By Shawn Basak
Companies are increasingly turning to purpose-driven marketing with the hope of cultivating loyalty among their key customers. In fact, IEG estimates that cause marketing spend will increase 4.8% from last year to a new high of $1.78B in 2013 alone. To merit this growing investment, corporate executives must be seeing a positive return on their investment (ROI).
Probably not, argues Rance Crain. In an AdvertisingAge article (Is the Era of Purpose-Driven Ads (Finally) Over?) Crain astutely asks whether marketing executives have become deflated from pumping social causes into their marketing messages. He cites lost market share as the catalyst for Pepsi to abandon the Pepsi Refresh Project as a standalone marketing strategy. Pepsi made the choice to ditch a purpose-driven campaign in favor of the tried and true marketing strategies that they know to be effective. Companies are facing choices like this every day: Should we stand for a purpose or should we continue our traditional marketing? The question marketers should be asking is in fact buried towards the end of Crain's article: How do we optimize our purpose-driven marketing investments?
Look no further than the tried and true lessons of Moneyball. The popular book by Michael Lewis highlights how innovative insights and analytics can inform resource allocation, in this case for a financially constrained professional baseball team. The team had a business goal (win championships), well-resourced competition (New York Yankees), and difficulty retaining its most critical value creators (baseball players). At its core, the Moneyball way of thinking is focused on using data to achieve the highest ROI from a pool of limited resources.
This sounds eerily similar to the current corporate landscape. Marketers are facing audacious business growth goals, increasing industry parity, and challenges with developing customer loyalty. To overcome these challenges, corporate marketers must not assume purpose-driven marketing is totally futile; it may simply require better data requirements and smarter execution. Corporate marketers can take away three lessons to make this shift:
Corporations consistently use proprietary segmentations to find their most valuable targets. Segments are groups of customers that share some kind of behavioral, attitudinal, or demographic characteristic that affects their buying behavior. Yet, purpose-driven marketing campaigns are often targeted at the mass market. Therefore, one purpose may not appeal to everyone and diluting an entire campaign to appeal to the mass market may in fact threaten its content and value-creating ability. The first step to crafting a high-value, purpose-driven campaign is to find the customer segment whose buying behavior would be most receptive to such a campaign. Marketers need to understand who these people are, where they are, how to reach them, and, perhaps most importantly, how valuable they are.
Walk down the aisle of your local grocery store and you'll see all kinds of brands are associated with all kinds of tangential purposes. Delivering the "feel-good" halo by telling customers you'll donate to a cause if they buy your product or other forms of association is no longer a competitive advantage. Savvy marketers know why customers buy their products be it quality, price, convenience or a variety of other reasons. Why not align purpose-driven marketing investments to tap into the reasons customers are already buying your product? For example, rather than promoting a cause association on yogurt lids, market the health benefits of a probiotic yogurt which can command a premium price point. Relying on a purely emotional customer connection (yogurt lids with a purpose), without delivering the benefits that drive purchase (customer health and wellness) puts marketers in danger of fleeting sales and inefficient resource allocation.
Marketers spend significant resources to quantitatively measure how well their trade promotion strategies actually drive sales and influence buying behavior. Investments made in purpose-driven marketing should be held to this same level of rigor. If the goal of marketing is to drive sales, measure the contribution of that strategy to sales. If the goal is to enhance loyalty, measure how well these strategies contribute to customer loyalty. Purpose-driven marketing may create a short-term bump in sales but such strategies can be easily replicated by competitors. To develop a resource allocation strategy, marketers need data that measures the performance of their purpose-driven marketing campaigns in terms of sales and customer behavior.
Corporate marketers who currently engage in purpose-driven marketing shouldn't simply abandon their efforts. Looking at marketing with a Moneyball lens can offer the tools needed to effectively allocate resources. The future of optimized purpose-driven marketing is ripe with opportunity, as long as your competitors don't get there first.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.