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Marketing for a cause

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Charities are always in need of and grateful for corporate donations for their philanthropic causes. These gifts are often strategic donations without any expectation of a commercial gain and are not mentioned in the company’s sales or advertising campaigns.

On the other hand, the concept of “cause marketing” has evolved as a strategy that connects a business to a not-for-profit organization, for example with an activity or action that involves donating a part of sales. This process is not philanthropy. In addition to the laudable support of a good cause, there are important business purposes, including generating customer goodwill and loyalty, and ultimately increased sales.

Cause marketing has expanded greatly, thanks to the growth of social media and the increased awareness of national and global hardships. There are even college-level marketing courses and programs that now focus on this relatively new marketing field.

Perhaps the earliest use of cause marketing was in 1976, when the Marriot Corp. successfully worked with the March of Dimes to promote its new complex in California while simultaneously raising funds for the charity.

Charitable sales promotions include telling customers the business will donate dollars to a stated charity during a specific sales period; action-triggered donations following a specific purchase or social media post; or inviting clients to donate to a selected charity when they make a purchase.

You see local examples of cause marketing in your everyday life through requests for donations at the check-out counters of food and drug stores.

Preliminary data analysis by the Edelman agency indicates that the strategy of cause marketing works — consumers buy at least one brand a month that supports a cause. Companies that market directly to consumers tend to have the best results.

Success stories

There are a number of successful examples. Walgreens holds an annual tie-in with the sale of red clown noses for the Red Nose Comic Relief Day to end child poverty, “one nose at a time.”

Along with a few other key domestic companies, Walgreens has helped to raise over $150 million in the U.S. alone over five years.

Tom’s Brand Shoes aligned itself from its inception with a worthy cause. A donation to a child in need was made for each pair of shoes purchased. This built up sales and customer loyalty and perhaps can be credited for the overall success of this company. The shoes became almost a status symbol.

Dove created a high-profile “Campaign for Real Beauty” in conjunction with a Dove Self-Esteem Fund.

The NFL and its ties to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has helped create funds for the charity and goodwill with women for the league itself.

Developing a cause marketing partnership takes time and care. Customers seek credibility and authenticity, and the fit between the charity and company need to be true to each of the brands.

Marketers typically will need to tug on consumer heartstrings rather than just spend a lot of ad dollars. But the business plan still needs to consider media coverage, word-of-mouth marketing, and re-allocation of some funds.

Branding together across the commercial and the nonprofit platforms is critical. For example, logos should be shared on the web and in other campaign messaging to demonstrate true affiliation and to enhance results and awareness.

When a company develops a genuine and successful cause marketing campaign or strategy, company morale and profits benefit. Recognizing that the project is not philanthropy, but focused support of a cause that is meaningful to the business, is the key to success.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Marketing & Strategic Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net.