Brands must stay relevant and entrenched

Over the long course of consumer history, different factors have weighed in on the relationship between brands, consumers, and society. For most part, brands have focused primarily on the consumer, relegating societal linkages to the periphery. In the 60s, 70s and 80s this was appropriate as consumers had no real access to what was happening in the world or what issues were shaping the future and how brands they purchased were involved. Accordingly, the purchases made at the store had no connection, in their mind, to anything else taking place in the broader society. Cable television, 24×7 news media and the internet has changed this paradigm.

Consumers became increasingly conscious of the linkages between the issues that face society and their consumption practices. They worried that rain forests were being depleted, children were being left uneducated, oil spills were killing marine life, millions were dying of cancer and HIV AIDS, children in Africa did not have access to basic medicines and a myriad other issues. At the same time, lifestyles became more hectic, time more precious and personal resources limited.

This ‘consumer need’ to feel involved and yet not being able to, defined an important gap and therefore, an opportunity for brands to act as a social anchor. Enter Cause Related Marketing (CRM). There are many definitions but essentially, CRM is an enabling mechanism for consumers to participate and engage with their environment within their existing means. It is a win-win arrangement between the enabler and the enabled. It is important to note that CRM is not CSR or corporate philanthropy.

In fact, it is distinct in 3 important ways:

1.CSR is focused on creating a show and tell of the corporate conscience, while CRM is all about consumer conscience. It is therefore more inclusive (not what ‘I’ am doing but what ‘we’ can do).

2.CSR is dependent on corporate largesse while CRM is driven by consumer participation. This has two implications. One, the cause has to resonate with consumers and two, it is more sustainable.

3.CSR programs are linked to the corporate brand (the company) whereas CRM programs are directly linked to product brands. As product brands have a continuous pipeline of consumer communication (as compared to corporate brands), the equity rub off on the brand is tangible and immediate. P&G’s experience in Cause Related Marketing is substantial.

Identifying the right cause is the first and the most critical step. The key here is that the chosen cause should appeal to your target consumers. Before launching Shiksha, P&G’s signature cause in India that helps educate underprivileged children via contribution of sales proceeds of their brands, they conducted extensive consumer research that established ‘Children’s Education’ was top of mind for our consumers (across multiple brands). Now in its 5th year, Shiksha continues to inspire consumers and has become a national movement that has improved the lives of 87,000 children.

CRM programs are by definition a collaborative process. It is collaboration between Cause and Marketing. While we as manufacturers are the experts on marketing, we need to have the right partner for executing the cause element.

Choosing the right collaborator for your cause is important for 3 key reasons. These are credibility for the chosen cause, consumer confidence in implementing the program on ground and endorsement of your brand. One of most successful CRM programs run by P&G is a partnership between Pampers and Unicef.

The collaboration has helped raise awareness for the need for tetanus vaccines in developing countries as well as reassured consumers that we have partners with the requisite expertise to execute this. Further, the Unicef association underlines Pampers equity as a brand that cares about babies.

Once you have narrowed down on the right cause and right collaborator, to really reap the benefits of the program, brands should commit to building the program year on year. In India, they have stayed committed to educating underprivileged children for 5 years now and they will continue to do so.

From a brand standpoint, we have seen awareness for Shiksha steadily going up with consumers helping them make a definite choice in terms of purchase.

4.The difference that we can make to the cause as marketers is by bringing the same rigor that goes into building our brands in building the cause. For Shiksha, like for any other P&G brand, we have a multi functional team that looks into each element including creating engaging ATL and BTL programs, designing effective in store communication, creating mnemonics like brand characters etc.

In an integrated society where brands have become an expression of both the individual and society, it is critical that we take a broader view of how we as marketers respond. Providing not just superior products but social anchorage via genuine cause marketing can truly elevate your brand to the next level.