You can make your cause more relevant to your audience. Here’s how.

New research shows how communications can help the unengaged get engaged with your mission.

Revmade regularly scours the internet for new studies that offer important insights for marketers. Then we write them up for you in as few words as possible. (Want to get them emailed to you? Sign up here.)

“What’s in it for me?” It’s a question communicators are trained to ask and answer on behalf of their imagined audience before they press send, publish or open their mouths to speak.

Without an obvious benefit – and with billions of other stimuli vying for their audiences’ attention – most would-be viewers tune out what could-be relevant information because it doesn’t answer this fundamental question. And new research sheds light on how this phenomena applies to cause-based marketing programs (think: non-profits, CSR campaigns, etc.)

It turns out, how individuals perceive the impact of your mission on their lives is one of the biggest factors impacting cause-based marketing, according to recent research published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. In other words, unless the cause feels close to home, there’s little to no chance it’ll move the heart, mind, (word of) mouth, or wallet. 

We’ll let the researchers explain: “The primary purpose of [our] study is to identify corporate social responsibility (CSR) message factors that can increase individuals’ cause involvement, particularly regarding support for women’s empowerment. Our results indicate that psychological distance manipulated by CSR campaign messages can increase an individual’s level of cause involvement, which in turn influences the individuals’ responses to the CSR activities, like brand attitude and positive WOM intention.”

Our take(away): The key to getting people to care about your cause is to make it feel more closely connected to them and their real lives.The type of message you send and the specific words you use can alter how involved audiences feel in your cause. And, a higher level of cause involvement leads to a higher likelihood of support for your organization. Some of the factors driving cause involvement: 

  • How geographically distant it feels
  • How urgent it feels
  • How hypothetical or certain it feels
  • How much it feels like it applies to people like them

Dive deeper: People process events differently “based on subjective perceptions of the psychological distance between themselves and the event.” When people perceive a cause as psychologically distant from them, they interpret it abstractly; when people view that same cause as “closer to home,” they think in much more action-oriented and concrete terms. (By “closer to home,” we mean: geographically (near), temporally (soon), hypothetically (certain), and socially (applies to me vs. applies to other groups).

But what’s the opportunity for organizations to make their cause more relevant? As part of this study, researchers presented two different groups of people with a cause-related message on Twitter. 

  • Message one emphasized how the cause supported the recipient’s “in group” 
  • Message two focused on an “out group” message

In-group message: 

“Support your mother, wife, daughter(s), sister(s), and female friends. We will donate money for every retweet to foster female leadership in our society. #EmpowerWomen.”

Out-group message:

“Support women. We will donate money for every retweet to foster female leadership in our society. #EmpowerWomen.” 

Results: The in-group message outperformed the out-group message in terms of positive attitude toward the brand, increased likelihood of word-of-mouth referral and increased likelihood of participation with the brand.

How to Apply It

Communicators must find ways to put the impact of their CSR work in the context of what matters most to audiences. So, what are the best message strategies to reduce an individual’s perceived social distance and increase their cause involvement?

  • Step 1: Research your audience. What do they care about? What can you understand about their concerns from their behavior? 
  • Step 2: Tie your cause to their concerns. Show them how it impacts people like them,  why it matters now and how concrete the issue is. Focus on specifics, not abstractions. 

TL;DR: Decrease the “psychological distance” between your organization and a given audience by showing how your mission hits closer to home for them than they might think. Put your mission in the context of their real lives for maximum oohs, ahhs and ROI.


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