strategize your cause marketing. Your impact will live or die in the next five years based on your ability to connect socially with your customers through their smart phones around shared values and a common purpose.

Question 3: How does this affect the story a company must tell its customers to engage them in cause marketing using social media?

That’s an excellent question because too many marketers, large and small, rush past their brand “story” because they are in such a hurry to “tell” it. But effective social branding requires equal attention to the story and the telling. So, in terms of what story to tell, there are three things a sustainable brand must do.

First, you must define what they stand for. And it must define what it cares about in a way that distinguishes it from competitors. Most importantly, there must be a fundamental alignment between the core values of the brand and the cause it is supporting. Otherwise your efforts, however well intended, look like green-washing or cause-washing. But if there’s an alignment between the story of your brand and the cause it supports, the non-profit work will actually reinforce your for-profit narrative. So you have the positive social impact you want and build your business.  A great example of this is the way P&G has allowed the Pampers brand to fund tetanus vaccinations for mothers and new born babies in partnership with UNICEF.

Second, you must integrate that story within the company and your employees. One of greatest mistakes companies make is to tell their customers what they stand for while their employees have no idea. This then creates a disconnection between what the company says it stands for in the customer’s experience and your cause marketing spend ends up being wasted.

Third, the company must co-create its cause marketing with its employees and customers. Social media has made marketing into a two-way dialogue, in which case, customers want to talk to companies about the causes they support and the marketing they do. So by embracing these three steps, a company can define its story, ensure that it’s integrated internally, and work collaboratively with its employees and customers to ensure that social media amplifies the company’s important cause marketing work.

Question 4: How does a company build a customer community that grows its cause marketing?

This question is so important because many brands treat social media like just another broadcast channel where they simply talk about themselves. But what they fail to realize is that if you connect deeply with your customers on an emotional level they will become ambassadors for your brand, effectively operating as your marketing and PR because they believe in what you’re doing.

In order to achieve this, the most important place to start is by defining your company’s purpose. But building a self-sustaining community requires more than that. The company has to demonstrate a deep and authentic commitment to that purpose through it’s cause marketing. So, whether it is in the form of contributions to a cause that are in alignment with the core values of that brand, or whether the way the company make its products, or how the CEO and employees of the company acts, or the volunteer work the employee do, they should all be consistent with the purpose and values they of the brand. A great example is Starbucks with its Shared Planet message and the way they support the coffee bean growing communities.

So one of the unexpected consequences of social media has been this new demand for transparency, authenticity and accountability from brands around their cause marketing work. The truth is social media has launched an era of citizen and now consumer activism, and your customer can either build your brand for you or tear it down depending on the authenticity of your commitment to a cause.

Finally, I’d like to offer your member three free social branding training videos that take you through critical insights into the new marketplace, customer and best practices that will rapidly accelerate your effectiveness as a social brand. These videos reveal the biggest marketing mistakes to avoid that I identified after creating marketing campaigns for Fortune 50 brand for 15 years, especially if you’re a start-up or small/mid-size company. Plus they reveal the most successful strategies of the top brands in the world so you can use them for your business. We First is deeply committed to working together to create a repurposed private sector and so these videos are designed to ensure you succeed as a social brand and are absolutely free. So just click the link and they’ll automatically be sent to you and thanks for the chance to share some thinking today. 

Like this post?  Sign up for the For Momentum monthly e-newsletter here.

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of the social branding firm, We First and author of the New York Times bestseller, We First (named Best Marketing book of 2011 by strategy+business. Connect with Simon @simonmainwaring, and

About For Momentum Staff Blogger Trisha Stezzi

Trisha Stezzi, Creative & Digital Director, Account Services
For Momentum

Trisha's insights are informed by 16+ years of creating and implementing custom cause marketing partnerships for major corporate and nonprofit brands combined with her passion for innovation, creativity and love of social media. Read more posts by Trisha here.

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Cause Talk Radio Podcast


Episode 126: What Companies Want from a Nonprofit Partner
Recorded July 2015

Sharing insights from For Momentum's 2015 Corporate Partner Survey, Mollye Rhea talks to Megan Strand and Joe Waters about what companies really want from their nonprofit partners. 

In this episode of Cause Talk Radio, Mollye, Megan and Joe discuss:
  • How the most common question clients asked For Momentum became the basis for the survey.
  • What hunches did the survey legitimize? What answers surprised For Momentum?
  • How companies are shifting their interest in nonprofits from a sales focus to a genuine interest in social impact. 
  • How companies are looking for good nonprofit partners and are eager to work with more than one partner.
  • How brand alignment, awareness are driving factors for partnerships.
  • How the tremendous growth in the social good movement has given nonprofits an unprecedented and powerful opportunity with businesses.
  • Mollye's thoughts on what nonprofits need to do to engage companies.
  • The biggest mistakes nonprofits make when they call on a company.
Listen to Mollye Rhea on Cause Talk Radio Episode 126: What Companies Want from a Nonprofit Partner.

FREE Resources

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Statistics and trends from this growing global movement and ideas to supercharge your Giving Tuesday campaign with a cause partnership.

For Momentum: Cause Marketing Statistics
For Momentum Cause Marketing Statistics

A categorized compilation of industry statistics showcasing demand and relevance of cause marketing


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