Jack Leech
Senior Corporate Client Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 219
E: jleech@cafonline.org

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Building positive brand association through community activity


How ‘purpose’ differentiates brands

Price and quality may be the core drivers behind consumer buying decisions but there is a third motivation that is increasingly staking a claim on our sub-conscious; a brand’s ‘social purpose’.

But communicating your brand’s ‘purpose’ is not always straight-forward. It is comprised of many things that can seem unclear when compared with more tangible factors like price and quality.

Failure to pinpoint purpose has undoubtedly put many off, but those that have persevered have reaped the benefits. The often quoted example is Unilever, who as part of their Sustainable Living Plan identified that, ‘in 2017, its most sustainable brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business’. Patagonia is another example and has grown every time it has amplified its social mission.

One of the most compelling ways of bringing your brand’s purpose to life for your consumers is by connecting them with something tangible that they can relate to; a charitable cause.

Connecting people to causes

Research by Accenture looked at factors that attract people to buy from certain brands over others and found that 50% were influenced by whether the brand ‘supports and acts upon causes that we have in common’.

We’ve seen this gain real momentum in the retail industry where we work with forward thinking clients to help them deliver customer facing programmes. One example is the M&S Sparks card; when customers sign up to the scheme, they are invited to nominate one of ten charities that will benefit from a 1p donation every time the card is used. These ten charities were strategically chosen to represent a diverse set of organisations across social and environmental issues that are closest to their customers’ hearts. The scheme has been a great success, surpassing £5 million in donations in January 2019.

Placing charitable giving within a loyalty card context has also been successfully rolled out with our client Co-op, who generated £17 million in 2019 for community groups across the UK;

Every time our members shop at Co-op, 1% of what they spend on selected own-branded products and services goes to help fund community projects where they live

As with M&S, this model also empowers customers with the choice of recipient charity, making the connection between purchasing behaviour and a brand’s commitment to giving back.

How does this translate back into the business?

Linking charitable causes with customers’ purchasing behaviour creates an opportunity for brand differentiation. This is even stronger in younger generations, with 70% of millennials saying that they consider a brand’s ethics and values when making purchases.

Take the case of GiffGaff who, according to YouGov data are more popular among millennials than any other age group.

GiffGaff’s appeal to the millennial cohort lies in its strong messaging on business ethics and values (its very name supposedly derived from an ancient Scottish word for ‘mutual giving’), and in its deliberate positioning as a disrupter of the status quo, being ‘a David amongst Goliaths in Mobile-land’.

In 2018 GiffGaff had an opportunity to put their words into action by fulfilling their values and doing something disruptive. Following a data outage, the company offered its customers the option to forgo compensation payment and instead donate it to charity. It was reported that more than one third of their customers opted into this scheme which turned a potential bad news story into a good one; not only positively impacting on its customers’ perceptions, but also providing valuable funding to a charitable cause and gaining the company wider press coverage.

You can’t force a good fit

GiffGaff and others are only able to leverage their brand in this way because their chosen cause or campaign aligns to their brand purpose. Companies understand how crucial their brand equity is, which is why any partnership with a charitable brand should be considered, aligned, and authentic.

The importance of authenticity and alignment is highlighted by Cause Related Marketing experts Louis Kennedy, who specialise in connecting corporate and charity brands to create social impact. The agency brings the kind of radical thinking to brand partnerships that has helped Comic Relief raise over £500m since 1980 through the sale of the iconic Pudsey bear. Tracey Richardson, partnership and licensing director at the agency, told us:

For us, the ability to link your brand with a cause can be incredibly powerful. Businesses approach us seeking to achieve commercial objectives whilst also creating authentic brand differentiation. We help them create a unique, emotional link to their product range by partnering with the perfect charity brand.

To conclude, we know that customers are increasingly interested in and influenced by a brand’s ‘social purpose’. One of the most effective ways to demonstrate this social purpose is by linking your brand with an aligned and authentic charitable cause, creating positive change and increasing brand equity in the process.


Visit our corporate purpose insights page for more from our team of experts.

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