loveThe Allure of Cause Related Marketing

Categories: Branding
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Published on: July 20, 2012

Cause Related Marketing: a Win-Win-Win? ()


As I mentioned in my last post, people are always striving for something, something big and long-term. Sometimes it is some sort of self-actualization or self-expression, sometimes it is a general notion of success, and sometimes it is a mark or difference in this big, wide world. In the case of making a difference, one way to do so is to contribute voluntarily to an organization that is making a difference.

This may or may not be something you are in to, but I believe a majority of Americans are. In fact, charitable giving is very big business in our country, and probably growing in many other countries around the world. While much has been written about why people give, the underlying fact is that they do give, and want to give, and treasure opportunities to give. This is especially true in an economy where it is tougher than ever to give because everyone’s wallets are on a diet.

So, why not give them an opportunity? I’m talking about “cause related marketing” or cause marketing: offering a charitable donation as an incentive for an action.

But Still, Why Give?

A gift for you

Giving satisfies a few of the long-term goals a person might have. First, they can feel good about themselves and the “footprint” they have in the greater world. Second, since they can choose a charity for pretty much anything, by giving they are achieving a “pinnacle of self” or a great act of self expression. They are contributing to something they believe in and are passionate about, something larger than just what they can accomplish on their own. Anyone who thinks cause related marketing doesn’t work because the customer doesn’t get anything has tragically failed to grasp this fact. Yes, short term or immediate incentives work, but they only work short term. To build your business for the long term you need to respect the long term goals of your customers, so that they come back again and again.

Harness Ally with a Superior Brand

Good charities and non-profits know the importance of brand. They design and build brands like architects Business concepts people 10 then they nurture them like kittens, then they arm them like knights. More than almost any other business, their brand is their lifeline, and once that brand is tarnished they will see it in the donations and volunteers.

All of this means that a good charity probably has a more focused, more trusted, more solid and dependable brand than you do. Don’t shy away from that! Harness it! Well, not exactly harness… More like ally with. Because if they truly respect it, they will not let you harness their brand. Beware if they make it too easy.

Instead, contact the charity, propose the plan, and be appropriately humble. Just because they are a charity doesn’t mean they should bend over backwards for donations from a company, especially if you might hurt their brand. Remember, what we’re after is a win-win-win. You must understand that this is a trade: you get a part of the power of their brand, and in exchange they get a suitable contribution to their goals.

Is it Over-Done?

The melancholy death of any good marketing strategy is being drowned in a sea of copy-cats. Fortunately, cause related marketing has a variety of customizations that allow you to differentiate what you are offering from everyone else. You have to be creative, and you may have to be fairly aggressive (offering more than just “5% of the profit”), but you can probably make it work for just about any business.

How It’s Done

First, find a cause. You get bonus points if you can make a case that it directly affects your industry, but that isn’t entirely necessary. But you must pick some cause first. One way I’ve found is to use search services like, or else just use Google. This is your platform, the thing you will offer to your customers to incentivize them to do what your business needs.

Next, do your homework! Remember that this is a trade. You do not want to get in bed with a charity that has a faulty brand. Search for news on the charity, investigations, success stories, and complaints. Use the Better Business Bureau, services like or that help rate charities, and do a basic Google search. You may even find help on the Cause Related Marketing forum, or hire a cause related marketing consultant. Here’s a rule of thumb: do at least as much research into the charity as you would do to hire a new executive.

Next, be creative and set up your plan. How do you want to donate? What action do you want your customers to take? Is it an order, telling a friend, sharing on social media? And please, be generous. Not because it benefits the charity, but because it benefits you. Your customers aren’t stupid, and the charity isn’t playing games. If you set up a program that is obviously stingy, you will suffer for it.

After you’ve struck a deal with the charity, which includes how they will benefit and how you will benefit (like how you will be allowed to use or represent their brand), play it up! Don’t be afraid to ask the charity to let their mailing list know about the program. Play the brand card, play the cause card, play the “we’re on your side” card! But don’t forget to remind the customer what they get.

Have you successfully used cause related marketing in the past? Who did you use? What did you learn?

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