Embracing philanthropic causes has certainly been a worthy endeavor for businesses. However, based on what I’m seeing, supporting societal causes may now be a financial necessity for restaurants that want to attract the millennial generation. But can a business’s philanthropic efforts also increase revenue? You bet!
Using A Cause To Attract And Retain Millennials
While older generations currently outspend millennials, CBRE’s “2019 U.S. Food in Demand Series: Consumers” report predicts that this cost-conscious generation will become the biggest restaurant spender within 10 years. By aligning business objectives with social causes — the fuel that captivates this generation — a restaurant can use social marketing to ensure customer retention.
In July 2019, the Case Foundation released “The Millennial Impact Report: 10 Years Looking Back,” which analyzed how U.S. millennials interact with causes and social issues. More than 10 years of research and studied preferences of 150,000 millennials went into the foundation’s report. The findings speak to a generational shift that has moved us away from supporting institutions and toward favoring businesses that advance societal causes. Particularly, restaurant operators should take note of these five takeaways from the report:
1. Social Good Moves This Generation: According to the Case Foundation, some ways that millennials have been flexing their societal cause muscles include making donations to favorite causes, charity auction bidding, corralling friends and peers to do a charity bike ride or run, and buying products that support indigenous makers or from companies that support identified societal needs.
2. Some Social Issues Rank Higher: The Case Foundation found that this generation is known for engaging in causes in support of those who cannot speak for themselves. They often embrace causes that directly affect them, including healthcare, civil rights/racial discrimination, education, employment and job creation, climate change, and immigration.
3. Trust Is Imperative: A business can market a particular philanthropic endeavor, but all screeches to a halt if information about where contributions are placed and how the support helps remains hidden. Likewise, if an organization does something that creates distrust, continued business support will likely cease.
4. Combining Efforts Produces Widespread Change: At this stage in life, millennials currently have less money to spend, but it doesn’t lead to an all-or-nothing mindset. Some give a little, and some give a lot. Millennials, according to the Case Foundation report, say they believe that the aggregate engagement makes an impact beyond individual donations.
5. Influencers Matter For Good: Seeing a peer already engaged in a cause can move a millennial. Consistent preference for supporting causes is evident if friends have already given, supported, talked about, posted or promoted what they’ve done. One need only look to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to see how millennial enthusiasm helped raise a reported $115 million during the summer of 2014. Marketing teams should consider similar promotions.
Business Wins With Marketed Causes
Cause marketing goes well beyond the “feel good” business practice of years past. For many well-known restaurant brands, it has become a business strategy that has benefited every key stakeholder. The benefits include:
Earned Media: Supporting social causes has press potential that can increase brand awareness, as it did for Sweetgreen’s wastED salad a few years ago. In 2015, the fast-casual chain implemented a salad campaign in partnership with chef Dan Barber to benefit a food rescue organization. A portion of the profits went to the organization, and in return, Sweetgreen garnered earned media from high-profile publications.
Competitive Advantage: When consumers are faced with dining decisions, sometimes they opt for the cause-branded choice that goes beyond their experience with a brand. When two equal brands are proposed, I’ve found that many consumers are likely to choose a business strongly aligned with a charity. This can become a big win.
Brand Differentiation And Customer Loyalty: A business that advertises its social consciousness can woo customers who say that what a brand stands for makes a difference in what they choose. Supporting a cause that aligns with the hearts and minds of its customers can create an authentic emotional connection with the business that can, in turn, create long-term customer loyalty simply based on shared values.
How To Get Cause Marketing Right
Potential causes to choose from are endless, but don’t forget customer alignment; it’s paramount in the business decision. When walking down this path, internal buy-in must come first. Business mission and vision statements can cast a guiding light to which cause(s) might be the right fit. Then, with those ideas, managers should test them internally to weigh sentiment.
Once the social causes are whittled down to a few, operators can gain further insights via customer surveys. By engaging socially conscious customers about the causes they support, management can create a resonance between its purpose-driven campaigns and customer core values.
Once a cause is chosen, marketing steps in to finesse the messaging. Come across as inauthentic, and it can turn into a big flop or a public relations nightmare. So, here’s what’s important: Don’t sell the message. Let it bubble up from deep within your organization, and customers will be more likely to dive into the cause with you.