Today’s guest post is written by Brian F. Martin

True story: Fifteen years ago, I invested $5,000 in both my niece and nephew’s college funds.

I was always taught if you put away a little money, when you come back years later it will have grown exponentially due to compound interest.

I recently had dinner with my niece and nephew and presented their checks from this original money. The amount of each? $5,500. 

The point of my story is, many of the old rules are gone. Truths we took for granted are no longer true. After a long period of yearning for material satisfaction, we are experiencing a new order. My niece and nephew are. And so are others.

A recently conducted Leo Burnett study found consumers say they want to start giving money to charity as much as they’d like to take vacations and go to the movies. As a society, we are moving towards something deeper, particularly post-recession, after consumers had to make cuts in their spending.

Now, they’re reconsidering their priorities. Case in point, consumers respond better to brands that participate in causes they care about.

Within the last eight years – about 5,000 years into recorded human history – more than 80 percent of Americans have signed on to social networks to share their values and stories. In doing so, they’ve created a new paradigm of connectedness and contribution. Participation, both in social networking and external causes, meets our basic human needs:

  1. To find significance and recognition
  2. To form connections
  3. To enjoy security and certainty
  4. To experience creative expression and growth
  5. To crave new experiences
  6. To build self esteem through contribution

At the same time, companies and brands are now expected to be good citizens, to contribute to society, and to improve the world. Many brands look at this as a problem to solve. What cause can we align with for a marketing relationship in order to gain positive brand value and competitive advantage?

Is that serving the brand, marketing, consumers, our society? 

Instead, I propose marketers trace their efforts back to those basic human needs and start trying to meet them. Start and end with your brand’s values. It is a waste of time and money to align with a cause that doesn’t fit. It won’t resonate, and it does your community and employees a disservice.

Look for programs that will effect change and deliver the most affect, and the marketing results will surprise you. When the cause is a good fit, it meets these human needs and all the branding spokes will fall into place more easily. Leaders and employees will be more likely to become evangelists. The marketing will be more honest and require less effort to integrate. Consumers will buy in to the values and help spread the word through social networking.

When Kentucky Fried Chicken promised to donate 50 cents from the sale of its pink Buckets for the Cure to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, it caused an uproar. Too many advocates noted the link between fatty foods, obesity, and cancer – the values were not aligned.

On the other hand, since 1999, the partnership between Komen and Yoplait has enhanced both brands and the cause, and has met these human needs. Through the Save Lids to Save Lives program, Yoplait invites consumers to send in sticky pink yogurt lids and share their stories. For each lid sent in, Yoplait donates 10 cents to Komen for a total of $30 million to date.

Chase’s Community Giving initiative has more than 3.3 million Facebook followers because Chase created a community-based contest rallying organizations to garner the most votes, and therefore, the $1 million dollar grand prize (a total of $5 million is donated each year). With Chase’s contest, a consumer can take 10 seconds to like the page and vote, and they will feel a level of contribution.

The return-on-investment for Yoplait and Chase? Exponential. Both earned millions of connections with consumers in a manner that offered significance and recognition. Consumers were asked to take action and engage with the brands – and they did, in wild numbers.

Yoplait, a product marketed as part of a healthy lifestyle, aligns itself with a powerful women’s health cause. Chase aligns itself as a community resource and force for doing good. Not bad for a bank in today’s climate.

And in the end – unlike with my college fund investment – they both get to present big checks to those they intended to help.

Brian F. Martin, entrepreneur and philanthropist, is the founder of Brand Connections, one of the largest independent media and marketing companies in the U.S. He is also the founder of The Makers of Memories Foundation dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence, starting with the devastating effect it has on children.