Does cause marketing work? Marketing experts say it does. And that virtually any kind of business can do it effectively, regardless of size or location or prominence. Some of the most visible cause marketing efforts obviously come from the big boys, like Coke and Pepsi. But now everyone’s doing it, and it’s more important than ever to know what you’re doing.
The thing to know first about cause marketing—which at its most basic involves partnering with a charity, non-profit or social cause for mutual benefit—is that it can be somewhat more complicated than it was once. You’ll hear terms like cause branding, social good and social responsibility, among others, that are different but intersect and overlap. Read more on the Selfish Giving blog, authored by the same guy who wrote Cause Marketing for Dummies.
Cause marketing means doing good—raising money, usually, or driving people to an event such as a fundraising event—in a way that raises the profile of your business, generates good will about your business and ultimately drives business to you. The best cause marketing efforts are mutually beneficial in a variety of ways and create lasting benefits for both participants.
Although widely practiced, cause marketing is an area where small businesses can really shine. It can be done relatively inexpensively, and you don’t need a powerful marketing machine to do it effectively. But you do need to invest planning and thought before you launch, because ill-conceived cause marketing efforts will almost certainly backfire.
A word of caution if you’re considering incorporating cause marketing into your business’s overall marketing strategy. It can be tempting to want to jump on a current bandwagon and ride the momentum and “halo effect” of a broad, popular cause—and granted, there’s a certain logic to that. After all, a cause can only become popular and successful if it resonates and people are responding—right? To a point.
Many observers point to the sheer number of businesses who have teamed up with breast cancer organizations as an example of something that could be viewed as ‘bandwagon.’ Not to cast aspersion on such a worthy cause, and it’s not that the hundreds of businesses who have joined this effort aren’t sincere. But even the best cause marketing has to have a tipping point, where it runs the risk of crossing over from ‘giving motivator’ to saturation. Not everyone agrees, but at some point cause marketing around breast cancer awareness and fundraising may have gone there. In our opinion, too—again, not all agree—some of the more recent entrants into this arena (the kewpie chick singing about an energy drink is one) serve only to dilute and even distract from the cause.
The basic message here? There are so many great causes; find one that is worthy and appealing, and one that not every other company is doing.
One of the best reasons to try cause marketing is simply that your customers expect it. Research shows that customers expect business—all businesses, pretty much—to contribute in some way to some cause, in addition to their own bottom line. In customers’ minds, there must be different standards of expectation for mega-companies vs. small businesses. Regardless, your customers are sure to be appreciative and supportive of the cause you ultimately adopt.
There are two important pillars that are non-negotiables for the foundation of your cause marketing efforts:
- Commitment. Go all in. Follow through. Sign up for the long haul.
- Authenticity. Of couse the cause marketing efforts to benefit your business. Be there also needs to be a genuine desire to help behind it. Clarify your objectives before you commit.
If you’re thinking about incorporating some cause marketing efforts, be sure to also give some thought to the following considerations:
- Choose a cause that’s complimentary to your business.
- Talk to several different charities about how different partnerships could work.
- National vs. local? There are pros and cons of both.
- Know your customers. Choose something they can really relate to and get behind.
- Promote! Social media—and in particular, location-based media—is bigger than ever for this.
- Involve your employees—and early on.
- Promote the results.
- Get feedback. From everyone – employees, customers and your non-profit partner. This will help guide and shape future efforts.