Katherine Ransom

Cause Marketing Boosts Brand Loyalty While Promoting Nonprofits

Katherine Ransom, vice president of marketing and communications for Orange County United Way, is a noted expert on cause marketing, which is embraced by both nonprofit organizations and the businesses that support them. A loyal member of IABC, Ransom values the connections she has made over the years and the ways she has stayed on top of the marketing field’s trends through her involvement in the organization. Here are some of her thoughts on cause marketing and good corporate citizenship.

How has cause marketing evolved, and why is it important to businesses and corporations of all sizes?

Cause marketing began as a form of advertising designed to change personal behaviors and public policies. In the business community it was initially deployed as more of a tactic to drive immediate sales. But over the years it has grown to a strategic approach to build customer loyalty and brand identity.

The benefits of cause marketing for nonprofit organizations include the increased ability to promote the nonprofit organization’s cause via the greater financial resources of a business and an increased ability to reach possible supporters through the company’s customer base. For businesses, cause marketing generates positive public relations, improves customer relations, opens additional marketing opportunities and drives revenue.

Impact-focused alliances include corporate partners working with multiple nonprofits to tackle issues from all sides in order to earn consumer trust and build employee morale. Today cause marketing is a big component of corporate culture.

A business’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can encompass a wide variety of methods, from giving away a portion of the company’s proceeds to charity to implementing better business operations. There are many CSR categories and practices that range from environmental and philanthropic issues to ethical labor practices and community involvement.

Why is involvement in the community and good corporate citizenship increasingly part of the communicator’s tool kit?

Smart companies deploy cause marketing as a tool to put a public face on their CSR and to communicate the value of their company to stakeholders. With greater public scrutiny and distrust due to corporate ethics, it’s one way of providing accountability and a great opportunity to actually do good. Not only will companies appeal to socially conscious consumers and employees, but they will also make a real difference in the world.

Countless studies show that 70 percent of people prefer to work for socially responsible companies and nearly 60 percent of consumers will pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social impact.

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be crafting United Way’s marketing and communications efforts.

My career has been split into three parts:

  1. Agencies / marketing firms with a focus on travel and leisure, action sports and other consumer-facing products and services. Of course, there was never a shortage of pro bono nonprofit clients.
  2. In-house marketing departments in action sports and burgeoning technology products. The work in point-of-sale programs, purchase-triggered donations and licensing programs gave me great experience that was transferrable to any product, service or social issue. Each of the companies I worked with also supported local causes, so their business models were in harmony with their missions.
  3. My nonprofit career has included United Way, HomeAid America and Goodwill.

Certainly United Way has enormous brand visibility, but because each United Way operated independently and autonomously, we are charged with distinguishing ourselves in the local community.

One of the most interesting aspects of our work is shining a light on the surprising needs in our community, especially given the perception of The OC. On average, 3,000 students drop out of high school each year, one in four of our residents live in poverty; one-third of our children are overweight or obese; and more than 26,000 children and their families are unstably housed or homeless.
Each day we focus on changing perceptions, educating the community and inspiring philanthropic behavior.

Our brand is the sum total of perceptions about what we stand for. If you’re fortunate enough to have a great international brand, protecting it is an absolute organizational priority. Arguably, it is also one of the most valuable assets in any sector because it is the gateway to all other assets, both human and financial.

Why are professional organizations like IABC important to communicators’ career growth and skills development?

IABC has afforded me opportunities to meet and work with like-minded professionals. The training and workshops provide new perspectives and insights. The colleagues I’ve met over the years are amazing resources who are always digging into new and interesting facets of marketing and communications, and eager to share what they learn.

What are some of your personal and professional goals? How can IABC involvement help you achieve them?

Keeping up to date in the marketing field, staying on top of industry trends and continuing education are important to me. My work, especially in the nonprofit sector, has taught me that there are so many hats a person can wear before they become too top-heavy and fall over! That’s why I appreciate the great teams I work with and the connections I make over the years – both the technical knowledge and the strategic advice are invaluable.