Cause Marketing - Vodafone's partnership with The National Autistic Society


Below is a list of Business Case Studies case studies organised alphabetically by company. To view more companies, please choose a letter from the list below.

  • Running a successful business. A business must first make a profit if it is going to be able to make a wider contribution to society.
  • Being committed to ethical behaviour across its operations.
  • Being committed to improving society.

A visible aspect of its CR programme is Cause Marketing. This case shows how Vodafone has formed a Cause Marketing partnership with The National Autistic Society (NAS).

Vodafone is the third largest company in this country by market capitalisation. This is remarkable because Vodafone is a relatively new company. Most of the other companies in the FTSE 100 (largest 100 companies in the UK) have been around considerably longer. Most people in this country instantly recognise the Vodafone logo and know what the company does. Vodafone supplies customers with mobile telephone facilities including text, games, music, mobile TV, and Internet services. In 2005 Vodafone had around 16 million UK customers, employed over 11,500 people across call centres, offices and retail shops.

The NAS is less well-known. It is a national charity working with children, adults, and families affected by autism, and those professionals who work alongside them. Autism is a complex life long developmental disability affecting an increasing number of children in the UK. The term autism covers a wide range of behavioural and communication difficulties. For example people with autism find everyday social interaction very difficult.

Their ability to develop friendships is generally limited as is their capacity to understand other people's emotional expression. People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.

The NAS champions the interests of people with autism and provides services appropriate to their needs. Around 535,000 people in the UK have autistic spectrum disorders and 2 million parents, carers and friends are affected. Understanding of the condition remains limited.

Marketing involves finding out what your customers want and then providing it. At the heart of marketing lies the market research process. This involves identifying customer requirements and then meeting their needs. As a minimum this involves asking customers such questions as:

  • What size and shape mobile phone would you like to see us provide?
  • What services do you want our phones to provide?

However, responsible companies go beyond that and ask:

  • How would you like our company to behave?
  • What part do you want us to play in building a better society?

It is the latter questions which translate the concept of being a responsible company into a visible reality via a Cause Marketing programme. Cause Marketing can be defined as: 'a commercial activity by which businesses and the wider community derive direct societal and commercial benefits through marketing led activity'.

Cause Marketingmakes sense and is supported by a range of stakeholder groups.

  1. Consumers and the public increasingly demand it.
  2. Employees are inspired by it.
  3. Government and industry regulators actively support it.
  4. Investors recognise the benefits of it.
  5. Causes benefit directly from it.

Goals are the end targets that an organisation seeks to achieve through its plans. Vodafone has six goals. Two of the most important of these are to 'delight our customers and be a responsible business'. The vision and goals therefore give important direction to the Cause Marketing programme.

As communication lies at the heart of everything that Vodafone does, it made sense to partner with a cause that is closely related to communication. As the leading provider of mobile communications, Vodafone has a unique opportunity to employ its strengths, size and marketing power to:

  • help the NAS improve the lives of people with autism
  • bring the issues to a wider audience
  • increase the capacity and accessibility of NAS services.

A variety of research techniques were used, including:

  • in-depth interviews with customers
  • discussions with 60 charities
  • identifying the best examples of Cause Marketing programmes
  • testing of a number of propositions to see what customers, employees and members of the public thought.

The results of the research showed that partnering with an organisation dealing with communication disabilities was a clear choice. Three charities from the original 60 were identified as having the closest fit. These three charities were then rigorously assessed in relation to 15 criteria, which included:

  • impact on society
  • clear fit with the Vodafone brand
  • impact could be measured
  • employees and customers felt that it would be an appropriate partnership
  • fit with communication theme.

As a result of this research it became clear that the NAS provided the best fit. Communication is at the heart of Vodafone and people with autism find communicating with others very difficult. At the time, the NAS were not well-known, nor were they receiving significant support from other companies.

Cause Marketingis a commercial arrangement. Cause Marketing helps Vodafone to humanise its brand in the eyes of stakeholders while providing much needed support for the NAS and those with autism.

Vodafone believe that Cause Marketing objectives must fit closely with their vision and overall business goals. Metrics (measurements) are therefore used to see how successful their Cause Marketing has been. In independent research carried out by MORI (a market research company) it has been shown that 55% of Vodafone customers identified the company as being a responsible business and this figure has risen by 10% in a year. At the same time awareness of autism has increased and there is more and more coverage in the media (particularly on television and in the press). Clearly this is not just as a result of the programme, but it has helped significantly. Results have shown that Vodafone customers now have an increased awareness of NAS.

In addition to achieving its key metrics, the Cause Marketing programme received an Award for Excellence from Business in the Community. This award recognises companies for integrating responsible business practice into their mainstream operations resulting in a positive impact in the marketplace, the workplace, the environment and the community.

Brand positioning involves creating an image that is understood by the wider public of what a brand stands for. Vodafone's brand positioning is: 'Vodafone helps people enjoy richer communication, anywhere, anytime. Always reliable, always easy, always great value ...passionately delivered'. The 3-year partnership programme with NAS fits neatly with this brand positioning.

A programme is a set of organisational activities that have clear objectives and timescales. A vision was created for the programme which was to: 'create a best in class partnership between Vodafone and the NAS that breaks down barriers and makes more things possible for people affected by autism'.

The programme covers a 3-year period. There are 3 main elements of the programme:

  • Help! is an intensive programme for parents and carers whose child has been recently diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder. The programme explains what autism is, how to explain thecondition to siblings, teachers and relevant professionals. It also covers practical advice including techniques for improving communication and behaviour, specialist information on education, rights, entitlements and local support services. Help! provides parents with an opportunity to meet other parents and discuss their thoughts and emotional concerns in an informal manner.
  • PARIS (Public Autism Resource and Information Service) is an online, interactive database of services for people with autism, their parents and carers. The service can be accessed in a variety of ways including by computer and mobile phone. This is a very useful service for parents with autistic children. For example, the database identifies services such as local playgroups or schools with specialist support for autistic children or a more practical service such as a hairdresser or dentist who has been trained in understanding autism and is aware of how to provide a more specialised service.
  • Awareness is a media campaign sponsored by Vodafone which is designed specifically to raise public awareness of autism and the work of NAS. The posters used promote both the NAS and Vodafone brands. Cause Marketingis not a form of corporate philanthropy, there are clear commercial objectives for both partners. However there is an element of raising money for the NAS, but utilising mechanisms which are embedded in Vodafone's 'business as usual' activities. Vodafone has made it possible for customers to donate money to the NAS via text messaging and over the web. Vodafone's handset recycling scheme, which is a key element of its CR programme, helps customers to recycle their unwanted handsets and ensures that all the money raised from the recycling process, almost £800,000, goes to the NAS. The programme includes other ways for customers to engage with the charity such as sales of 'Thomas the Tank Engine' zip pulls and Christmas cards which are promoted through its retail stores.

Staff have also been very enthusiastic in taking part in voluntary activities and in raising funds for the NAS. At the start of the programme one of the goals was to engage and inspire staff to raise £50,000 over the 3-year life of the relationship. During the first year, staff raised £106,000. One of the reasons that staff have been so engaged and supportive is because they were involved early on in helping to determine what sort of Cause Marketing programme there should be. Before starting the programme Vodafone set out a number of objectives which could be used to measure the success of the partnership. Typical examples of these were to:

  • make Help! available to 2,710 families
  • launch PARIS
  • increase awareness of autism to 60% of the population
  • raise £50,000 through staff fund raising activities
  • raise awareness of Vodafone's Charity work to 20% of the population
  • increase employee enjoyment of work by encouraging at least 5% of employees to get involved in the partnership.

Having clear objectives makes it possible to measure the success of a programme.