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How Social-Cause Marketing Affects Consumer Perceptions

Case studies suggest that companies including Avon, Stonyfield Farm and Starbucks have benefited from marketing initiatives associating the company with a socially beneficial cause. But how should managers allocate dollars between social-cause marketing and other types of marketing programs? The authors use a market-research technique called "conjoint analysis" to help managers evaluate the relative benefits of various types of affinity marketing programs, including sponsorship of social causes, sports or entertainment events. Conjoint analysis involves creating a variety of hypothetical brand profiles that contain combinations of brand attributes; by asking consumers to rank the profiles, researchers can gain insights into how different brand attributes affect consumers' preferences.

In several experiments, the authors used conjoint analysis to examine how consumers' responses to a brand of beer, milk or juice would be affected if the brand had a marketing affiliation with a social cause or with a sport or entertainment event. For some of the products studied, affiliations with social causes had more positive effects on consumer rankings than affiliations with sports or entertainment events. However, this was not always true; for example, it was not the case for the milk brands studied, suggesting that the effect of social-cause marketing initiatives may vary by industry.

The authors also discuss how brand managers can use conjoint analysis to compare potential marketing initiatives.
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