Social Marketing Strategy: What I learned about giving from #saveteecycle and a Jewel song

I’ve seen people say before that in social media “You have to give to get.” And to that, I say, AMEN.

For most marketers, this is of course a complete and utter disconnect from how they are used to thinking. Yet, I contend, for many it would be the most effective social media/marketing/business strategy they could possibly implement.

Of course, in the past few years, myriad marketers have jumped on the cause marketing bandwagon. And, while rare companies are launching ambitious programs like Kohl’s Cares, and The Pepsi Refresh Project and the like, to be honest, in my experience, most companies I talk to about strategies like this don’t yet understand how giving can benefit them.

I could tell a couple of stories here about companies I have pitched this strategy to in the past three months that just didn’t get it at all, but that would be very uncool. They get really excited about it in the initial meeting, because they can see how it would improve perception of their brand and create media interest and online engagement. Then they get cold feet and decide to just keep running some radio or TV spots. And I know why it falls apart. It falls apart because:

  1. It is not a “proven” strategy. I can present research on the topic but I cannot prove that it will drive sales. (Of course, no one can prove that radio or TV will drive sales, either. It’s just “safer”.)
  2. The company is not “really” driven by community at a DNA level; I am feeling out what they are made of, and it’s not this.

Here’s the personal side of this, the background on why I am thinking a lot about it. I’ve spent, oh, a couple of decades now marketing airlines, computers, motorcycles, clothing, etc. and sadly little of it has ever involved the strategy of giving something back. Until recently. A few weeks ago I was thinking about how it would be super rewarding to use my mad social media skills (yes, I am being facetious) to do something good, give something back. Enter #saveteecycle and www.saveteecycle.org.

Thanks to amazing co-conspirators like @bootyp and Craig Vermeulen from William Ryan Homes and numerous amazing supporters we are all well on our way to rebuilding at least one family’s home after the Brew City Flood. And, honestly, what I have gotten back from this effort in terms of:

  1. pride and pure enjoyment
  2. deeper social engagement (more followers, and more importantly, more followers who actually know me/talk to me and I them)
  3. good karma e.g. a really exciting new future possibility for something that makes a difference – all huge.

To be clear, none of those are why I am doing it; just an observation of the outcomes. Repeat after me: you have to give to get. There’s a Jewel song called Life Uncommon that is really powerful and crystallizes this, at least for me. If you don’t know it, check it out and think happy thoughts for @teecycletim and @teecyclejess. Or if you want to cut to the points about branding and strategy and stuff jump down to below the video and lyrics.

And here are the lyrics, just because they ROCK: Don’t worry, Mother It’ll be all right Don’t worry, Sister Say your prayers and sleep tight It’ll be fine Lover of mine It’ll be just fine. And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead A life uncommon. I’ve heard your anguish I’ve heard your hearts cry out We are tired, we are weary But we aren’t worn out Set down your chains ‘Til only faith remains Set down your chains. And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead A life uncommon. There are plenty of people who pray for peace But if praying were enough, it would have come to be Let your words enslave no one The heavens will hush themselves to hear Our voices ring out clear with sounds of freedom Sounds of freedom C’mon you unbelievers Move out of the way There is a new army coming And we are armed with faith To live we must give To live. And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead A life uncommon. *end of song*

There are a veritable ton of rhetorical questions we could debate on the topic of cause marketing and corporate social integrity strategies. Why are more marketers really jumping on this strategy? Is it because, as one study indicated, 87% of consumers are likely to switch from one product to another – price and quality being equal – if one product is associated with a good cause, an increase from 66% in 1993?

Do consumers really switch brands because of cause involvement or do they just say they will? Is it because more companies really have more social integrity, or are more just using this superficially as a strategy to differentiate in a world of sameness?

Will Kohl’s Cares, Pepsi Refresh and the like translate to sales and market share? Or “just” some goodwill and good buzz? What would happen if more companies had the courage to actually step up in a big way and lead a…gasp…social marketing revolution, if you will…in which most brands demonstrate they actually give a crap about their communities? What do you think?

Susan Spaight

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