How and Why Retailers Should Find Their Cause

Much has been written about how consumers engage with businesses that are active in cause-related marketing campaigns and its cousin, corporate social responsibility.

Bottom line: it’s not whether a company decides to engage, since consumers expect companies to act responsibly and to see proof of their commitments, according to a 2015 Cone Communications / Ebiquity Global CSR Study. It’s how deep that relationship is and how it’s being communicated. Your customers want to know what you’re doing is making a difference because doing business with you reflects on them.

Where Customers Buy Is Just as Important as What They Buy

This feeling is why shoppers proudly wear shoes that show their friends that they’re socially-conscious and, therefore, caring members of society. This is why they wear clothing made of materials that are sustainable and fair trade. Or why they choose to eat organic foods. They not only want to live their values, they want to make sure the businesses they support are living those values in their business practice, too.

According to that same research study, “Americans say when a company supports social or environmental issues, they have a more positive image (91%), more trust (87%) and more loyalty (87%) toward that business.”

Yet, consumers are looking for deeper forms of engagement from companies, especially beyond the cash register.

“Americans also see companies as key to their participation in addressing social and environmental efforts, as they are less likely to make these changes directly in their own lives,” the study reports. “Therefore, companies should look to new opportunities to engage this group and serve as a catalyst for change both at and beyond the cash register.”

Today’s empowered consumer, thanks to access to more information and a passport filled with stamps, is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good if they feel they’re truly making a difference. They will support businesses who share their values and can communicate it. There is a reason people shop at Whole Foods when shopping at Aldi might work.

For many consumers, where they shop is just as important as what they buy.

What does this mean for an independent retailer who already stocks her shelves with fair trade and sustainable goods? When you already share the stories behind the products whenever asked and include description cards throughout the store explaining how items are made?

It means you have to go deeper. Because many stores are already doing this and consumers expect this as part of their shopping experience.

Get More Involved and Involve Your Customers

Cause-related marketing has gotten a bad rep in the last decade. What started out as a way for non-profits to align themselves with corporations and generate much-needed operational revenue has become thinly-veiled marketing ploy. You can’t buy yogurt without noticing the packaging screaming that each container you buy will support breast cancer research (to the tune of $25,000, which is literally peanuts when you look at a multi-national’s marketing budget) or a scarf without a hangtag telling you a new tree has been planted with every purchase.

Consumers have become desensitized and frustrated because they can see through the marketing speak.

So how do we move on from this marketing and retail debacle?

Move the needle from marketing gimmick to real meaning.

Involve your customers. Ask them what causes move them and WHY. Ask them what they feel isn’t being done around their causes. It might prompt an idea for you.

Many of us talk about how important our businesses are to the community but how many of us actually go deep and really commit to our communities? It’s not just about opening the doors and being an economic contributor. It’s more than just contributing to the local baseball league or giving a donation to the annual gala.

Find your cause. Commit to it. Support it, nurture it, let others get involved and be part of something bigger. It could be huge (partner with other businesses to help make it happen) or digest-sized. Talk to a local school in need and see how you can support the teachers. Talk to a larger non-profit that is doing things you want to see happen more of in your community and find a way to bring a national initiative to a local level.

Cause-related marketing doesn’t need to be relegated to a donation for every purchase made. That’s just a transaction.

If you’re looking for a deeper connection with your community, you have to dig deeper and find what you really want to support and give it your all. That’s commitment.

And that bottom line? You’ll be rewarded with loyal customers and ambassadors who will find you and your business an integral part of the community that they can’t afford to lose.

Megy Karydes is a Chicago-based freelance writer and marketing consultant. Learn more about her and her work at

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