As social issues continue to grow in importance in modern culture and society, the concepts of social marketing and societal marketing have become foundational for all different kinds of organizations, groups, companies, and initiatives to drive social change and further branding efforts.
These strategies can both make real positive changes in the world while also helping out the company’s image and bottom line. Being seen as being on the wrong side of a social issue that the general public thinks is important could be absolutely devastating for a company. On the other hand, businesses want to be supportive of the most popular sides of important issues to improve brand image and eventually drive sales.
This article delves into social marketing and societal marketing, the difference between the 2 concepts, why it’s so important for marketers to understand, and popular strategies and trends employed by marketers.
What Is Social Marketing? How is Societal Marketing Different?
Social marketing is a common strategy in which a group like a charity, nonprofit, or even a government uses conventional commercial marketing tactics with the goal of improving the well-being of viewers or society as a whole.
Social marketing is everywhere today. You’ve likely seen hundreds if not thousands if you consume any kind of media (like TV, social media, newspapers, or billboards) regularly. One of the most prevalent examples is anti-smoking campaigns. Organizations like Truth Initiative and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) use all kinds of marketing tactics like social media ads to spread the word that tobacco smoking is horrible for your health.
Notably, social marketing is not a strategy used by for-profit companies, though the term is sometimes used incorrectly to describe a similar kind of strategy called societal marketing.
What Is Societal Marketing?
Societal marketing, also sometimes known as cause marketing, is easily confused with social marketing but they have distinctly different definitions. While social marketing is reserved for charities, nonprofits, public health groups, and similar initiatives that are only focused on driving impactful societal change using commercial marketing tactics, societal marketing is a similar strategy used by for-profit companies to further a cause and support their own bottom linesat the same time.
This helps improve branding and the general image of the company while still making an impact. A better brand and image can help widen the customer base and drive sales. Some businesses likely employ social marketing mainly because they actually believe in the initiatives that they are supporting but many are simply looking for the real benefits that can be derived from this kind of strategy.
Societal marketing is quite common and you have likely seen many instances of it in recent years. For instance, every time you are asked to donate a dollar or some change at the register, that’s a societal marketing campaign. These strategies aren’t trying to directly make money for the business. Instead, they are raising money to further causes of all kinds while also making their brand look good by being a significant driver of positive change.
Can Societal Marketing Be Valuable for Most Marketers?
Commercial marketing is solely focused on profit-making, but societal marketing takes a different approach. Will it be beneficial in the long run to promote public well-being through positive initiatives?
Below, we cover some reasons societal marketing is a crucial tool for your brand and possible drawbacks to be aware of.
Enhances Your Brand Image
Although societal marketing is distinct in its vision from commercial marketing, the concept’s influence on modern-day consumers continues to grow. 60% of consumers in a Social Justice Study by Porter Novelli believe real change is highly plausible if companies actively tackle social justice issues. In another survey, 76% of US customers believe that supporting companies that address global social issues makes them a part of the solution.
These studies showcase the immense role societal marketing can play in a business’s ability to connect with its customers. All in all, taking concrete steps to improve the well-being of individuals and communities could enhance your business’s public image and add richness to the brand story. TOMS is one of the most popular Cause marketers today. The company’s “one-for-one” model made it an instant success when it launched in 2006, helping the brand boost trust and customer loyalty.
Builds Customer Loyalty
Societal marketing can also serve as the glue that binds your customers to your brand. A report by Engage for Good shows that 76% of millennials are willing to purchase from businesses that support a special social issue. Companies engaging in social-oriented programs can build strong customer loyalty by showing them that they support the same causes.
The consumer mindset is rapidly shifting, so standing for a wholesome cause is non-negotiable for customer acquisition and retention. According to a Nielsen Global study, most shoppers (56%) are willing to pay extra for products sold by brands supporting meaningful causes. Consumers are more concerned about the social beliefs brands hold dear than their statements.
Provides Competitive Edge
Brands are constantly at war to outperform one another. Societal marketing can serve as the path to forging stronger connections with your customers on matters that hold deep significance for them. It can showcase your brand’s commitment to positively impacting society. This can foster a sense of trust and authenticity among consumers searching for businesses they can trust. It will spark a renewed passion in your brand and lead them to you over the competition.
A study shows that 89% of executives believe brands that lead with purpose enjoy a competitive edge. Addressing key social issues can provide an edge that places you above the competition.
Employee and Talent Magnet
Another crucial value that societal marketing brings is that it can serve as an employee and talent magnet for your brand. A Glassdoor study shows that 73% of adults surveyed are unwilling to work with companies whose values don’t align with theirs. 79% of CEOs surveyed by PwC also believe that purpose is critical in improving employee satisfaction.
By demonstrating your company’s dedication to social impact, you can become more appealing and attract top-tier talents. Employees want to work for a company that impacts their world and are likelier to join and commit to a brand that shares their values. In turn, this gives them a sense of purpose and reduces turnover.
Having a clear societal marketing initiative will help them better connect with the brand and all it stands for. Moreso, it instills a sense of accomplishment in them and helps them become your brand’s advocates to their circle of friends and family.
Reduced Marketing Spend
An often overlooked idea is how cause-related marketing can help a company reduce its overall marketing spend. Partnering with organizations tackling social issues will increase brand awareness and provide positive PR for your brand. The direct impact of this would lead to increased brand recognition, image, and awareness for your products and services.
In summary, having a clear purpose and vision for what your brand stands for can be the magic spell that moves your business from obscurity to public acclaim.
Do these benefits make societal marketing the ultimate strategy to boost your business’ performance? Not so much. There are also some drawbacks involved in this strategy.
While consumers appreciate companies creating a lasting impact on social issues, there is a growing distrust around brands using this strategy, especially when it is used poorly. Many brands are selecting the right social causes but fail to make their efforts seem genuine, turning away potential customers. This has led to customers seeing cause marketing as a means for companies to improve branding, whitewash their public image, and get positive reviews.
According to a report from Traction, 41% of surveyed participants perceive societal marketing as “just a spin,” and an equal percentage believe that virtually every company engages in it. Additionally, 25% of the respondents find such marketing efforts frequently bothersome.
Breeds Unintended Consequences
Although societal marketing is a pivotal means to promote a worthy social cause and improve your brand at the same time, it can unexpectedly affect the target audience. For instance, TOMS Shoes’ one-for-one shoe campaign has enjoyed widespread appeal as it meets a unique need. However, it has negatively impacted the growth of small business owners in developing countries. A study found that local shoe merchants are facing a decline in patronage due to the influx of donated shoes in their communities.
Used to Buy Goodwill
Consumers want companies to be more socially engaged but will frown on any attempt to use this medium to gather public goodwill to the detriment of the social issue. This is often the case when a brand’s marketing messaging is vague and lacks transparency. This was the case with men’s fashion manufacturer Joseph Abboud in 2010 when it promised to donate a portion of its one-week sales to Haiti’s earthquake victims. The company was not transparent on the portion of suit sales to be donated or the exact amount it donated. When you run a campaign like this, it’s important to consider the perception of your brand. You don’t want to come across as a brand leveraging a global issue for personal gain.
Popular Societal Marketing Strategies
Embarking on a societal marketing campaign is a decision that demands careful consideration. While it holds the potential to boost your brand’s public image and establish further connections with your target audience, a single misstep can damage your efforts.
To mitigate this risk, we’ve compiled a list of the best strategies available to social marketers.
Donation With Purchase
The act of giving has a powerful appeal, which is why prominent individuals are often associated with various nonprofit organizations. According to a report, customers generally perceive businesses that engage in charitable activities as more trustworthy.
Asking customers to give a small donation with a purchase is far from a novel idea, but it can be potent in the impact it provides.
Companies like TOMS Shoes and Starbucks are prominent adopters of this societal marketing strategy. TOMS initially started with a ‘Buy One, Give One’ media campaign where each time customers buy a pair of shoes, another pair is given to a charity.
It has since evolved to give $1 for every $3 worth of shoes its customers purchase. TOMS’ adoption of this strategy is significant as it directly links to people’s needs to ensure others have access to the basic needs of life.
Donating a Small Percentage of Sales
Another smart societal marketing move is donating a small portion of your recorded sales for a certain product or line of products (or all sales). This can be quarterly or annually, depending on how you intend to split the percentage. Many companies prefer fixing the percentage between 1% to 3% of their sales.
A classic example of a company that employs this societal marketing strategy is cosmetic giant Ethique, which donates 2% of its annual sales to charity. The company is focused on wildlife conservation and animal preservation and has a number of charities it supports listed on its impact page.
So far, Ethique has only continued to expand its cause marketing campaign and has racked up 270 organizations to its socially-focused endeavors. Ethique understands the issues surrounding wildlife conservation in their natural state. Keying into this strategy helps it connect better with its customers who care about this societal issue.
Minimum Order Value to Donate
Another strategy is to donate to nonprofits only when customers reach a preset cart order value. This way, they can contribute to causes they want to once they spend a certain amount of money on your website.
For example, H&M donated funds to frontline workers like doctors during the Covid-19 pandemic. To support frontline workers, customers were encouraged to donate $10 to charities when spending $60 or more online.
This strategy directly involves the customer, enabling them to positively impact a social cause they care about. Of course, this also incentivizes them to spend more money on your site.
Recent Trends in Societal Marketing
As the digital landscape continues to advance, the strategies and techniques within societal marketing are also rapidly changing. Let’s delve into the top trends shaping the societal marketing sphere and how businesses can harness these trends to their advantage.
Growth in Consumer Demand for Cause-Related Initiatives
In recent years, one of the most significant shifts has been the increasing demand for businesses to align with social and environmental causes.
Modern-day consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are socially conscious and seek brands that demonstrate a genuine commitment to making a positive impact. As a result, societal marketing has transitioned from a mere option to a strategic imperative.
Brands that actively engage in cause-related initiatives contribute to societal betterment and foster a deeper connection with their audience.
A 2019 survey by Cone Communications revealed that 79% of the respondents expressed a greater sense of loyalty towards purpose-driven brands.
To leverage this trend, businesses should identify causes that align with their values, integrate them seamlessly into their brand narrative, and communicate their efforts transparently.
An example is the 2018 Nike ad titled ‘Dream Crazy,’ which showcased former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The campaign revolved around following one’s aspirations despite obstacles and societal hurdles.
Remarkably, this campaign generated millions of dollars worth of media coverage valued at $163 million, contributing an impressive $6 billion in brand value. As a result, the brand experienced a remarkable 31 percent increase in sales.
Partnership and Collaboration
Collaborations have become a cornerstone of effective marketing strategies in the modern interconnected world. Partnering with influencers, other brands, or nonprofit organizations can significantly expand a brand’s reach and credibility.
Businesses should seek partners with similar values and goals to maximize this trend, ensuring authentic and impactful collaboration without the same costs as building out an entire marketing strategy by itself.
For instance, in 2020, Microsoft Corporation partnered with the nonprofit organization Code.org. The mission was to create an educational platform that helps students learn computer science and provides access to professional opportunities.
Another example is the collaboration between the WWF and LEGO. This joint effort had a precise objective – to engage with the LEGO Group’s worldwide suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tons. This is akin to eliminating more than 2,000 cars from the roads.
Furthermore, collaborations can inject fresh creativity into marketing efforts. By combining complementary expertise and resources, brands can create unique and memorable campaigns that stand out in the crowded digital space.
Focus on Authenticity and Transparency
In an era where skepticism about marketing claims runs high, authenticity and transparency have become non-negotiable.
Consumers are more adept than ever at discerning between genuine efforts and token gestures. This trend has pushed brands to adopt a more humanized approach, sharing their successes, challenges, and growth journeys.
According to a study by Label Insight, 94% of the participants in the survey expressed a tendency to exhibit brand loyalty when the brand communicates its social and environmental commitments.
In societal marketing, authenticity just means being real and relatable. As simple and obvious as it sounds, it’s important to note that the easiest way to seem genuine is to actually be genuine.
Additionally, transparent communication regarding product sourcing, manufacturing processes, and business practices cultivates trust and credibility.
Patagonia donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental causes in 2016. This move earned customers, and environmental groups praise for its authenticity and commitment to its values.
Another compelling example is Buffer, which created a deck that describes the company culture. The company also publicly shared an accessible spreadsheet that disclosed every employee’s compensation, including the management team.
Integration of Technology and the Importance of Social Media
The integration of technology into societal marketing is an ongoing and dynamic trend, constantly evolving and reshaping how brands engage with their audience.
From AI-driven chatbots providing instant customer support to data analytics offering brands to gather intricate insights into consumer behavior and preferences. Businesses are using digital platforms and social media channels to enhance the reach of their cause-related campaigns.
A Mastercard survey revealed a 30% surge in awareness of environmental and climate change concerns since the pandemic’s onset. The survey result was largely attributed to the influence of social media. This highlights the importance of digital platforms in promoting consciousness and inspiring proactive measures.
Danone’s “One Planet” initiative is another notable example of this trend. It involves the combination of technology to create intelligent farming solutions. These solutions incorporate data analysis, artificial intelligence, and precision agriculture techniques to enhance resource efficiency and minimize environmental consequences.
Employee Involvement and Engagement
Employees are the unsung brand ambassadors of an organization. Recognizing this, many brands are tapping into the power of employee advocacy.
When employees feel engaged and share alignment with a brand’s values, they naturally become advocates.
An example is Google.org, the philanthropic division of Google. Google.org runs a program that compensates its staff for volunteering with nonprofit organizations for up to six months.
Similarly, Microsoft runs a giving program that matches each hour of volunteer work an employee completes with a $25 donation per hour to their nonprofit organization of choice.
Encouraging employees to share their experiences, insights, and perspectives on social media humanizes the brand and adds an extra layer of authenticity.
According to a survey conducted by Porter Novelli, 89% of employees are likely to stay loyal to the purpose-driven companies they work for. 92% of the respondents are also more inclined to recommend their workplace to others.
Examples of Effective Social and Societal Marketing
Below, we explored three relevant examples of effective social media marketing:
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Raising Awareness Through User-Generated Content
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which took the world by storm in the summer of 2014, is perhaps one of the most successful social marketing campaigns ever executed. It’s a great example of the immense potential of user-generated content in creating a viral social marketing campaign.
This movement was started by three individuals battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Anthony Senerchia, Pete Frates, and Pat Quinn. They inspired people worldwide to drench themselves in icy water and contribute to an ALS charity. They would then challenge some of their friends to complete the ice bucket challenge too.
The campaign’s primary goal was to raise awareness about ALS and encourage donations for research.
The strategy was simple yet highly engaging. Participants would film themselves being doused with ice water, share the video on social media platforms, and nominate friends to take on the challenge within 24 hours.
In addition, this challenge effectively leveraged the power of gamification and social and emotional engagement.
The nomination feature tapped into individuals’ desire to be part of a trend and show their support for a cause. As celebrities, politicians, and ordinary people joined in, the challenge spread like wildfire across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
The campaign’s outcome was impressive. Over 17 million videos were shared, and more than $135 million was raised, with $4 million going to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) in just eight weeks.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge highlighted the potential of harnessing social dynamics to drive social change. It showcased the influence of social media in enabling campaigns to rapidly scale and become global phenomena.
Nike’s Dream Crazy: Societal Marketing 101
Nike’s Dream Crazy campaign, featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is a strong example of societal marketing with the goal of aligning the company with a social movement.
Launched in 2018, the campaign centered on pursuing one’s dreams despite societal barriers and challenges.
Kaepernick, known for his protest against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, became the face of the campaign. By featuring Kaepernick, a controversial figure at the time, Nike made a bold statement about its commitment to social justice and equality.
The campaign’s video ad garnered millions of views and ignited discussions on various platforms. While the campaign faced backlash from some quarters, it also resonated deeply with those who supported Kaepernick’s cause.
Due to the campaign, Nike earned media exposure worth $163 million, added $6 billion of value to Nike’s brand, and boosted sales by 31%. This demonstrates that taking a stand on a social issue could be morally commendable and financially rewarding.
The success of the Dream Crazy campaign emphasizes the importance of authenticity and aligning with meaningful social causes.
Brands that genuinely connect with their audience’s values and concerns can create a lasting impact. However, companies must tread carefully, ensuring their support for a cause is genuine and well-received by their target audience.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ‘Act for the Ocean’: Creating Environmental Sustainability Via Social Marketing
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ‘Act For the Ocean’ campaign is a remarkable example of using social marketing to encourage sustainable behavior and conservation.
Launched to address ocean plastic pollution, the campaign employed a multi-faceted strategy to inspire individuals to reduce their plastic consumption and make eco-friendly choices.
Through visually compelling graphics, informative videos, and engaging social media posts, the aquarium effectively educated the public about the devastating impact of plastic on marine life.
They adopted hashtags like #BreakFreeFromPlastic to rally a global community around the cause. The campaign also shared practical tips for reducing plastic use and encouraged participants to commit to plastic reduction.
The outcomes of the campaign were significant. The Monterey Bay Aquarium managed to mobilize a wide audience, from local communities to global supporters, all sharing a common concern for the oceans.
The campaign raised awareness about plastic pollution and empowered individuals to take tangible actions, such as using reusable bags, bottles, and containers.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium also played a pivotal role in creating and implementing a California law in 2022. This bill marked a significant milestone as it was the first of its kind, requiring a reduction in single-use plastic packaging and food containers.
The law also targets aiding communities disproportionately harmed by plastic pollution with allocated financial resources for mitigation.
Furthermore, the aquarium took proactive measures by urging the central government to minimize the utilization of single-use plastics on public lands. Their advocacy extended to endorsing nationwide regulations that encouraged the adoption of reusable and refillable systems.
Alongside these efforts, the aquarium embarked on initiatives to address the critical health consequences associated with the production and disposal of plastics.
How to Get Started Implementing Societal Marketing
This section walks marketers through a six-step plan to create and implement societal marketing to improve brand awareness and engagement.
Step 1: Define Marketing Objectives
The first step to implementing a successful societal marketing strategy is to create clear and concise objectives and goals that are understandable to all stakeholders.
Without defining goals, there will be no way to measure success or return on investments (ROI) in a societal marketing campaign.
All societal marketing goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, an e-commerce company selling home décor products must set clear goals before starting societal marketing.
These include what they hope to achieve regarding brand awareness, engagement, and conversion rates.
Step 2: Identify a Worthy Cause
The next step is to identify a cause that aligns with your company’s values and objectives. Societies are usually plagued with societal issues such as diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
To select a cause, look for relevant, popular causes that you and your employees believe in. This makes it more inspiring and meaningful for everyone involved. For instance, Microsoft works with nonprofits that utilize technology to create a lasting impact in the world.
Also, ensure alignment with the charity regarding how funds would be deployed and strategies implemented. You want to partner and work for the long term to bring lasting change rather than seeking short-term publicity.
Step 3: Partner With Nonprofit Organizations
After identifying a cause, the next step is to partner with nonprofit organizations actively working to solve the highlighted societal issue(s).
You could do the work yourself but it is usually much easier, cheaper, and more effective to partner with a nonprofit.
When choosing a nonprofit, make sure that they share similar values and can really make a positive change in the world with your help. The next consideration is to consider their reputation and past track records, making sure that they use donations effectively and efficiently.
A reputable nonprofit should have positive ratings on aggregator sites like Give.org and Charity Navigator. For newer and local charities, you should research their financial details, board, and other past successes. Ensure you only work with nonprofits that are genuine and transparent in their dealings or your strategy may backfire on you.
Step 4: Create a Strategy and Communication Channel
Creating a comprehensive strategy makes pretty much any task much easier to execute and achieve the intended goal and societal marketing is no different.
The strategy employed must be transparent and detailed and reflect the resources that will be deployed in the execution of the project.
In addition, keeping a clear line of communication between your societal marketing partner and your customers is necessary. Ensure your customers are kept in the loop by providing regular updates through various channels on the good you and your partner are doing for them and the world.
These channels include social media, press releases, educational programs, and social awareness events, among others. Nonetheless, the right communication channel is relative and subjective, and you should only use one your target audience is conversant with.
Step 5: Collaborate and Engage Customers
Keeping your customers, stakeholders, and employees at the forefront of your strategy is crucial. Regularly updating them on the achieved milestones is essential to inform them of the good you are doing but it may not be enough.
Additionally, you can capture their attention and inspire them to support the cause by sharing thought-provoking content, fostering discussions about social good, and generally trying to engage them as much as possible.
A Gallup study has underscored the importance of successfully engaging customers, revealing that they can contribute to up to 23% growth in profitability, revenue, and growth.
Sustained customer engagement builds profound emotional connections and encourages customers to participate in societal marketing campaigns.
Step 6. Measure and Evaluate Campaign Effectiveness
After implementing the abovementioned steps, you should regularly monitor, measure, and evaluate the impact of your cause marketing initiatives. These include key metrics like reach, engagement, donations, and behavioral changes.
Through these metrics, you can gauge if your societal marketing campaign is performing well and integrate necessary adjustments where needed.
Measurement and evaluation ensure societal marketing campaigns align with the company’s goals, reach the intended audience, and provide sustainable societal outcomes. It also provides transparency to the customers and builds trust and loyalty.
Is Societal Marketing Essential for Your Marketing Efforts?
Societal marketing is now almost essential for all kinds of businesses. It simply makes them more attractive to customers. In fact, Gen Z shoppers’ impression of a brand automatically changes when it is associated with a societal good.
By aligning with societal issues that customers hold dear, your business can establish a deeper connection while increasing its brand equity and recognition.
You can tap into the demand for businesses that lead with a purpose by taking a stand on societal issues without adding much overhead at all.
While this strategy has already proven to be effective, you must be careful when implementing it. You don’t want to come off as a heartless business leveraging societal causes simply to buy goodwill or it may backfire on you.
This is why it is so important that you identify a societal issue that you believe in (so that it’s easy to be totally genuine) and that aligns with your corporate values and is dear to your customer’s hearts.