Free and Cause Marketing Part III

In writing the first two parts of this series, Paul Jones over at Cause-Related Marketing brought to my attention a Chris Anderson article in Wired called Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business.  Chris begins with a telling story on King Gillette, the 19th century inventor of the Gillette disposable raiser, and how he grew demand for his new invention by giving it away. 

As Chris notes, "this business model is now the foundation of entire industries: give away the cell phone, sell the monthly plan; make the videogame console cheap and sell expensive games; install fancy coffeemakers in offices at no charge so you can sell managers expensive coffee sachets." Free has changed all sorts of businesses: web, software, newspapers, video games AND cause marketing.  I've written about the impact and potential of free for cause marketers before, but it's a subject that's worth revisiting.

I've always believed that nonprofits shouldn't sell cause marketing programs.  Like King Gillette, we should give them away to create demand and to tap their true fundraising potential.  There are two good reasons not to sell them: The first is that it's really hard; the other is that there's no money in it. 

It's tough for your average nonprofit to sell cause marketing because a lot of the mid-size companies you'll sit across from don't really believe it works.  Don't be insulted.  The advertising that they think does work isn't either.  But unlike cause marketing, they are exposed to and familiar with enough advertising to believe in it.  Cause marketing is a new, acquired taste and famously short on metrics.  I've always said that given the choice between buying traditional marketing or cause marketing, cause marketers will leave empty handed every time.  That's why so many of the nonprofits that try cause marketing end up abandoning it.  They can't sell it! 

Lesson one: don't sell what shouldn't and can't be sold.

The good news is that not being able to sell cause marketing is good because you wouldn't want to.  Why?  For the same reason Bono turned down all those company checks when he was pitching Product RED to Armani, Gap and Apple.  He knew that the real money in cause marketing was not in the company check book, but in the wallets of the millions of customers who were buying their products and services.  He knew that if he gave Product RED away (with all its cool star power) to companies to turn into products, consumers could potentially turn RED into a multi-million dollar success story.  Bono was right.

You can be the Bono of your nonprofit.  Stop viewing cause marketing as a sponsorship that needs to be sold and start presenting it as a program thats only requirement is free activation.  Whenever I talk to a business about cause marketing they are almost always impressed and have the same question: how much?  I have a standard response: nothing.  Value + Free - Risk = Opportunity.  And I haven't met a business yet that wasn't interested in a high value, low-risk, free opportunity. 

Lesson two:  For your program to succeed it must be freed.   

Free is a great thing, but it cuts both ways.  I expect any day now to be outdone by a nonprofit with a better program based on free.  I think about it every morning when I'm shaving.  I used Gillette razors for years because I got a free razor and blades in the mail.  King would have been proud.  But what started as free has cost me plenty.  Those replacement blades aren't cheap.  (I tell my wife this all the time because she swipes my razor to shave her legs.  But that's another story.)  A few weeks ago I was vacationing in the Berkshires and got a welcome pack from the hotel with a free razor and blade set.  I was really impressed by the shave.  So now Schick is king!  Just don't tell my wife.  This time free is for me, not for us.