Today’s customer is a connoisseur on how to save the world. And she actually does that, about once per hour. She rescues a tropical forest by eating a bar of chocolate and feeds the impoverished by wearing a pair of blue jeans. It’s via her favorite chocolate and blue jeans brands, of course.

Fact: 93% of customers want to know what companies are doing for the general good 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Study) and 37% of them do purchases as a form of support for causes promoted by brands. It seems like this concept of the 80?s as some may say, social involvement, is far from out of fashion in the business world.

For companies from small to giant, cause marketing is a powerful tool to leverage. It shapes the brand and helps gain social reputation, which consequently nurtures free customer evangelism around the company and its products. How to start with the right foot in cause marketing?

Clean up your own backyard first

Elvis was right. You definitely have to practice what you preach, otherwise credibility will drop and you won?t achieve much with the charity campaign you are planning. Do you have hidden fees, or disadvantageous product policies that you are keeping away from the public opinion? You will be on the spotlight when announcing your cause, so better get rid by then of any questionable business practices you wouldn?t want to see in the news. It’s a friend?s advice. Too many companies these days use causes to mask their corporate greediness and antisocial behavior, don’t be part of it if you strive for real success.

Enroll your business in the right cause

Environment health, pet rescue, antismoking there are plenty of missions to dedicate to. First, ask yourself this question: regardless of other brands, what can your own company do that’s innovative and can do society good Think of a cause that suits your activity and where you can really make a difference. Calculate your investment and don’t engage in something that’s bigger than you are. A good idea is to localize the campaign according to your main market: instead of donating clothes for children on an entire continent, do it for the young in your own region.

Moderate is wise

When it comes to promoting your cause, find a tone that’s both convincing and natural, don’t be preachy. Most important is to be discreet with your cause, as customers don’t exclusively think about the good of humanity when they purchase a certain item. The product has to be appealing in itself, with the cause as a little bonus.

As part of your strategy, you can give money to charity, incite participation to your events, have (or sponsor) public appearances advocating the cause to change people’s mindset. Stick to the consistence of messages and avoid delivering half-truths. If you are true to this, you will have good chances to co-opt major opinion makers to speak about your efforts.

Manage crisis

Mistakes are part of everyday life. From a minor typo in a leaflet’s copy to a major management flaw, the marketing strategy may face certain levels of crisis, when the course of the campaign can be affected or interrupted. It’s embarrassing to make mistakes, especially when you are trying to support a noble cause. However, don’t try to deflect blame, but take immediate responsibility. Traceability and transparency is key in a crisis situation show people the entire dimension of what you done wrong and make them part of the recover strategy. Crisis can surely be a learning process, so take the most out of it.

Sustain the campaign on the long run

It’s not uncommon for small and medium companies to use cause marketing just ?to get out of the woods? and then abort it after a spike in the customer base. However, involvement in charitable causes is a long term engagement that once made is bond to your brand. Once you are part of the existing offline and online communities around your cause, it’s relatively easy to maintain a medium level of engagement even after the main campaign is over. And this feel good type of business can be indeed contagious.

In the end, we’d like to share with you some videos of famous cause marketing campaigns. Enjoy!

One Day Without Shoes (TOMS shoes)

Yogurt On A Mission (Stonyfield Farms) Stonyfield Farms, biologic yogurt

Starbucks Ad For Product Red