How to 10X Your Cause Marketing with Content Marketing: 3 Strategic Approaches

Last week I spoke at the annual Engage for Good Conference in Chicago on how nonprofits can dramatically increase their cause marketing success with content marketing. I built my presentation around this definition of what content marketing for cause marketing is:

Creating consistent, interesting and useful content that builds a loyal audience. Over time, you can monetize this audience in a number of ways, including through win-win partnerships with companies (aka cause marketing).

Two important points here:

  • Building a loyal audience that knows, likes and trusts you is critical. If you want more support from companies, build a loyal, subscribable audience and they will come!
  • The potential of content marketing for cause marketing goes beyond just raising money with companies with cause marketing. Content marketing is the tide that raises all boats, including the mother load of money that can be raised from individuals. 
The good folks at Williams Whittle created this graphic during my presentation.

The good folks at Williams Whittle created this graphic during my presentation.

Three Strategic Approaches: Shotgun, Rifle, Bazooka

To help nonprofits of every size, expertise and budget, I outlined three strategic approaches for using content marketing for cause marketing.

Shotgun Approach: A broad strategy that includes a flagship content asset (e.g. blog, vlog, podcast, etc), email marketing and social media. This approach builds an audience of individuals and companies, which, over time, can be monetized (the companies with cause marketing).

Function in the partnership funnel: Awareness.

Rifle Approach: A focused strategy that includes a flagship content asset (e.g. blog, vlog, podcast, etc.) and email marketing that attracts and cultivates prospective corporate partners. Over time, these companies can be recruited for cause marketing programs.

Function in the partnership funnel: Consideration.

Bazooka Approach: Singular focus on a specific content asset (e.g. website, print magazine, database, etc.) that aims to build a large, loyal audience. Over time, this audience can be monetized in many ways, including through corporate support in the form of cause marketing. What makes the Bazooka Approach so powerful - compared to the shotgun and rifle - is that the content asset itself can be monetized

Function in partnership funnel: It is the funnel!

Below are examples of each approach. 

Shotgun Approach: National Audubon Society

Over the past seven years, The National Audubon Society - a conservation and bird organization founded when passenger pigeons still filled the skies - has taken a broad approach to content marketing and has had some spectacular results.

As of mid-2016, the society had:

  • 800,000 email addresses - more than 11 times the number they had in 2011.
  • Millions of followers on social media - a 1,000 percent increase from just two years ago.
  • A new web site that was easier to read and navigate, especially on smartphones. They made their content more exciting and appealing to a younger, wider demographic. And their traffic HAS TRIPLED.

When Audubon president David Yarnold arrived at Audubon in 2010, the group had a marketing staff of three. Today, the society has in its New York City headquarters alone, 20+ communications and digital-technology professionals. 

The society's content and digital transformation has led to a major spike in contributions.

"We’re putting more than $100 million annually to work today, compared with just $73 million five years ago," said Yarnold.

Some of this money is coming from companies, like Toyota, ESRI and Aveda. While Yarnold concedes that Audubon "has never put enough of a premium on corporate partnerships," he had hoped to change that in 2017. 

With a large, engaged audience that knows, likes and trusts the organization at its back, Aububon could become the next darling of corporate cause marketing.

How to Get Started with the Shotgun Approach

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Even if you adopt a shotgun approach you can still target companies!

  • Focus on building a large, loyal and subscriable audience. That's what companies want!
  • Write case studies of your successful partnerships and add them to your blog.
  • Track email subscribers. Which companies are coming to you and expressing interest in your organization.
  • Segment your corporate prospects and send them a special email newsletter once a month or quarter.

Rifle Approach: Marie Curie

If you've been following my blog, you know that I think Marie Curie in the UK does an excellent job using content marketing web to attract, cultivate and reward corporate partners. You can read all about them here.

Here's what I will say: case studies on successful corporate partnerships are critical to your success. Most companies are visiting your web site before they ever pick up the phone or drop you an email. 

How to Get Started with the Rifle Approach

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Bazooka Approach: National Trust UK

Here's something I bet you didn't know: the National Trust Magazine, the print publication of the UK's National Trust, which cares for the country’s historic monuments and properties, has the highest print circulation of any magazine in the United Kingdom. Over four million subscribers! (I learned about the magazine last year from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose on the This Old Marketing podcast. Thanks, guys!)

Like Aubudon's blog, the magazine helps the National Trust build an audience that knows, likes and trusts them. Over time, this can lead to donations. However, what makes the magazine a bazooka in my mind is that the asset itself can be monetized. 

(Note: To be clear, this doesn't mean that Audubon's blog couldn't be a bazooka. It most certainly could! It's more a question of content intent. Your nonprofit probably isn't blogging to monetize the blog itself. Your blog is an awareness tool to build a large, engaged audience. However, if you started a lifestyle magazine like the National Trust did you would aim to - over time - monetize the magazine itself.)

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Another advantage of the bazooka approach is that once you've built a loyal audience, there are - according to the Godfathers of Content Marketing - ten different ways to monetize it. 

For nonprofits, it's helpful to think of creating a "bazooka" content asset from a special event.

Say you start a walk to raise money for your organization. And yours is the only fundraising walk around so people love it (I know, I'm suggesting a truly bizaro world). The audience for the walk grows and companies begin showing interest in sponsorship and cause marketing. Eventually, your walk becomes so popular you launch a webinar series to show other organizations how they can replicate your success. Then you launch a lifestyle magazine appropriately called Walking. That leads to a conference on health and well being for women. And so on and so forth. The webinar, magazine and conference are all "bazookas" that can be monetized.

The good news is that nonprofits can think outside of their existing event fundraisers and start with a content asset first. Here are a few places to start.

  • Blog
  • Video
  • Podcast
  • App
  • Print or Digital Magazine
  • Database
  • Virtual Reality
  • User-Generated Content
  • Email Course
  • E-Book
  • Website
  • Game

For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great app called Seafood Watch. The app helps seafood lovers eat more sustainability. Great idea, right?

As use of the app grows so does the audience that likes, knows and supports the aquarium. Motivated by purpose and profit, companies buy sponsorships within the app that show users where they can buy their favorite sustainable seafood. 

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Over time, the audience for the app becomes so large the aquarium explores other revenue areas and launches a Seafood Watch Conference to further promote the potential of sustainable living. Of course, there is a fee to attend and sponsor the conference.

Are you following me here? The key is to pick something that builds an engaged, subscribable audience. Once you have this loyal audience companies will beat a path to your door. 

One last point on the bazooka approach.

You don't have to progress from the shotgun approach to the rifle approach before you can shoulder a bazooka. (Although I would argue that if you have existing corporate partnerships, the rifle approach is a must.) 

Russell Sparkman (wicked smart content marketing guy) made a darn good point to me last week that nonprofits should start with the bazooka approach. However, I would humbly suggest that for the average nonprofit who is working with in-house resources, the shotgun and rifle approach can help build a content mindset that will lead to better execution of the bazooka approach. Most nonprofits are simply not ready to approach content marketing as a powerful profit center. Sad!

Are you ready to use content marketing for cause marketing? Where will YOU start? Aren't you tired of making all those cold calls. There is a better way!