This past weekend while having dinner with my parents, my mom looked at me from across the table and presented a seemingly simple request: “So Amy, tell us about your new job.” Coming from one of my parents, this question was much more complicated than it appeared. You see, as far as my parents are concerned, a position in technology, and not social activism, is a difficult sell. Essentially, you’re one of two things—either a giver to society or a taker—a concept very well illustrated in the book Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, by Daniel Quinn. Although my career passion doesn’t lie in the public sector, managing business problems, developing marketing campaigns and working with technology (that changes our world for the better) and being a positive force is my form of social activism—I call it ‘changing it from the inside’.
Corporate responsibility. Philanthropy. Altruism. These are words often used to describe cause-related marketing , an activity in which businesses join with charities or causes to market an image, product, or service for mutual benefit. Cause-related marketing appears to be a win-win situation. Charities get needed funds, while businesses get to bask in the glory of the charities’ good deeds. Judging by its popularity, business has clearly embraced the concept, and few non-profit organizations are turning away the private sector. Aside from the satisfaction and kudos that companies receive, embracing a cause makes good business sense. Nothing builds brand loyalty among today’s socially conscious clients and employees more than a company’s commitment to a worthy cause. All things being equal, many would rather work for and do business with a company that stands for something beyond profits.
Cause-related marketing can positively differentiate your company from your competitors, and provide an edge that delivers tangible benefits and highlights your company’s reputation within your target market. By choosing a cause you are passionate about, cause-related marketing is emotionally fulfilling (and it will make your mama happy, see paragraph one). It’s not only a way to merge your profit center with your passion, but is also a way to build a business that mirrors your personal values, beliefs and integrity.
My Real-World Success Story
My first experience with cause-related marketing came while working on the Starbucks Brand Development team. Frankly, my cause-related marketing strategy was born out of a budget deficit. I needed to piggy-back off of other corporate, in-kind contributors to do any type of marketing for the quarter. Cause-related marketing was a cost-effective way to get Starbucks into the mind of the community while simultaneously helping it. Before long, my little cause-related marketing project, All Books for Children, was rolled out nationwide and proved itself to be a successful strategy by landing unexpected radio and TV appearances that led to millions of incremental store visits.
Cause-related marketing yields mutual benefit. Look for partners with a similar agenda whose goals can be better achieved by partnering with your business. Take inventory of the assets that make you an appealing partner in a cause-related venture.
There are many types of mutually beneficial relationships you can form with your cause-related partner, including events and funding plans. An easy way to embrace a cause is to start simply; teaming up with a grassroots organization that can have a direct and local impact. Another example is to work through a charity with a structure that is easy to leverage, like Kiva, which brokers microfinancing ventures in developing countries.
Never lose the marketing focus of your community partnership efforts—this is primary to you and your partner organization’s success. Even though the work is philanthropic, your cause should generate interest in your company and products. Select a cause that is important first to you, then to your target market, and make sure your target market sees that connection. My mom now does, and she’s finally happy that I’m “doing something working with computers.”
Amy Baskerville is a Marketing Consultant whose background ranges from marketing plan strategy and corporate branding to collateral design and radio and television spot production.