Social media is at the centre of modern communication. From generating awareness to influencing opinion, social media has made and broken images of brands and personalities. The social strategy of brands has also seen constant evolution in all these years. While earlier there was a huge focus on pushing branded content on social platforms (which proved to be very successful for brands such as Red Bull), the focus shifted to developing brand-centric but more engaging content to gain audience mindshare in a highly competitive social sphere.
Associating the brand with a cause has the same impact as associating with a celebrity—it increases the consumer's belief in as well as respect for the brand.
Engagement, in fact, has become most critical for brands and most are focused on finding different ways to tell an engaging story. In fact storytelling itself is seeing different transformations—consumers are less interested in just hearing a brand tell a story. They are more keen on participating in the storytelling themselves. Mercedes tried this approach with their Mercedes #YouDrive campaign, where they allowed people to direct the narrative using the hashtag. In India, Maggie followed the same approach with the #MeraMaggie campaign, where consumers related their experiences with Maggie, and it was also hugely successful. While there have been success stories, retaining engagement level with consumers is not an easy task especially over a longer period. Here is where cause-led social strategy is gaining prominence.
Cause-led social strategy is based on the brand's association with a cause or a societal issue, where brands seek consumers' involvement in raising awareness and even addressing the issue. Globally, brands are shifting to cause-led strategies to retain engagement of consumers. As per a WARC study there is also evidence that suggest that linking a brand to worthy social outcomes delivers stronger business effects than telling an engaging brand story. The study features several case studies where cause-led strategies have strengthened reputation of a brand in the long term. One of the award-winning examples showcased is that of the British Heart Foundation, a UK-based charity organisation, which by a well-known song, a celebrity and a sticky phrase, gave the public confidence to conduct CPR. Tracking of the campaign showed that 86% of the population recognised the campaign, and, of those, 33% spontaneously recalled it. People understood the hands approach and didn't forget it. The charity had created actual change in behaviour and, most importantly bystander CPR rates improved compared to the year before.
In my view there are four most critical factors whichareleadingto the adoption of cause-led strategies:
1)Humanisation of brands
Most of us would acknowledge the importance of humanisation of a brand in building its perceived value. It is one of the key reasons why brands sign up celebrities for brand promotion. Hiring a celebrity gives a human face to the brand, increases consumers' belief in the brand and thus grows stickiness. But engaging popular celebrities is a costly proposition. Instead, association of the brand with a cause has the same impact—it increases the consumer's belief in as well as respect for the brand. Cause-led marketing, in fact, has the power to influence the minds and hearts of consumers like nothing else. For example, in India campaigns like #Haathmuhbum and #Helpachildreachfive have helped Unilever increase resonance for its Domex and Lifebuoy brands by associating with the cause of cleanliness.
2)Too much brand noise
Storytelling is an important way of differentiating a brand. However, when there are thousands of brands trying to tell a story, it's not easy to tell a unique story that will generate adequate, sustained consumer interest. Consumers can simply get bored with too much brand noise all around. Since a cause-led strategy is not always brand-centric, it has better appeal.
Brand-centric storytelling is short term and requires significant investment in activation campaigns to maintain brand recall. A cause-led strategy is long-led because of which its impact is also over a longer period. Brands which are truly focused on sustained brand building will definitely like to look at a longer term impact.
4) New CSR law
The government has made it mandatory for corporates to spend 2% of their profits on CSR. This has also led companies to look at CSR in all their marketing approaches. It's equivalent to killing two birds with one stone—complying with the government's norms as well as gaining the benefits of a cause-based strategy.
Customer engagement and experience is top priority for brands today. Social media has been consistently gaining significance as a tool to augment customer experience and influence their decisions. Analytics prove that social media is not just involved in raising awareness but also creating business impact. But brands have to constantly look at evolution in the social media space to appeal to consumers and retain engagement. While following previous success stories may be a good way to reduce risk on investment, the fact is that the digital space is dynamic. Constant innovation is the need of the hour, owing to changing customer preferences and their fluctuating behaviour. Hence, it's time that brands stop focusing on just brand-centric storytelling and start adopting cause-led social strategies. That's what will lead to long-term success!