(Re)Defining Cause Marketing

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Last January I wrote a post on What is Cause Marketing? that got a lot of great feedback. Over the past year I've gone back to that post many time and reread the comments again and thought about how I was defining cause marketing.

I felt I had the first part right.

Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit

What I thought needed redefining was just what it encompassed. In last year's post I wrote that cause marketing involved three types of programs: point-of-sale, percentage-of-sale and licensing.

This year, I'm much more open to including most activities between a company and a cause. They include:

Point-of-sale. When a cashier either solicits a shopper for a donation (active cause marketing) or signage is prominently displayed at the register to encourage the shopper to make a gift (passive cause marketing) that's point-of-sale. Unless you're completely new to my blog, you know that POS, in the form of pinups, is my bread-and-butter program. But if you are new here's a primer.

Purchase or action triggered donation. When a consumer buys a product or service (like a latte at Starbucks on World Aids Day) a donation (5 cents) is made to a cause (Product Red) that's a purchase-triggered donation (I think this is a better describer of what happens when a shopper buys a cause product than the "percentage-of-sale" tag I used last year). Sometimes instead of a purchase, a donation is made when the consumer performs some type of action. For example, Macy's donated a dollar the Make-a-Wish Foundation for every letter to Santa dropped into their special letter boxes at Macy's stores.

Licensing. This is when a company pays a fee to use a nonprofit’s brand on its product. Licensing may include a certification process by the nonprofit before the company is allowed to use the logo. A longstanding licensing pact is Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation for the Advil Caplets Easy Open Arthritis Cap. Cause marketing licensing is practiced by the only the biggest causes (e. g. Komen for the Cure, American Heart Association) and is not a tactic for your average or local cause.

Message Promotion. This is when a business puts its resources to work to promote a cause-focused message. David Hessekiel at Cause Marketing Forum has a lot of great examples in his Halo Award Archive.

Employee Engagement. This is when a company leverages its workforce for social good. I think of Home Depot's Partnership with KaBOOM! to build 1000 Playgrounds in 1000 Days, which involved nearly 100,000 Home Depot volunteers.

Digital Programs. The web, social media and especially location-based services will dramatically impact cause marketing and change the way we execute the above tactics. To leave this out is to leave out the future of cause marketing and how cause and companies will partner in the years to come.

I still don't think the "marketing of causes" or sponsorship are cause marketing. (Jocelyn Daw told me recently that while sponsorship is when the cause puts its resources to work for the company, cause marketing is when the company goes to work for the cause. I like that!) But there are some interesting and creative ways to integrate cause marketing with sponsorship.

Nor is cause marketing cause branding or corporate social responsibility, although it is a subset of the two.

Finally, cause marketing is not philanthropy. While it has philanthropic aspirations and goals, it's better described as marketing, and, in some ways, a business.

Those are my thoughts on cause marketing for January 2011. What are yours?

[Update 1/21/11: In the comments be sure to check out Jocelyn Daw's comments on how to distinguish traditional marketing from cause marketing. She makes it quite clear. Also, she outlines the 4 P's of cause marketing: Partner, Purpose, Passion & Profits.]