Talia Shani
Talia Shani 18 November 2019

5 Ways Cause-Related Marketing can Generate Loyalty

Eco-apparel has grown to a $5 billion market in the US – up 300% in a decade. Meanwhile Google trends shows that searches for "sustainable fashion" are rising faster than searches for "organic food".

Ecommerce marketers need to embrace this. Here, I outline five ways online fashion brands can build loyalty with CRM.

If your online brand isn’t helping your customers improve their environmental and social footprint, then you’re in danger of disappointing close to half of them. Our latest research of 2,000 UK ecommerce shoppers found that sustainability resonated with 49% as a cause worth aligning to, followed by diversity (36%) and female empowerment (31%).

The survey found that 46% of UK shoppers have bought a fashion item due to wanting to support a mission or cause, with charity being the cause that most resonated with UK shoppers (56%).

Using brand power for good

Does a brand championing a cause have a lasting impact on loyalty? It seems the answer to this important question is yes, as 43% of the survey said they would boycott a brand if they felt it didn’t align with their values, rising to 50% among 14 to 24-year old shoppers – aka Generation Z.

This confirms the significance of being on the same wavelength as your audience when it comes to building a trusted online brand. Bolstered by social media and celebrity influences, eco fashion is being seen more and more as a desirable option, with an influx of new brands energising the market and many young celebrities championing the cause. Actress Emma Watson’s Instagram account which documents her eco-friendly fashion style has an incredible 52 million followers.

Clearly when it comes to ecommerce, the issue of championing a cause can directly impact consumer behaviour. The message is clear - if you want higher retention rates, be sure to align to the right values.

Cause Related Marketing is in vogue

Cause Related Marketing (CRM) refers to the process by which companies market their goods and services by focusing not only on how their products benefit customers, but also on how they benefit socially responsible or environmental causes.

Here are five ways that online fashion brands can build loyalty with CRM.

1. Corporate transparency 

When retailers are honest and open about what they are trying to achieve with their ethical business and sustainability strategies, they are more likely to win the confidence and commitment of their customers.

For example, White Stuff has been committed to ethical business practices since its early days in the 1980s, and today it has a published Sustainable Cotton Commitment, adheres to a Modern Slavery Statement, publishes a gender pay gap report every year, and details its charity work. The company has donated £3 million to its chosen charities since 2010. Social media is vital for fashion brands to share news and speak out about what they and their audiences care passionately about.

2. Brands with a purpose

People are now taking more time to think about the brands they buy, and they are drawn to brands with a purpose. Shoe and clothing brands Toms and Gandys have a core strategy to constantly support international aid causes.

In the case of Toms, every shoe purchase helps provide shoes, sight, water and safer birth services to people in need. The Gandys brothers behind Gandys are also using fashion as a powerful cause for good – namely to open as many children’s homes as possible, to help orphans and deprived children around the world. Both brands have been built on poignant ethical stories, which consumers are gladly buying into.

3. Sustainability programmes 

Fast fashion has come under fire from environmentalists in recent years, so retailers are thinking carefully about their supply chains and carbon footprint. One of the best examples is Swedish clothing giant H&M which has a plan to remove any negative impact on the environment caused by its operations in the coming years. This far-reaching commitment enables H&M to promote itself as a caring retailer.

There are apparel recycling collection points in stores, and sustainability embedded throughout our value chain. Every one of H&M’s 2,000 supplier factories now have a sustainability manager on the ground to ensure the facilities are being operated appropriately. Already 57% of the materials used in clothing production is recycled or from a sustainable source and this is growing rapidly.

4. Encouraging customer interaction

Cause Consulting reports that many brands are no longer asking consumers to donate money to a chosen cause. They’re aiming to directly bring about societal change by asking people to adapt their behaviours. Adidas is one such company aiming to inspire its customers to do good for the world at large. ‘Run for the Oceans’ is a consumer-facing digital engagement initiative to encourage running communities to get out and run together.

Adidas will then match runners fundraising efforts to give financial aid to ocean schools around the world to help clean up the oceans and tackle plastic pollution. By encouraging participation in these community efforts, Adidas is engaging closely with its brand fans, forging long-term links with runners who share the brand’s values.

5. Meaningful partnerships 

Brands are often now seeking to work with third parties to produce a more rounded approach to tackling worthy causes. NGOs, academics, media, and membership organisations are all being invited to deliver real impact around cause related marketing.

Since 2016, Louis Vuitton has been partnering with UNICEF in order to raise funds and help support children exposed to conflicts, diseases, natural disasters. With the #makeapromise bracelet, Louis Vuitton raises funds (40% of the price tag goes to UNICEF) and awareness for UNICEF and the causes the organisation fights for. The partnership has already raised more than US$ 5 million.

It’s widely recognised that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are more likely to give to good causes than previous generations, but only if they are convinced that the company meets their high expectations around sustainability and ethical business practices. 

In this context, online fashion brands must make it clear what they represent and which charities and issues they support. They can utilise their online marketing platform to pick up on their audience’s passions and concerns. And most importantly, ecommerce marketers need make the fullest possible use of ecommerce marketing – from social messaging to onsite content – to communicate all campaigns and achievements effectively. The commitment must be real and embedded in company culture.

If firms cannot follow through in a consistent manner, there is a risk of being hit with negative PR. A robust governance structure should be installed to ensure values and targets are met.

For high-profile e-retailers, it seems CRM must be done very well, or not at all.

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