Marc Patterson is CEO of Connected Realm Entertainment, a mission-driven media publishing company connecting brands and social causes.
The Case for Co-Branding
Taco Bell and Doritos… Uber and Spotify… Redbull and GoPro… Nike and Apple…
Collaboration continues to be a powerful part of the marketing toolkit, and has become a staple for companies (and individuals) to raise product and brand awareness. In social media, co-branded video has had a huge impact, according to Travis Chambers, founder of growth & video agency Chamber Media. “In the YouTube world, collaboration is the best tactic someone can use to build their brand. By working with others in similar niches, both parties can gain some of the other’s followers.”
However, when it comes to social causes, co-branding/co-marketing often goes no further than joint sponsorship. Why? There is no absence of interest in supporting social causes; according to GivingUSA, Americans donated over $427 billion to U.S. charities in 2018, 68% of which came from individual contributors while corporations and foundations together generated over 22%.
Brand support for social causes continues to grow each year, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), and while the growth of digital content consumption with each generation provides a forum for brands to build their impact identity, established market-driven rules are hard to break, observes Eric Nee, Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (published by Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society). “Cause-marketing has a long history, with plenty of examples of an individual for-profit company aligning its brand with a non-profit or a cause. But companies in the same industry are reluctant to publicly partner (think Nike and Adidas). They may find common ground on supply chain issues (fair trade, etc.), but not much beyond that.”
Creating a Collaborative Environment
Corporate organization structure may also play a part in the collaboration disconnect. The separation between marketing and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in larger companies often limits CSR’s involvement in brand/marketing strategy, let alone involvement in collaborative efforts.
Marc Pollick, CEO of The Giving Back Fund, a non-profit organization facilitating charitable giving by professional athletes, entertainers, and high net-worth individuals, laments the lack of collaboration when it comes to causes. “Working individually is so wasteful… it is without question the biggest problem in the non-profit world. There’s too much duplication and not enough collaboration, and the problem is only getting bigger. There are over 1.7 million non-profits in the U.S. today, and 75% of them have annual revenues of less than $25,000.”
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The operating structure of the majority of non-profits doesn’t lend itself to collaborative content between sponsors either. “The majority of non-profits are ill-equipped to do marketing themselves, and rely on agencies, individual brands or sponsors to take on that role,” according to Amber J. Lawson, CEO of Good Amplified, a marketing consulting firm working with non-profit organizations looking to reach Millennial, Gen Z, and younger audiences. “There’s nothing wrong with that individualized approach, but limiting collaboration limits their potential audience.”
Learning from the event sponsorship marketing model, with a third party “hub” organization (such as an agency or organizer) interacting with multiple brands, may hold the key to collaborative content for non-profits. Global Citizen's 2020 Global Goal Live concert event includes Johnson & Johnson and P&G among its global corporate sponsors. While the two mega-brands have previously aligned on sustainability issues, that hasn’t resulted in any co-marketing efforts. Notes Lawson, “Streamlining non-profit administrative functions to leverage a hub approach for areas like marketing and accounting makes a whole lot of sense. It frees up the non-profit to focus on the cause.”
Making an Impact
Does co-branding lend itself well to social impact content? Chambers believes so, if done correctly. “We live in such a divided time. Co-branding social impact content would get a lot of press, attention, and frankly do some good for the world. It's extreme but think about if PETA and the NRA did a co-branded piece about single-use plastics… sworn enemies coming together for a common goal. Co-branding content would let people put a cause first, and would be a powerful tool for a large brand to get some emotional sympathy.” Adds Nee, “Millennial and Gen-Z audiences would certainly be receptive to this type of co-branded collaboration, and companies should definitely consider that in their CSR and marketing planning.”
The holidays and approaching end of the year bring renewed focus to giving and social impact. Placing a higher priority on “cause” over “company” when approaching social content is well within the connected realm of possibilities, leveraging the marketing muscle of collaborative organizations to drive positive changes in the world.
Think about that the next time you’re craving a taco… or Doritos.
© 2019 Marc Patterson