Imagine that you are looking to purchase a new brand of cat or dog food for your favorite fuzzy friend. As you start researching, you stumble upon a brand that has pledged to donate a portion of every sale towards finding a cure to a severe animal illness. Many buyers are attracted by these charitable causes when comparing products and like that their purchases are going towards something meaningful. Some companies have taken this idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) into a powerful marketing strategy called cause-related marketing.
By harnessing these cause marketing strategies, non-profit and for-profit organizations can gain significant exposure through collaboration. Profit brands gain positive brand awareness by promoting a social cause, and the associated non-profit they send their proceeds to gains a bump in charitable donations. The mutual benefit of this process seems like a no-brainer, but there are some things to consider as you start to plan how your company can support a meaningful cause.
What is cause marketing?
Generally, cause marketing is when a company supports a cause or charity to help boost its public relations. The definition of cause marketing can vary dramatically between instances, with some companies providing donations and gifts to their partnered charity. At the same time, some create their charitable division to further their cause directly. Many people feel the term originates from a campaign by American Express, which used "cause-related marketing" when talking about their push to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1983, an example we will talk about a little later.
Benefits of cause marketing
Cause marketing programs bring many benefits to both the charity and the donor company. From brand loyalty to marketing boosts, here are a few main reasons you should consider pursuing cause marketing for your brand.
Raising funds for a good cause
Fundraising for a positive cause alone is a great benefit! Your company can significantly impact causes by raising money for a charity while spreading awareness to your consumers. Picking a cause that genuinely aligns with your company's values feels good and means that you and your consumers can feel a renewed sense of pride in your brand. This positive outlook also extends to your employees. If a workforce feels invested in the good that your business is trying to do, it can lead to higher retention and help workers feel confident about the time they put in every day. Some companies have even sent their workforce on cause-related trips combined with their fundraising efforts to let everyone feel directly involved in the good the company is spreading. Working with an employer that makes a real difference in the world is something that many employees are passionate about, helping you pull in new types of talent that may not have been accessible to you before your cause marketing.
Extending the reach of non-profits
Non-profits can struggle to reach a wider audience. These charities will gain reach through your advertising campaigns by partnering with your company. As you post on your blog or social media about their efforts, they may gain new lifelong donors that can change the course of their success forever. Simultaneously, your company will get a boost from any advertising or marketing they do on their end of the partnership. A good cause marketing paring will lead to increased visibility for both companies.
Positive brand image and PR
Different customers have unique values, but companies have seen increased buyer demand for sustainable and ethical branding across the board, especially among millennial customers. One Futerra survey found that 96% of people that their purchase decisions can make a big difference, while 88% want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical. By showing your customers that you are investing in a cause, you can help grow your brand loyalty from those who align themselves with that social issue.
Increased customer engagement
Your most engaged customers are going to be those that buy the most, promote you on their channels, and refer you to friends through word of mouth. Giving the customer something to be proud of can help them be more willing to suggest you and share you on their social media, as they will feel a sense of good by spreading the word about a company supporting a social cause. When you start to craft your cause marketing campaigns, try to weave in clever ways that customers can share how the purchase helped a charity. Giving your customers fun ways to share your mission provides marketing for you and the non-profit while feeling good about how they are spending their money.
The risk of cause marketing
Following the cause marketing trend without thinking about your strategy can certainly be a poor branding decision. It isn't uncommon for companies to believe they can easily pick any non-profit to partner with. Without proper planning, the choice for your partnership can seem insincere and incongruous with your brand's reputation and products. For instance, raising money for animal shelters makes sense for a pet food brand. However, a tobacco company supporting lung cancer research can seem highly disingenuous.
Sometimes, pairing with a non-profit with a less than sterling reputation can also backfire. For example, countless companies have partnered with different breast cancer awareness charities, a few of which have been revealed to profit significantly from those earnings, with meager amounts going towards the cause. While it can be hard to predict which companies may turn towards these unfortunate practices, it is crucial to research the non-profit you choose to partner with. Investigate public financial data, look at their history, and ensure that the non-profit truly supports the cause that you are passionate about to the best of their ability.
Examples of successful cause marketing campaigns
Excellent cause marketing campaigns are memorable, impactful, and inspirational. Here are a handful of highly-successful cause marketing examples to help give you ideas for how your company can embrace this powerful type of marketing.
American Express card
One of the most historically relevant campaigns, the American Express credit card company partnered with The Restoration Fund in the 1980s to restore the Statue of Liberty. The company gave a portion of all purchases made with their cards to the cause and made donations for new card applicants. The marketing campaign that accompanied this was quite extensive for the period, and the results were astounding. American Express saw 45% higher card applications, and their card use rose over 25% while the Restoration Fund raised over 1.7 million dollars. This cause marketing case is still notable to this day, with the event being pointed to as the first time that the term "cause-related marketing" was used.
TOMS is a brand that has built itself on its non-profit partnership. Having worked with Save the Children since 2011, they work on a buy one give one business model. For every pair of TOMS brand shoes they sell, they provide a pair of shoes to a child in need. While this easy-to-digest model is how they brand their cause marketing, they also continue this consistency by educating their workforce. TOMS sends their employees on "Giving Trip" experiences where they get the hands-on opportunity to see how shoe donations integrate into the larger picture of how Save the Children helps develop communities. The company also invites Save the Children speakers to company events to report on the project's status and share information about the partnership.
TOMS isn't the only company that has tried this kind of business model. Warby Parker, an eyeglasses company, supported a "Buy a Pair, Give a Pair" program where every pair of eyeglasses sold meant that low-income families got a couple of glasses. The company partnered with multiple non-profits to achieve these goals, primarily VisionSpring. These one-for-one models are highly effective, providing customers with a fundamental understanding of how their money is helping others.
Starbucks has created an all-in effort on cause marketing through its Starbucks Foundation. From partnering with (RED) to raise millions of dollars for the Global Fund to fight AIDS to numerous grants supporting local communities, Starbucks pushes multiple causes under its multi-faceted foundation. They have recently supported COVID-19 initiatives such as funding over 400 neighborhood grants and helping many coffee-related programs to help coffee and tea-growing communities worldwide. Creating a complete foundation to support a diverse array of causes means that Starbucks isn't just known for one cause marketing campaign, but their giving tendencies overall.
A body care and beauty company, Dove, decided to fight back against the stigmas of similar companies creating unrealistic standards for women directly. Dove took the "Real Beauty" pledge, always promising to feature "real women, never models." The company also decided they would no longer digitally distort the images of women they advertise with, and the women approve all photos within them.
Along with this ethical stance, Dove launched the Self-Esteem Project, a program made in collaboration with experts in psychology to create resources to help develop and increase young people's body confidence. According to their project page, more than 625,000 teachers have delivered a Dove self-esteem workshop, with over a million and a half parents also using the resources Dove has created. This cause directly aligns with their product lines and branding, making it a great matchup that has produced tremendous positive change.
Through cooperative efforts between non-profits and for-profit businesses, the trend of corporate philanthropy turns into a mutually beneficial partnership through cause marketing. In these cases, there are many benefits for both the cause and the donor, from increased fundraising and reach to higher brand loyalty. While companies may be tempted to jump onto this trend bandwagon, it is crucial to research the company you partner with and pick a cause that aligns with its values and branding. For inspiration, take a look at the countless success stories of big companies, from TOMS to Starbucks.
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