Last week we talked about how some brands will base their brand values on the ideals of their founder or a prominent figure in their company. Often, one of those ideals is the importance of doing good in the world outside of your industry.

Have you ever been trying to decide between two competing products and found yourself looking for a tie-breaker? At least for me, that tie-breaker has sometimes been a brand’s emphasis on corporate citizenship. I was recently deciding whether to buy a pair of shoes from a local big-box store or to order a pair of Toms. All other factors of comfort and style being equal, I ultimately decided to pay a few dollars more and go with the Toms because I am aware of their philanthropic pursuit to give shoes to kids in need. That’s a very specific example, but we make decisions like this all the time — consciously or unconsciously — when we chose to which brands we will be loyal. We have a sense that some brands share our values, and therefore we choose to support those companies instead of the alternative, even when there is a notable difference in price.

Because of that very powerful phenomenon, the practice of philanthropy is very important to brand managers. Now, that’s not to say that many company’s executives participate in philanthropy merely to move the profit needle, but that is certainly a consideration. If you have a cause that is near and dear to you, it is well worth your time to figure out how your small business can highlight that in your branding activities.

There are two major ways that companies can participate in this kind of values-based branding: through temporary promotions, or in their core business model. Whichever you choose, figuring out a way to make it feel organic and appropriate to your brand is crucial to its success. I’ll give you some examples:

Shutterfly, the online purveyor of personalized photo products, recently came up with a pretty brilliant temporary promotion that involved teaming up with the Ellen Show to give very large check to those in need. Without spending a single ad dollar, Shutterfly’s name a logo were a prominent part of quite a number of emotional episodes of the Ellen show. Not only were they getting a huge amount of exposure, they also permanently aligned themselves with the values of the Ellen show, and Ellen herself, in the minds of all of the show’s fans.

A great example of business model philanthropy is the eyewear company Warby Parker. Similar to the Toms model, each time someone purchases a pair of eyeglasses from Warby Parker, the company supplies a pair to someone in need. They also support programs around the world to bring vision care to people who can not afford it. These initiative are costly, and therefore are built into the company’s business model, most likely in the marketing/advertising budget. While manufacturing and shipping free eyewear and supporting vision care non-profits is a significant expense, I imagine that loss is more than recouped through sales to people who value the same things that Warby Parker stands for. All other factors being equal, wouldn’t you prefer to buy eyeglasses that come with the emotional boost of knowing you just supplied better vision to a stranger?

The important attribute that these two strategies share is that they are appropriate to the respective companies. Philanthropy will always be a good public relations strategy for a business, but it becomes a good branding strategy when it reinforces something important about the company participating in it.

The case of Warby Parker is pretty obvious — it’s an eyewear company that supports vision health (and style). Shutterfly’s promotion may not seem as obvious at first glance. What does giving away big checks on a TV show have to do with a personalized photo product company? Shutterfly’s core brand value of “sharing life’s joy” can be seen on their blog, website, and anywhere else the brand is discussed. And if you’ve seen the segment where Ellen sits down with a family and surprises them with a check for each child to go to college, you get that everyone in that room and in the viewing audience is sharing a moment of joy. It’s subtle, but completely appropriate and therefore it feels organic instead of showy.

What values could you express about your brand by supporting a cause? Whether it’s directly related to your product, or simply a cause that you care about, finding a way to make it a part of your marketing mean a big payoff for your business.

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Online Content Specialist and resident blogger at Webs. Loves branding, marketing, whales. Get more from Sarah on Webs’ Blog and Google+.

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