For many brands, e-commerce and charity are now inextricably linked. That’s especially true for those with a customer base that is inherently socially conscious — for instance, brands focused on sustainability or wellness.
Brands in those sectors often facilitate charitable donations directly through their e-commerce platforms — and it’s not hard to see why. The appeal of being a good global citizen is self-explanatory: It communicates social values to customers and builds brand affinity. Moreover, it’s the right thing to do.
“When it comes to our customers, and the general population of the United States, I believe everyone has a pretty good heart,” said Ken Wright, Chief Revenue Officer at the CBD brand Highline Wellness. “Everyone wants to be a part of something greater than themselves. And it’s become increasingly notable that customers truly care about having CSR [corporate social responsibility] as part of a business practice.”
Now, a select few brands have determined that charity can yield tangible benefits that extend beyond brand favorability. Indeed, these vanguards are discovering that embracing worthy causes can be woven into the very DNA of a business model, driving everything from targeting to acquisition and analytics.
It’s an approach known as cause marketing.
Effective cause marketing starts with the right platform infrastructure
Many e-commerce shoppers have encountered some form of donation feature in the course of their path to purchase. Sometimes these widgets simply allow customers to round up to the nearest dollar, donating the remaining cents to the charity. But some companies are turning to an approach that automatically donates a percentage of the proceeds to a charity of the customer’s choosing. By putting their own margins in the game, these brands go further in the consumer’s eye — demonstrating an authentic commitment to charity.
Customers notice, and the approach pays for itself in the form of heightened brand affinity and retention.
“It’s worth it to give up small pieces of your margin on each sale,” said Wright, at Highline Wellness. “Because, the math tells you, if you’re doing the charitable donations, if you’re having these pieces of your business that are just more meaningful, your customer is going to continue to return, and the LTV on that customer is going to continue to go up.”
Wright also pointed out that when e-commerce platforms feature widgets that enable customers to see the size of their automatic donation as they shop, it becomes a real incentive to up their orders.
“The vast majority of our customers actually have a higher average order value because they see that widget in real time increasing as their cart goes up,” said Wright. “If we had a 10 percent sale on, and someone buys a hundred dollars worth of product, that’s a pretty good donation.”
Cause marketing enables customer targeting and retention
Brands that engage in a technology-driven version of cause marketing can incorporate donation data into sophisticated personalization and retention efforts. And some platforms now enable brands to collect a wide array of data on customers who donated, using that data to target those customers.
“We have funnels set up,” said Wright, at Highline Wellness. “It’s gotten easier to understand each specific customer.”
At this point, Wright said, most of his brand’s customers are opting in to charitable donations, enabling Highline to develop a larger marketing footprint. But even before that was the case, the brand’s cause-marketing tactics helped it get granular in its approach to the consumer.
“We would be able to identify specific customer segments who donated, and then continue to keep them in an email funnel that continued to show them the value that they were giving to us,” he said. And now that most of the company’s customers are donating, this funnel reaches almost the entire customer base. “We have customer email flows that will go out to people who have donated in the past, which is the vast majority of our customers.”
To scale, cause marketers must find the right partners
It’s worth noting that multiplying the available channels for donations also multiplies the odds that consumers will find a charity they connect with and that they will donate in the first place. In addition to fostering connections between brands and customers, brands create additional opportunities to develop data sets and engage with customers.
But while it’s wise for brands to link customers to a variety of charitable partners, many companies simply don’t have the expertise or bandwidth to identify and vet all of the organizations and nonprofits that might resonate with their customers. According to Wright, brands need to find partners that can perform CSR tasks without demanding too much time or effort from the company.
“The beauty of working with a cause marketing partner is that they’ve enabled us to do this at scale … while also being able to maintain the functions of the business, and without really taking much time out of our day,” said Wright, whose company works with ShoppingGives to manage its cause-marketing initiatives. “We basically have an outsourced CSR team that provides us with a portfolio of companies that they’ve set up, that were already pre-vetted and doing the right thing during this time.”
There’s no conflict between doing business and doing the right thing
Ultimately, businesses across the board — even those dedicated to giving back — must remain profitable. But being charitable doesn’t equate to being self-serving, even if an effective approach to cause marketing does ultimately benefit the business.
According to Wright, when brands embrace charity and donations with genuine passion, customers can simply tell that the brand is for real: “If it’s in your brand DNA to be charitable, you’re in a certain kind of lane. And if people disagree with you being charitable, then that’s not your customer group. There really is no downside other than that you’re just not going to get business from customers that don’t want to be your customers.”
Brands with social consciousness embedded in their identities need to find and nurture the customers that are most likely to identify with the brand’s values — and those customers are almost invariably the charitable types. But connecting with them at scale and in ways that allow the brand to continue engaging with them long after they donate is more complicated than many might assume. And it requires the right platforms and partnerships.