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Rethink, Refresh Nonprofit Licensing

It’s an exciting time for brands and retailers to be embracing social responsibility. Great products are emerging at retail every day that engage consumers in a shared mission to solve social problems. This fundamental shift toward cause brands and brand citizenship opens up new opportunities for the licensing community to work with nonprofits as charity partners that can bring social value to licensing and retail strategies which resonate with consumers.

This rising trend is in response to the demands of today’s young socially conscious consumer who is expecting businesses to take the lead in addressing social issues  -- because they no longer believe in government’s ability to do so.[1]  In fact, millennial market research shows:

  • 71% are more loyal to brands and companies they believe are doing good*

  • 87% bought a product associated with a cause over the last 12 months

  • 91% are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, jumping nearly 35% since 1993

  • 70% are willing to pay more for a product that supports a cause

  • 91% want even more of the products and services they use to support causes

  • 88% want to hear how companies are supporting social and environmental issues**

Walk into a retail store and you’ll notice that “give back” programs are everywhere.  They’re at the register, pinned on walls, tied to purchases and promotional programs. They’ve generated some of the best brand storytelling we’ve ever seen, and they’ve raised millions for many causes across the board. Toys “R” Us is supporting Save the Children by asking families to "Play with Purpose," and Game Stop raised $2.8M for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with a retail checkout program during the 2015 holiday retail season.  Dick’s Sporting Goods joined with on Sports Matter, a powerful crowd-fundraising partnership to help local youth athletic teams raise funds in the face of school athletics program cuts. The partnership includes a comprehensive matching program from Dick’s Sporting Goods, for a total investment of more than $3 million in national school sports initiatives.[2]  These are just a few programs that are raising millions of dollars for charities while building strong, lasting ties with customers.

What does this burgeoning trend mean for those of us in the licensing community? For one, it means seeing your licensing retail strategy all the way through to the customer at the store register. It also means it’s time to reconsider working with nonprofits, cause partnerships and promotions. It’s time to get creative with on-package messaging, point-of-sale communication and think about collaborations that give back as a strategy for selling more product and building long term relationships and brand affinity with consumers.

Established nonprofit licensing programs like National Geographic Kids, Smithsonian, Susan Komen and Boy Scouts of America have done a great job making an impact, but today’s licensing partnerships can look quite different, giving nonprofits without significant national or global brand equity the opportunity to thrive. Partnerships that are with or between designers (Tommy Hilfiger/Runway of Dreams), newly created brands that support cause brands (Yoobi/Kids in Need Foundation at Target), licensed promotions (Williams Sonoma/No Kid Hungry/American Girl), and product category extensions for buy one give one social enterprises (TOMS, Warby Parker).  Co-branded products and retail employee engagement (Gymboree/KaBOOM!) offer another opportunity to align with charity brands while also activating the nonprofit’s mission in a local community with retail staff. Tagging a product with a cause-supporting message that says the purchase gives toward a cause is utterly appealing to shoppers. It also shows that your product is a good brand citizen – doing its part for the greater good and pushes consumers to contribute through their purchase.

With such a wide array of opportunities to align and license cause-brands, it’s time to view nonprofits as your partners in product sales, whether they have significant brand equity or not.  It’s the social problem you’ll be solving that matters to the consumer (as well as the fact that you are solving social problems at all).  So why not embrace this trend as a new opportunity for fueling a new kind of success in the licensing community and at retail?

Laura Ferry is the founder of Good Company, a brand citizenship consultancy, widely recognized for establishing socially responsible joint ventures for national brands, media and nonprofits. She is known for her achievements in the nonprofit brand licensing, entertainment, toy, education, environment, health and financial literacy sectors. Good Company is a member of Carol Cone's Purpose Collaborative, an expert collective in the cause marketing space




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