Causal Marketing

In the Hutong
Would you like fries with that humbuger?
1704 hrs.

I regularly get questions from companies, practitioners, and NGOs about best practices for corporate social responsibility in China, mostly because it’s an area about which I harbor some fairly strong opinions.

One of my biggest is peeves is this: there is a thin but important line between true corporate social responsibility and community relations tied to marketing goals. There is nothing wrong with either CSR or what is known as “cause marketing;” the problem comes when the thin line disappears, and a company will try to categorize the latter as the former.

Self-serving behavior like that tends to ruin a company’s credibility, and to add to the dormant cynicism the general public maintains about the very idea of a company doing anything socially responsible.

That said, I’m a big fan of cause marketing when appropriately labeled, and I think companies in China (both foreign and local) do far too little of it. Given the decline in the effectiveness of TV advertising, I suspect both marketers and agencies are going to do a lot more of it.

What companies should be doing is defining CSR and cause marketing very clearly clearly and handling them separately.

Jeremy Nedelka at 1:1 Magazine (registration required) did an excellent cause marketing case study, including five rules for successful cause marketing according to David Hessekiel at the Cause Marketing Forum. The two articles are a good introduction to the topic.

What I love about the five rules is that all of them apply in China:

1. Set goals, knowing what you want to achieve going in;

2. Commit resources, because good intentions are no substitute for planning, budgets, and implementation;

3. Find a cause that has a clear, intuitive link to your core business or competency;

4. Search for models in what other companies have done before;

5. Expect results because solid cause marketing builds an emotional tie between customers

I have a few to add, though, because of a few issues I have seen crop up here in the PRC:

6. Cause marketing is no substitute for CSR. You need to do both. Make sure they are handled by separate teams and have clearly defined (and different) goals.

7. Don’t be a cause-a-week company. Stick to one cause for a full marketing cycle of 12-18 months at least, and longer if possible.

8. Find a cause that is meaningful to people in China, not just to your CEO.

9. Cause marketing in China is virgin territory, so don’t restrict yourself to what other companies in China have done.

10. Olympic sponsorships are not a great example of cause marketing, unless they are executed with a particular challenge in mind.

11. When your relationship with a cause wraps up, leave everyone smiling.

Shave a little of that TV budget, guys, and put it toward cause marketing. CCTV won’t miss it, and you could put it to far better use than paying for fancy office towers for public broadcasters.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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