Cause related marketing programs are no longer either a fad or an optional extra for most American corporations, but have emerged as an integral part of the branding process, according to the latest survey sponsored by Boston-based Cone Communications. The agency has been a longtime leader in the cause marketing arena, and this week unveiled its new Cause Branding approach.
The fifth annual Cone/Roper Cause Related Trends Report found that the majority of American consumers understand that the first responsibility of companies is to make money, but also that they expect more, including active involvement in social Those findings, combined with those of the four previous surveys, provide five years of longitudinal data demonstrating the constancy of consumers’ thinking on corporate social responsibility issues.
Says Cone CEO Carol Cone, “The consistency of consumer opinions strongly signals that cause programs are not a passing ‘fad’, but rather have become a ‘must do’ for brands seeking to strengthen relationships with their customers, employees, communities, and business partners.”
Among the new report’s findings:
·         74 percent of consumers now find it acceptable for companies to engage in cause related marketing, up from 66 percent in 1993.
·         61 percent of consumers believe cause related marketing should be a standard business practice, effectively unchanged from 63 percent in 1993.
·         83 percent of consumers say that have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about, effectively unchanged from 84 percent in 1993.
·         Approximately two-thirds of consumers, 130 million Americans, continue to say that if price and quality are equal, they are likely to switch to a brand or retailer associated with a good cause.
“Americans have made it clear over a five year period that cause marketing influences their perception of brands and their purchasing decisions,” says Brad Fay, senior vice president of Roper Starch Worldwide.
Additionally, the survey shows that socially and politically active consumers are especially receptive to companies who link with social issues.  An overwhelming majority (94 percent) of “Influential Americans,” report having a more positive image of such companies. The group also remains more likely to switch brands  (79 percent of Influentials versus 65 percent average) or switch retailers (77 percent of Influentials versus 61 percent average) to support a company associated with a good cause. These 19 million Influentials, identified by Roper as opinion makers and leaders, have a dramatic influence on establishing future trends.
In 1993, crime, the environment, and homelessness were the top three issues consumers most wanted business to work to solve.  In the new Cone/Roper survey public education heads the list, mentioned by 33 percent of consumers compared to 27 percent in 1993. Crime and the environment round out the top three concerns.
Childcare is growing most rapidly as an issue consumers want business to focus on, rising from 14th place in 1993 to 7th place in the latest survey. The significant increase of childcare as an issue reinforces the public’s growing concern about early childhood development and the challenges faced by working parents.
Americans report that when companies select a social issue, they expect them to focus on it over time and in substantive way.  Almost 8 in 10 Americans consistently report that they prefer companies commit to a specific cause for a long period of time rather than focus on many different causes over shorter periods of time.
The 1999 report also shows that cause programs have a dramatic impact on employee pride, morale, and loyalty, issues addressed for the first time this year. For example, 90 percent of employees of companies involved with a cause feel proud of their company’s values, versus 56 percent of employees at companies without cause programs.
Other findings:
·         87 percent of employees of companies involved with causes feel a strong sense of loyalty to their company, versus 67 percent of employees at companies without cause programs.
·         More than half of American workers (56 percent) wish their employers would do more to support a social cause or issue.
“In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the pressure of maintaining customer loyalty is matched by the urgency of recruiting and retaining workers,” says Cone. “With many corporate managers reporting that they face issues of low morale, cause programs should be an increasingly used tool to build a world-class employee base.”