Cause marketing is nothing new. Yoplait has been supporting breast cancer research for years. What is new, are the “New Affluents,” who spend over $303 billion a year in the U.S. on their favorite brands. With their spending power, this group is single-handedly redefining what makes a “good” brand, including if that brand represents integrity and authenticity through charitable efforts.

But that’s not all. According to a report done by Cone based on nonprofit partnerships, “59% of Americans are more likely to buy a product associated with the partnership.” Similarly, Bob Gilbreath reports that 71% of consumers continue to give despite the economic downturn, 87% would switch to a brand partnered with a good cause and 50% would pay more for cause-related products.

So what is a brand to do? Mindgruve believes there are some basic criteria you should consider before rushing into the cause-marketing space. Standing behind a cause with an innovative marketing campaign is a great way to connect with your consumers and build brand awareness. However, the wrong cause and campaign may force people to view your efforts as a weak attempt to stay relevant. Take a moment to review and carefully think about what will work for you.

  1. Is your cause relevant to your brand? Tyson’s hunger relief program and Haagen-Dazs’ Help the Honeybee initiative both support relevant causes by giving food to those in need and saving honeybees, respectively. Coupled with engaging online efforts, such as Haagen-Dazs’ field tour, Beeboy dance video and personalized honeybees, they demonstrate an understanding of consumer interests and areas where their brand can have impact.
  1. Is it meaningful to you AND your consumers? Just because a cause makes sense, doesn’t mean it holds meaning with your staff and your consumers. After surveying women around the world, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was created to combat low self-esteem and beauty stereotypes among young girls and women. Dove has been criticized for this campaign and called hypocritical, but they identified an issue many ignored and are providing meaningful conversation and support for it.
  1. Will it engage your consumers? Pepsi has set a new standard with Pepsi Refresh Project. Not only did they take a strong step into social media, they got their consumers to actively participate in good deeds by providing the chance to submit a cause, vote and help determine how Pepsi’s donation will affect communities. The same individual impact can be found in the relaunched American Express Members Project, which also allows participants to vote for charities, volunteer and donate.
  1. How do you want to commit? Long-term or short-term? Donor or defining the needs? While a lasting partnership like Yoplait has with the Susan G. Komen Foundation can span a decade and raise millions of dollars, it’s important to consider the growth, evolution and scale you expect for your company as well as its relation to the cause. Serving short-term needs, like Mindgruve did with client Sunfood to raise donations for the Haiti Earthquake through the International Rescue Committee, can also provide great engagement with a simpler company commitment.
  1. **BONUS** New companies, can you build a cause into your business structure? TOMS Shoes, founded in 2006, saw a need and the opportunity to meet it. Its mission is simple, “with every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.” This is an extreme example, but should the opportunity present itself, creating a company around a cause can successfully serve the world while also building your business, brand and customer base.

Just like the examples we’ve listed, or with any successful campaign, a well done cause marketing plan is genuine, engaging and builds awareness. Think carefully about the details of a cause – How your brand relates to it? If your consumers will care about it? And what you can commit to it? – before making a decision. If you do, the cause and your business will both see great returns from your efforts.