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Cause for Engagement: Loyalty’s Role in Altruism in Three Steps

Apps4REDIt took Scrooge three ghosts and a long night to become a charitable man. For many loyalty marketers, it only requires the spirit of competition.

That sounds jaded, but for many organizations charitable work is as much a part of corporate strategy as holiday promotions. Making the effort successful, however, is not simply a matter of signing a check. Altruism requires sincerity; members of the organization have to believe in the cause and be personally involved. Only then does it set the brand apart and engender customer engagement for the right reasons.

A recent case in point is Apple’s involvement with the (Red) campaign, dedicated to eradicating HIV/AIDS. Apple has been involved with the program since Bono launched it in 2006, and wants to rekindle interest. So it approached dozens of leading app makers and asked them to customize products, services and games for the effort. Proceeds from the campaign, which runs through Dec. 7, benefit the charity.

Apple is a company known to generate near-fanatical loyalty, so its long-term efforts with (Red) feel not only genuine, but also innovative. Delivering that sense of credibility is a process, which I would detail in three steps.

• Consider the brand purpose: Successful organizations make a point of identifying their purpose and then ensuring all activities serve it. Procter & Gamble, for example, is dedicated to improving people’s lives. Its Pampers Rewards program awards points to members for making purchases, writing online reviews and taking advantage of Facebook offers. In addition to special offers, P&G includes charitable donations as a redemption choice. March of Dimes and the P&G Disaster Relief Fund, both prominently placed on the website, are causes that would resonate with young mothers.

• Get consensus: Forcing charity on employees will result in resentment. All charitable campaigns should be collaborative endeavors. This can be done by asking employees to vote on a selection of brand-aligned charities or by breaking the company into cross-departmentalized teams, each of which makes a case for a cause to be voted on. The key is approaching the task in a way proven to be effective within the organization. At Walgreens, the Steps With Balance rewards program, which encourages healthier living, was first rolled out to employees for six weeks to engage them and convert them to advocates. Pharmacists were treated like a separate group of advocates for whom special webinars were created.

• Be consistent: Charitable efforts are not one-offs like holiday sales. Once a cause is chosen (and vetted for good practices), a long-term plan should be drawn up. Again, involve members from across departments and integrate the effort into the organizational plan. LoyaltyOne, for example, made a commitment to pursuing a healthier environment. So we launched a loyalty initiative, called AIR MILES for Social Change, designed specifically to support this effort. Among the program’s efforts, we partner with major municipalities and encourage mass transit use by offering reward miles as incentives. Transit partners, meanwhile, get access to rider analytics that enable them to better engage passengers.

Lastly, and most importantly, the company has to believe in the cause and its role supporting it. Rewards are a terrific way to encourage desired behavior, but the customers should also be party to the results. Share milestones and accomplishments, and let members know they are part of the team, all year round.

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