Affluent buyers respond to feel-good causes

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Although it's been around a long time, the concept of social consciousness has never been hotter. From Madonna to Angelina to Oprah, doing for others is what the "doers" are doing.

Look around. It's everywhere. Billionaires are vying for top spots on the Most Charitable Givers List. Oprah is pouring her heart, soul and millions into her South African Leadership Academy. Warren Buffett just handed over billions to Bill and Melinda Gates'charitable foundation.

With the exception of some Hollywood starlets, more and more of the affluent are shying away from being singled out as frivolous or flashy. They want to do something for society. They want to give back without giving up the great co-op, the beach-front getaway or the cool car. In other words, they want what they want plus the warm feeling we all get when we do something for others.

What's really news is how many profit-minded businesses have come to see that doing good can do good things for their bottom lines.

A few examples of social consciousness, or cause-related marketing, are Avon's Breast Cancer Awareness crusade, Dove's multichannel campaign to boost the self-image of women in every age category and Good magazine founder Ben Goldhirsh's decision to donate 100 percent of subscription sales to charity. No, Mr. Goldhirsh is not impossibly rich. He's looking to ad sales to fill his company's coffers once his magazine catches on.

So what can a savvy direct marketer do and feel good about doing? Here are some ideas to consider.

Be generous. If you're a publisher of magazines, books or tapes, give away relevant product to institutions, schools and organizations that will benefit from their use. Share the results with your subscribers. This can generate great public relations and provide fascinating stories for your readers.

Be inclusive. Ask your staff to come up with ideas that connect your product and their favorite cause. You'll win their loyalty and tap into a wellspring of new ideas.

Be truthful. In a recent ad, a group of Mercedes-Benz dealers in Chicago told readers they were not offering the traditional "cash back" program. But if the reader bought a car from any of the Mercedes dealers in the group, a certain amount of money would be contributed directly to Chicago's needy children.

A picture of an impoverished young girl was the cornerstone of the ad. The copy went something like this: "Let's be real. Our main goal is to sell you a Mercedes-Benz. But wouldn't you feel better knowing that because you're driving a nice car, this young girl will be better off because of you?"

These advertisers were not trying to hide what they were doing. They were making the point that when we do something nice, we feel good about it.

Be a problem solver. Affluent consumers are used to putting their ample finances to work to solve problems. If you can show why your product will solve your customer's problem and, at the same time, help society on a larger scale, you've crafted a mighty powerful message.

How about taking a page from that great American Express promotion that helped restore the Statue of Liberty? Remember how American Express pledged to donate a penny toward the restoration project for each use of the card. The result amazed almost everyone. Card usage increased by 28 percent, and $1.7 million was contributed to Ms. Liberty's facelift.

Be prepared to tell your story. Sonnenberg, Haviland & Partners, an award-winning marketing group in New Jersey, was founded on the concept of "linked prosperity." This fact is always mentioned in its pitches as an integral part of its corporate persona. The agency has grown exponentially due as much to its pro bono projects as to its excellent work.

If you're a publisher who uses only recycled paper, say so. If you use only non-sweatshop labor for the apparel you sell on your Web site, mention it on your site and in every mailing you send out.

Be willing to make your customers feel good. Every customer wants to feel a little like Bono, Oprah and Mr. Buffett. As a direct marketer it's possible to make your customers and prospects feel good and add dollars to your bottom line every time you communicate with them.

Be on the lookout for companies who share similar values and whose goals can be achieved by partnering with your business. Once you've found the right fit, you'll achieve greater visibility. Increase customer loyalty. And it will make you, your employees and your customers feel really good.

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