Marketing and philanthropy

Shifting from yesterday’s focus, something more down to Earth.

It is Friday, so just a short comment and a couple of ideas that I used in the past for practical uses.

If you are on Facebook, I think that more than once in a while you saw companies offering to donate to a cause if you buy their products.

At first, companies said something like “we will donate x% or 1 USD during y days”, to obtain more visibility than they would have obtained by just sending in a cheque to the charity.

But, eventually, somebody started seeing another opportunity: whoever introduces in her/his buying decision patterns the “I will be contribute to a good cause” motivation could be an interesting target to build consumer loyalty based on “values”, not on “price”.

Donating to a cause, per se, is an example of good corporate citizenship.

From a company perspective, it is more valuable to work on a “matching funds” approach than just contributing a fixed amount: also if this were not to immediately impact on sales, it would build loyalty- as the customer would remember the choice, and maybe talk about her/his motivation with others.

Yesterday I saw on Facebook a posting that looked as the usual invitation to buy, and promising to give 1 USD to a charity- but with a twist.

I will not divulge the name- as it is just one of many examples.

But you just need to read those two lines, to see the usual qualifications (“up to 50,000 dollars”) to limit their liability, and then a request to enter the code attached to the product.

If you visit their website, and enter the code… you see that to submit the code you need to fill a complete demographic and contact profile (all compulsory fields).

The marketing scheme I saw today and recently for other “causes” asks immediately the information- by playing on your guilt of not contributing to charity, after you already went as far as visiting the website, if you refuse to provide your personal data so that they can send 1 USD to a charity.

What is the relationship between the donation and the data collection is open to discussion.

But certainly for the company 1 USD is a low cost to profile a consumer- lower than what supermarket chains usually give you back when you sign-up to “loyalty” programs, so that they can see which products and product combinations you are buying.

Somebody would propose a legislative approach- as collecting data unrelated to the services offered is explicitly ruled out in many “data privacy” laws and regulations around the globe.

But the customer can still “volunteer” the information, and the “watchdogs” will never have the resources needed to check each potential offender.

At other side, charities are always competing for funds- but are quite aware of the damage to their credibility done by using charity as a Trojan horse for database-building activities.

Some companies adopted a slightly different approach: use the code to obtain the same “loyalty” effect, but then ask the customer to volunteer the information- after they confirm that they received the code, usually by connecting the provision of the information to some services related to the cause, e.g. information about other charitable activities funded by the company.

This requires something more structured than just sending a fixed amount to a charity after you close the campaign, and building a web page to “feed” your customer relationship management database.

But it can be relatively inexpensive, as you would probably need just a committed intern on each cause (why not, “sponsoring” an internship in a charity, so that they can have a full-time, committed staff member).

Why an intern? To produce a “cause newsletter” distributed electronically to those who provided the information (to keep the conversation going)- thereby also increasing the chance that you received real information.

Why sponsoring an internship instead of hiring or using an employee from your own marketing department?

Because you would need the person committed to the cause and not diverted by the corporate life and pressure- the sponsoring company could anyway achieve the same benefit by co-signing the newsletter, or even by using its own infrastructure to publish (electronically or on paper) the news letter, host associated events, etc.

But nothing would forbid then hiring the intern later on- benefiting from the experience in working on communicating with a community, or maybe using the internship as an explicit “trial”.

Frankly, a company using the “data hijacking” today is shortsighted: not considering that misusing an online channel could backfire quite easily.

Maybe that would not affect existing customers who are happy with the product, but they too would usually share their feed-back with others: and negative rumours spread fast.

To avoid that negative publicity to affect the charity receiving funding, probably a kind of charter should be attached to license the use of the logo and name- a kind of “ethical guidelines”: for a charity, it is not just the end results that matters.

But it could actually be easier if charities were to jointly develop a charter to be posted in whatever use of their logo online- not the usual legal contract, but something, short, simple, memorable- and without the ambiguity that was contained in those two lines on Facebook 😀

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