Before the COVID-19 crisis, we were already seeing consumers gravitating towards purpose-driven brands (especially among Gen Z consumers). But now, this crisis could potentially enshrine brand purpose and cause marketing as the new industry standard. 

While this may be a time of lean revenues, connecting with customers through shared values and a positive vision for the future is the path to long-term brand loyalty. Agile companies are using this time to incorporate cause marketing campaigns into their business strategy to position themselves with their target consumer and emerge stronger. 

Social impact was already driving consumer preferences. Now, the pandemic has made it a requirement

A study from Mintel shows that in non-crisis times, nearly 73% of Americans say a company’s charitable giving affects their purchase decisions, while 84% of consumers place importance on a company’s support for a charitable cause. The study also found that customers with emotional relationships with a brand have more than 300% the lifetime value as those who don’t, and will be 26% more likely to recommend that brand to others. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is turning that consumer preference into a consumer requirement. More than ever before, consumers are looking to brands to fill the gaps where other institutions may fail. In particular, cause-motivated Gen Zers are looking for brands to take a stand. A recent study found that 35% of Gen Zers said it’s “very important” that brands follow through on their cause pledges to win over their dollars six months from now. A new era of marketing is being ushered in in which brand purpose is synonymous with success in a recalibrated marketplace. 

This might not be the easiest time to make profits, but it is a time that brands can create important emotional connections with their target audience. And failing to incorporate social impact into your strategy will leave your brand vulnerable to purpose-driven brands that are stepping into this role.

Read next: What is Cause Marketing, and How Does it Drive Brand Loyalty?

Disruption allows brands to reposition and win target audience

cause marketing in 2020
Altra offered a discount to frontline workers in a demonstration of support, as well as donating 10% of proceeds to the VF Family of Brands COVID-19 relief effort.

While disruptions can be challenging, they also shake up standard operations and present brands with a favorable opportunity to gain positioning with target audiences in a brand-new way.

“Disruptions just wipe the slate clean and clear away the obstacles that had held the next big thing in check,” said Walker Smith, chief knowledge officer for branding and marketing at Kantar Consulting, during a recent Advertising Research Foundation webinar.

Not only does your brand have the opportunity to create customer-winning cause-related campaigns that are tied to your brand’s niche, but your brand also has the opportunity to implement social impact campaigns specific to our pandemic moment. What’s good for the public is good for your brand right now, and your marketing and messaging can stoke unity and build confidence among deeply uncertain consumers.

Read next: How Can Your Brand Give Back to Their Customers This Giving Tuesday [Resources Included!]

There’s a new consumer demand: the demand for good news

cause marketing in 2020
Nike leveraged its innovation, manufacturing, and product teams in partnership with health professionals at Oregon Health & Science University to meet the urgent need for PPE.

Right now, consumers are faced with bad news every direction they turn. There’s an abundance of news about companies struggling and failing. A near total economic shutdown and global health crisis has cultivated an entirely new consumer demand: the demand for good news. 

Brands telling a redeeming story about positioning themselves for a greater purpose can help overcome this effect and satisfy consumers looking for brands they can believe in and support during crisis.

Cause marketing and brand purpose has the effect of building up consumer confidence as the economy faces the worst downturn in modern memory. It’s likely that many consumers will remain extremely cautious even after the pandemic passes, but purpose, when executed well, can be a lever for allaying those concerns.

Will your brand be remembered?

In a new study, Kantar and the ARF analyzed 45 purpose-driven campaigns and found that success is rooted in 3 principles: 

  1. Brand precedence, where an organization has an established history championing a cause or positioning.
  2. Partnerships with people outside of the organization with people who are passionate about the cause, which lends credibility.
  3. Commitments to offering tangible solutions over the long-term, versus a one-off stunt.

The COVID-19 crisis promises to live on as a generation-defining event. Your target audience will always remember the lockdown in 2020, so the questions you should be asking yourself are: Will your target consumers remember your brand stepping alongside them? Will tomorrow’s consumers remember the good your brand accomplished during a crisis?

Christina O'Toole

Christina is a data-driven, full stack marketer with over 20 years success leading marketing in technology, higher ed and publishing industries. Christina has developed hundreds of marketing campaigns and built all facets of programs including lifecycle journeys, creative direction and lead generation. She now heads corporate marketing at Refuel Agency.