Why responsible marketing makes commercial sense for charities

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The charity sector is often reluctant to talk about commerciality, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Ultimately, a charity needs to encourage people to donate, which means finding the right audience, communicating clearly to them what the charity does or what the cause is, and then encouraging them to donate – all of which are commercially-driven activities.

I don’t believe that charity and commerciality are mutually exclusive. In fact, responsible marketing isn’t just the right thing to do: it also makes sound business sense. Recent research from the DMA found that consumers are looking to brands to do more around diversity and sustainability, more on which later.

Marrying purpose with profits

Outside the charity sector, there are numerous examples of brands that have strong principles at their core, while still being commercially successful.

Clothing business Patagonia has been prioritising the environment and people since the 1970s. Also worth a mention are tentree, which plants 10 trees for every item it sells (currently, it has planted more than 61m trees!); Finisterre, which puts sustainability at its core in order to protect the ocean; and Passenger Clothing, which plants a tree for every product sold. Meanwhile, shoe brand Toms is a Certified B Corp and “serious about sustainability”. One-third of its profits go to grassroots good too.

In 2020, greeting card publisher Hallmark partnered with Royal Mail to give away half a million greeting cards to help the public show gratitude and appreciation for the everyday heroes who were doing the jobs that kept the nation going.

And the power of principle is spreading: we are seeing similarly great examples from other retailers such as Bloom & Wild, who has put ‘caring wildly’ at the centre of everything it does, the energy sector (incredibly), and even banks and other financial services companies.

The most recent DMA Customer Engagement research – Acquisition and the Consumer Mindset 2021 – also shows that consumers are increasingly demanding greater diversity and sustainability initiatives from brands.

Value and values

The DMA’s Customer Engagement research has been running for the past five years, and every year, it has questioned consumers about how they feel brands engage them, either in the context of acquisition or long-term loyalty. This year’s survey was focused on customer acquisition and understanding mindsets around switching.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since 2019, the last time we covered the topic of acquisition, not least because of the global coronavirus pandemic which has impacted almost all facets of daily life, from how we live to how we work, shop and play. This year’s findings show some interesting shifts in consumer behaviour, while some of the trends we’ve been tracking since we first started conducting this research have accelerated.

Value-led shopping defined consumer behaviour in the 2010s, following the 2008 financial crisis. In 2021, similarly another time of uncertainty, the need to get the best commercial deal remains a top priority for UK consumers. As many as 80% of consumers surveyed stated that they expected brands to offer good value for money as standard.

The DMA research also found that sitting alongside value-led shopping is values-led shopping. This is where consumers shop through the lens of the values that matter most to them personally, and it already holds strong appeal. Over four in 10 consumers would like to be able to filter products by the values that matter to them when shopping online, such as sustainability or localism. In consumers aged 25-34 this rises to almost two-thirds.

Both value-led and values-led shopping will shape expectations and behaviour towards brand choice in the coming decade, and that value plus values could well be the core paradigm that shapes shopping and acquisition behaviour.

Diversity matters

A clear route to customer acquisition in 2021 is to ensure that brand marketing represents the diversity of UK society, and 37% of consumers said they find advertising that does a good job at representing diversity more engaging. This figure rises among younger, more affluent, and London-based consumers. For example, 55% of consumers aged 25-34, 51% of consumers in the highest income bracket, and 46% of consumers based in London agree that diversity in advertising drives better engagement.

Diversity in advertising also drives acquisition alongside engagement, with a similar proportion – almost four in ten – claiming that they are more likely to buy from brands that do a good job representing diversity in their advertising. Again, the agreement is higher among young and more affluent consumers, although it is notable that agreement is highest among 25-34s (59%), rather than the youngest aged group of 16-24s (47%).

From this, we can conclude that brands can not only do the right thing and make money but that audiences and consumers are also demanding this from brands as well.

Image by Liza Summer from Pexels

Why responsible marketing matters

Let’s return to the topic of responsible marketing, particularly for charities. While businesses are now being founded or shifting their mission statements to help protect people and planet, for charities, ‘doing the right thing’ is more ingrained.

But at times, the rules and regulations set up by the IOF, or through GDPR, seem exacting, time-consuming and costly. However, more often than not, we have seen that it is necessary to commit and make the investment. GDPR has raised consumer awareness and any mistakes made will be seen, pounced upon and could potentially be costly (in the form of a fine). Getting the right people and support in place, creating the right legislative and data framework (including a DPIA and LIA) takes time but is worth it in the long run.

The data that a charity holds on its supporters is one of its most valuable assets. In addition, being able to communicate and ask for more support is vital to the ongoing growth of a charity and its income. The time and effort put in to get the right permissions captured, understood and used in the short term will make commercial sense in the medium to long term.

And of course, it is also the right thing to do.