Ever heard the phrase "cause marketing?" (It's sometimes called cause-related marketing or CRM.)
I'm betting you have. I'm also betting you may have guessed (incorrectly) what it means. (In fact, when I first heard the phrase, I misunderstood its meaning, and I know I can't be the only one.) It doesn't mean "marketing related to a 'cause' or not-for-profit venture," which is what I assumed. It refers to cooperative marketing undertaken by a non-profit and a for-profit for mutual benefit.
Here are just a few examples of cause marketing:
- The Maxwell House "Brew Some Good" campaign, which you can read all about on our blog.
- Starbucks' Earth Day campaign.
- Nyman Ink's own Holiday Give-a-thon.
Cause marketing is, in a sense, very simple. A business partners with a charity and both organizations benefit. That's all there is to it. The benefit to the not-for-profit is pretty obvious, while the business benefits because most people are more likely to buy products or choose services when those products or services also benefit not-for-profit groups.
Anyone can initiate a cause marketing initiative. If you're a not-for-profit, you might consider approaching a small business in your neighbourhood or community to suggest a partnership. If you're a business, look into a local charity that you admire and think about what you might be able to do for it. Keep the following list of three things in mind and you'll stay on the right track:
The 3 most important questions to ask yourself when planning a cause marketing union
- Does it have broad appeal? (Can you think of a number of good reasons NOT to support the not-for-profit or business in question? If so, keep looking.)
- Are you a good fit? (After all, it wouldn't really make sense for a tobacco company to partner with a lung cancer charity. Look to engage in a cause marketing union that makes sense.)
- Are the benefits clear? (Before engaging in any cause marketing effort, try to come up with three ways in which way the partnership will benefit both participants. List three ways you expect it to help the business and three ways it would benefit the not-for-profit. If you can't come up with items for these lists, the partnership might not be the best idea.)
That being said, while we think cause marketing is a great idea, both for not-for-profits and for businesses, it's also important to think about some of the potential pitfalls. Cause marketing efforts, especially in a world that's so saturated with charitable campaigns, can feel phony.
Cause marketing pitfalls
In this article entitled Why Cause Marketing Can Actually Backfire, published in Forbes, author Timothy Ogden points out that "consumers are actually starting to get turned off by these initiatives." For one thing, there are just too many of them. Consider the huge number of companies tying on a pink ribbon to support breast cancer every year (from Campbell's to Hershey to Kentucky Fried Chicken). And yet, notes Odgen, "the death rate from breast cancer hasn’t changed in a decade, despite the ubiquity of breast cancer awareness cause marketing."
We're not saying cause marketing isn't a good idea, only that a cause marketing partnership shouldn't be entered into lightly. Be very specific with your cause marketing efforts. You should never just slap on a ribbon and tell your customers that thanks to you, dollars will go to support X charity. Businesses need to tell their customers exactly how they're helping the not-for-profit in question, with real numbers and real facts. And charities need to do the same in terms of being transparent about how people's dollars are helping.
Not-for-profits should also remember that they deserve a measure of power in the cause marketing relationship. Just because you're a charity doesn't mean you are obligated to take part in partnerships that don't work for you. Only partner with busineses and organizations that you approve of (in terms of the products and services they offer).
Regardless of which side you're on — business or not-for-profit — don't just jump on the bandwagon. Be sincere with your cause marketing efforts and you'll be well on your way.
Header photo by Achim Sondermann from SXC. Body image compiled by Nyman Ink.