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How to Market Your Cause to Skeptical Consumers

We all know that the business value of cause marketing is directly proportional to the degree to which stakeholders know about the cause program. However, all too often corporations are leery of broadcasting their cause initiatives because they’re afraid of being seen as inauthentic by skeptical consumers.
Since 2007 Selfmagazine has been conducting research to explore women’s emotions resulting from the good a consumer perceives she does by purchasing socially responsible products and brands. As reported in Advertising Age, skepticism was the area most questioned by those who saw the study and the top reason companies gave for not talking about the good they were doing.
Here are some key findings from the study:

  • I feel like the company is only doing good things to get me to buy its product: 39%
  • I feel like the company is trying to distract me from the bad things it’s doing: 32%
  • I feel like the company is trying to make me feel guilty: 11%
  • I don’t trust the company is doing what it says it is doing: 33%

These four questions identified true skeptics. To qualify as a true skeptic, women had to agree with at least three of the four statements. Importantly, only 16% of those sampled did so. So, although skeptics are a small segment of the consumer population, fear of skepticism is still holding companies back from talking about their cause programs.
Here is a profile of the skeptical consumer:

  • She’s more inclined than the average person to focus on the negative.
  • While she is more likely than non-skeptics to pay a lot of attention to the good things companies are doing (51% vs. 42%), she is even more likely to pay a lot of attention to the bad things companies do (66% vs. 48%).
  • The skeptic is also more likely to frequently purchase products from companies doing good things — but by a wide margin (53% vs. 41%).

It turns out that skeptics may be a group that should be targeted not feared. In order to “declaw” and engage the skeptical consumer, Ad Age recommends applying two key approaches to communications:
1. Transparency:

  • Always show where detailed information can be found, whether in ads, collateral, etc. And provide as much detail as possible about where the money is going. Even go a step further if you can and include third-party sources who endorse what you’re doing.
  • Explain the fit between your company and your cause. Don’t assume consumers understand. For example, show your consumer how your involvement has made a difference in your culture and workplace, and she’ll be better able to appreciate how genuine your efforts are.

2. Consistency:

  • Prove that the initiative is not a “one-off.” Provide a time line of your commitment. Even better, extend it into the future and help consumers look ahead with you.
  • Include adherence to a code of behavior that applies to all aspects of your business. It’s not about doing good on one side to hide the bad you are doing on the other.
  • Be sure to respond proactively to any negative press, comments or buzz. Don’t wait for it to become a huge issue. And “respond” doesn’t necessarily mean “refute.” Explain the situation as best you can and what you plan to do moving forward.

On the last point, I commend The Bayfor responding to a recent post called Time to Re-Think Think Pink?where I raised some questions about the company’s current Think Pink cause marketing promotion. Here’s what they said:
While we strive to have as many Think Pink products as we can, some of these products are not exclusive to Hudson’s Bay Company so while we can contribute to the messaging and positioning when the product has an independent partnership with the Foundation, the packaging/hang tags will be distinctive to that partnership. With respect to your specific questions:

  • The annual contribution of $430,000 is a combination of a portion of sales of Think Pink products, and our customers donating their Hbc Rewards points
  • While we encourage a consistent health message on all of the Think Pink products, some items are from previous years programs and do have an older hang tag on them, or are items not exclusive to the Hudson’s Bay Company
  • It is inappropriate for us to suggest one product over anotherwe hope that you will find the right Think Pink product that fits your budget and participate in this worthy promotion’
  • We would be delighted to offer a wider selection of products throughout the store and each year we encourage our wide range of vendor partners to offer exclusive Think Pink products for all of our customers.