Cause Marketing Can't Buy You Love

Wal-Mart is finding out the hard way that cause marketing alone can't buy you love.  According to Al Norman at the Huffingtonpost.com, Wal-Mart only managed an overall grade of a C+ on the NAACP corporate report card--despite getting an an A for charitable giving.  Just shows you what a couple of D's can do to a GPA.  Wal-Mart's giving included a $1 million grant to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, $1 million to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project in Washington, D.C., and donations to local NAACP chapters across the nation.  Norman says that "Wal-Mart is a big contributor to many NAACP chapters.  Such donations are what industry consultants call 'cause-related marketing.'"  For me this isn't cause marketing but it is "selfish giving." 

Giving with strings attached is something I'm use to, and you should be too if you plan to work in cause marketing.    

As a mid-size nonprofit working with similar sized businesses on cause marketing programs I always get questions on how cause marketing will impact the bottom-line.  I find that larger businesses are less concerned with cause marketing being a sales driver and can afford to lump it under the do-nothing moniker of "branding."  But not so with small business owners.  Every dollar spent has to drive sales and grow the business.

Here's how I answer their questions about cause marketing.

Will my participation in a cause marketing program boost sales?  There are plenty of studies out there that show that consumers are loyal to and buy more from businesses that support the causes they care about.  But it takes a consistent, long-term commitment to cause marketing to earn your halo.  In short, like everything else that requires an investment, you're not going to see a return overnight.  But your long term prospects are very good.  I suggest you get started.

How does the costs of cause marketing compare to other types of media (e.g. radio, TV, print, billboard, etc.) I invest in?  Because cause marketing programs inherently see more dollar signs in the register line than in the corporate check book, the former will cost you only a fraction of what radio, TV and print cost.  Unlike the media salesman that wants you to write a check for another flight of ads, the cause marketer wants access to something that you value but costs you nothing to deliver: your customers.

How is cause marketing different from the other ways I invest my time and money to promote my business?  The other ways you market yourself give you visibility.  Consumers know your business and what it sells.  And that's great.  Cause marketing is different in that it enhances your favorability with consumers.  It gives them a better reason to do business with you than just product and price.  Traditional media shows consumers where you stand--literally; cause marketing shows them for what you stand.

If I run a point-of-sale program, how do I handle customer questions on how much my business is donating?  First, it's always smart to at least make a modest in-kind or cash donation to show customers that, like them, you're willing to put your money where your heart is.  But if you can only afford to open your doors to the charity, tell your customers that you wanted to raise the most money for the cause and opening your doors to the charity is ten times more lucrative than any check you could have written.  This is the god honest truth!  Also, remind consumers that you are donating your employees time to participate in the program.  They could be using the valuable but brief time they spend with customers selling them something else!  

Don't customers find these programs a hassle and would rather not be bothered?  It's all in the approach.  Americans are very generous and appreciate the opportunity to give back.  You're giving them a vehicle to do something they enjoy doing and would probably just do somewhere else if given the chance.  When they're asked enthusiastically, thoughtfully and politely to give, they respond and will thank you.

If I do this for you every charity in the City will be hitting me up to do something similar or to give them money.  Won't I have a gigantic bulls eye on my business?  Just the opposite.  If you're really committed to working with one or two organizations that gives you the perfect reason to politely tell people that you're dance card is full.  This will enhance your favorability in your community because word will get out what a committed partner you are! 

When I die and go to hell, can I use my cause marketing efforts as "Get out of hell" free card?  Absolutely.  This is one thing I can say for certain.  Even if you find yourself standing next to Judas himself you can rest assured that three little words--"point-of-sale"--will automatically transport you to the Pearly Gates where you'll receive your just reward.  But not before Saint Peter asks you buy a mobile for a buck.  Seeing all those mobiles hanging from the clouds will be one powerful sight.  And who could say no to: "Would you like donate a dollar to save a child from limbo?"