Emotional Branding and Cause-Marketing: The Ideal Partnership

Amr Aly, Thomas Grandin, Sonja Hiemisch, Julia Savitch and Amit Sinha Roy
MBA Perspectives
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Key Takeaways
What? Cause-marketing partnerships have the potential to deepen a brand’s relationship with its target customers.

So what? Cause-marketing partnerships can be used to help build a strong emotional connection with customers at a level that resonates with their values, making the brand an obligatory passage point on the journey towards the customer’s “ideal self”.

Now what? Design customer experiences in a way to make your customers feel they are truly engaged in supporting the cause when using your product, and don’t forget to target their social network too.

MBA Perspectives: 'Big Design' is an exclusive AMA series examining customer experience design.

It is that time of year again, and we are not talking about Christmas. First it was Breast Cancer Awareness month. Now the end of  Movember is nearing, with thousands of men around the world growing moustaches to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues.

While cause-marketing (Varadarajan and Menon 1988) has been around for over 30 years, it has developed significantly over time. Today it ranges from one-off to long-term partnerships, and from product sales and promotions to program-driven collaborations. It seems though that companies struggle with using these partnerships to enhance the customer experience. In a recent survey among major companies and NGOs, the C&E Advisory (2014) found that only 17% of companies believe that customers are well engaged in their cause-related partnerships.

Wouldn’t it be great if these partnerships could really enhance a brand’s relationship with its target customers?

We see a lot of products today slapped with “pink ribbons” or logos, in the hopes that customers will be influenced to buy based on association. However, to fully utilize a cause-marketing partnership, companies need to think about connecting with the customers on a deeper level.

Every person has an idea of an “ideal self” that they aspire to become. That idea is almost always different from their “current self” persona (Malär, Krohmer, Hoyer, and Nyffenegger 2011). If a company could help its customers bridge the gap between their current and their ideal self through involvement with its cause-marketing initiative and its brand, it would be able to provide a unique customer experience. A strong emotional connection with the customers would be built at a level that resonates with their values, making the brand an obligatory passage point on the journey towards the “ideal self”.

Take one of the most successful cause marketing campaigns that built solid links between a brand and its customers. Gillette’s “Turning Men into Gentlemen” UK campaign launched the new razor that could be used to shave, trim and edge – just to grow the perfect moustache for Movember! To make the “gentlemen-experience” real, a Gentlemen’s Barbershop and Clubhouse was created where customers could receive free shaves during Movember and enjoy drinks among other gentlemen.


 Bring out the 007 in You | Gillette and SPECTRE


Gillette historically stood for a clean-cut look, and needed to innovate as more and more young men preferred to grow and style facial hair. To launch their new product, they didn’t just focus on the great benefits the product had: shave, trim and edge abilities in one device. They wove it into a story and linked it to a cause highly defended by their customers. According to Gillette, the razor became the number one and Movember raised as much money as never before in the UK.

What does that mean for brand managers?   

1. Speak to your customers’ “ideal self”: Study your customers to find out what their idea of the “ideal self” is and how it is different from their “current self.” Then look for a non-profit partnership that would help you move your customers closer to their “ideal self” by engaging with the cause through supporting your brand. Is their “ideal self” someone who strongly supports a healthy lifestyle? Cares about the environment? Helps build a safer community?

2. Design a customer experience: Choose a cause that fits your offer and make your customers feel they are truly engaged in supporting the cause when using your product. Invite them to experience the connection to the cause and to your brand on a deeper level, to feel it resonate with their values.

3. Target the social network: Remember that your customers don’t exist in isolation, but live in a network of social contacts that influence their values, attitudes and choices. When looking for a cause to partner with, consider the reaction of your customers’ entire network and how it will affect them.


C&E Advisory Services Limited (2014), “Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2014,” (accessed October 10, 2015).

Malär, L., H. Krohmer, W. Hoyer, and B. Nyffenegger (2011), “Emotional Brand Attachment and Brand Personality: The Relative Importance of the Actual and the Ideal Self,” Journal of Marketing, 75 (Issue 4), 35-52.

Varadarajan, P. Rajan and Anil Menon (1988), “Cause-Related Marketing: A Coalignment of Marketing Strategy and Corpo­rate Philanthropy,” Journal of Marketing, 52 (October), 58-74. 

The AMA is pleased to partner with Professor Markus Giesler and his MBA students from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Author Bio:

Amr Aly, Thomas Grandin, Sonja Hiemisch, Julia Savitch and Amit Sinha Roy
Amr Aly, Thomas Grandin, Sonja Hiemisch, Julia Savitch, and Amit Sinha Roy are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course at the Schulich School of Business, York University.
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