Millennials and Generation Z are continuously changing the way consumer experiences are being created. Cause-driven marketing plays a large role in this change, and brands and marketers should find a cause to stand for to impact these generations.

Cause-driven marketing (sometimes called charity-driven marketing) is nothing new, but the importance of being charitable is growing for many brands and marketers. The demand for using a brand for good is being driven by Millennials and Generation Z.

Both Gen Zer’s and Millennial’s put a great deal of significance in brands that stand for a cause. MarketingDive noted that “if marketers haven’t already thought about how to take their cause-driven marketing efforts to the next level, they need to be doing so soon” because of the importance that Gen Z sees in these causes.

Meanwhile, Millennials command the most spending power of any generation and, according to an infographic on AdWeek, 49% of them “seek out brands that align with causes” – more than any other generation. The infographic also noted that 45% of Millennials were “willing to spend time researching brands to see what causes they support” and 47% “would be willing to pay more for products” from brands that offer support to a cause that a Millennial shopper values.

Can Cause-Driven Marketing Be Authentic?

All this adds up to one, important point for every brand and marketer today: younger generations – the shoppers of today and tomorrow – place a greater significance on cause marketing than previous generations. Given the challenges that marketers will face connecting with consumers from Generation Z and Millennial age groups, this is one way that marketers can make waves with these shoppers, build relationships, earn trust and win over their loyalty.

However, it’s not enough for brands to be in the giving spirit in order to win over younger shoppers. The skepticism that Generation Z and Millennials have for marketing carries over to initiatives that marketers will take – including the effort to give back or support a cause.

The secret lies in the authenticity of marketing. Millennials, although the most likely of any generation to seek out a brand that supports causes, is also the most skeptical of brands supporting causes. The same AdWeek infographic cited above found that 20% of Millennials are “skeptical towards brands supporting causes.” Likewise, RetailDive found that Gen Z “expects the companies they do business with to not just pay lip service…but to have an authentic and meaningful strategy that reflects a brand’s core values.”

In other words, brands need to be genuine in how they incorporate the charity part into their cause-driven marketing strategy. Simply saying that you support a cause isn’t enough – and may be harmful to your brand’s perception in the eyes of younger and more cynical consumers. Instead, you need to back up your words with actions. It would also be wise to share the results of those actions, because the burden of proof will be on you as a marketer or brand to show that your words aren’t hollow, virtue-signaling efforts to win business.

Finding Your Cause

Just because your brand or organization isn’t built around charity doesn’t mean you can’t be cause-driven. The idea that your business should have been tied to some charitable philosophy from the start is one that will ultimately inhibit many brands from fully realizing just how much charity-driven marketing can do for them. If we look at some of the top issues consumers care about, we see the following:

This tells us two things: more often than not, a consumer will not care if your brand is related to a particular cause – they believe that any brand can get involved with it. Even more, they believe the cause is so important that every brand should be invested in this issue to some capacity. That tells us two things about the mindset of a majority of these consumers: one, they care more about gaining support for the issue than they do if the brand relates to it; and two, they believe this issue is significant and universal enough to deserve that sort of attention. And if you examine some of these top causes, they are fairly universal. Human rights, labor laws, poverty, gender equality, environment, education – these are all issues that can impact everyone regardless of who they are or where they come from. Brands that support these issues in a meaningful way will be sending a message that they recognize how much these issues can impact anyone and everyone and want to raise awareness and support for this issue.

It’s a powerful message in marketing, with plenty of emotion behind it. However, what brands should know is how much they can benefit from doing cause-driven marketing correctly.

Benefits of Cause-Driven Marketing

Charity-driven marketing doesn’t just make your brand perception better – it actually alters the experience that customers have with your brand and products.

An article published in Kellogg Insights (from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) evaluated the concept of the “benevolent halo” in cause-driven marketing. The benevolent halo is defined as “a company [that] has behaved ethically can cause customers to perceive that company’s products as performing better.”

At first, this concept sounds too good to be true – how can effectively participating in cause-driven marketing lead to the customer actually having a better product experience? But it’s real. According to research from marketing professors Alexander Chernev (Kellogg School of Management) and Sean Blair (Georgetown University), the benevolent halo is real.

To explore this concept, Chernev and Blair conducted a series of experiments where consumers were able to try different products and give feedback on them. As the experiment went, “for some participants, the products were presented with written descriptions of the company’s socially responsible behavior: that the company behind the teeth whitener had made sizable donations to UNICEF, for instance, or that the winery donated part of each sale to the American Heart Association.” The test also made sure that “importantly, the charitable giving was entirely unrelated to the company’s core business.”

The results were profound. The study noted that “participants who were told about the giving consistently rated product performance higher than those who did not learn of any giving—meaning they actually experienced the wine and teeth whiteners as being of a higher quality.”

There are two critical takeaways from this experiment:

  • Cause-driven marketing can give your consumers a better product experience.
  • It is proven that there doesn’t need to be a product-to-cause or brand-to-cause link in order for the cause messaging to be effective (supporting our previous insights above).

Although improving customer experience is one of the most beneficial examples of cause-driven marketing being effective, there are other benefits as well. Some of these examples, noted by Frontstream, include:

  • Improving name recognition
  • Enhancing brand reputation
  • Positive customer views and opinions on the brand
  • Boosting sales
  • Improving the quality of life for customers and the area in which you do business

With these benefits, the question becomes how does a brand begin participating in a cause-driven marketing effort, and what should they be aware of?

Getting Started with Cause-Driven Marketing

Cause-driven marketing is an effective way to enhance a customer experience, provide a better product experience, build loyalty, and increase your brand awareness. As Millennials and Generation Z continue to rise in importance, the need for cause-driven marketing to make your brand stand out and build a connection with them will become increasingly more important.

Whether you haven’t started with charity-driven marketing, or you’re looking to expand your messaging further, here are some ways you can get invested in this marketing strategy:

  • Choose your cause: Consider what cause might be most important to your customers, and what you can best represent and support. Remember, the goal is authenticity, so don’t choose one just for the sake of having one. Consider the importance and social impact a cause might have, and make your support of it real. Your customers will be able to tell the difference.
  • Don’t Virtue Signal: Tailor your messaging so that your cause is not centered around attention for you. When focusing on cause-driven marketing, focus on what you’re doing to advance the cause or support the issue. It is also wise to let your customers share this message, rather than constantly pushing it on them. Focus your messaging through social media and engaging, conversational platforms. The Kellogg Insights article notes that brands would do well to avoid messaging in advertising channels that could come across as self-interested rather than issue-interested.
  • Be Good: The best way to earn your benevolent halo is to actually be good. Know your cause, show you know it, and place value on it that’s comparable to your customers’ placement.
  • Go Long: One of the biggest benefits of benevolent marketing is that you can build strong loyalty ties with consumers who value a particular issue or cause. Since these demographics tend to lean towards younger shoppers and generations, they could be your customers over a much longer period of time. Therefore, it’s important to keep long term goals in mind with cause-driven marketing. Don’t take up a cause for a year and then never speak of it again – use it as a way to continually connect with new customers, and build stronger ties with existing ones.