I really don't like making predictions, but I do like writing about the future of cause marketing. So I've combed through my 2014 posts to cull three cause marketing expectations for the next year and beyond.
1. The Future of Cause Marketing is Content Marketing
I've been mulling and writing about this one all year.
If cause marketing is a partnership between a cause and a for-profit for mutual profit, content marketing will be the glue that cements the relationship among stakeholders - cause, company, consumer.
The goal of content marketing is to drive outcomes. So if you're hoping to land a cause marketing partnership or to share it with consumers or to demonstrate the results to a brand or your supporters, you'll need content marketing that engages without selling.
Content marketing is the only kind of marketing left, and for nonprofits it's bigger than sales, fundraising and branding. As content strategy expert Russell Sparkman explained to me earlier this year, "The greatest challenge people have is thinking like marketers but acting like publishers."
2. Beacon Technology will dominate Checkout Charity
Love or hate them, offline checkout programs (pinups, round-ups, donation boxes etc.) - the most lucrative programs in the cause marketing industry - will begin to be replaced by mobile programs using Beacon technology.
Beacon technology is "micro-location" as it's designed to work in a physical location (like a store) with your phone - specifically your retail apps. With a Beacon transmitter, businesses can better interact with smartphone-toting consumers in or near their stores. Sure, they can push coupons to them when they walk in the door, but they can also give them one when they linger in a particular aisle or over a specific product.
Companies can even push reminders to consumers. "Last time you were on our website you were searching for a blend of coffee that we now have in stock."
The tie-ins with cause marketing are endless, especially as more retailers adopt services like Apple Pay so shoppers can make purchases directly from their phones.
Take a retailer like Macy's that has already used Beacon technology. This month, Macy's is running its signature Believe campaign to benefit Make-A-Wish.
With Beacon technology next Christmas:
- Macy's will welcome customers to the store and direct them to Santa's mailbox
- Macy's will encourage children to compose in-store letters to Santa from their mobile devices.
- Macy's will identify products that benefit Make-A-Wish.
- Macy's will ask shoppers for a donation that they can make right from their phones.
By this time next year, I bet we'll have plenty of examples to point to of how brands are using Beacons instead of checkouts to raise money for causes. Stay tuned!
3. Nonprofits Will Have New Rivals for Cause Marketing Dollars
Cause marketing will get much tougher for nonprofits in 2015. Here's why: companies and individuals don't need them as much as they did before (Sorry, nonprofits).
- Companies are rapidly expanding their cause-related activities and exploring ways to be more sustainable and responsible. While partnering with a nonprofit is one way to earn a halo, it's no longer the only way. Not by a long shot.
- Companies are adopting a nonprofit agenda without the nonprofit partner. Panera has its Care Cafes. Patagonia offers to repair their customers' clothes instead of selling them new ones. Uber has committed to hiring 50,000 veterans in 2015. The car service has also created the UberMILITARY Advisory Board to build out a team of subject-matter experts to put forward new initiatives to help military communities. What's missing from these three programs? A nonprofit partner.
- The Ice Bucket Challenge and other viral fundraisers allow companies to target do-gooders directly, without the aid of nonprofits. These "Halopreneurs" are savvy Millennials that are motivated, influential and wired for success. Halopreneurs can address issues they care about without working directly with nonprofits. In short, they don't need to join a cause-walk or attend a gala to help.
This doesn't mean that nonprofits won't ultimately benefit from company and individual fundraisers. They will. But they'll be more dependent than ever on others to make things happen.
If you're a nonprofit reading this, you might be wondering what you can do to stave off extinction. It comes down to your brand.
Although we can define a brand as what people feel when they come into contact with your organization, a nonprofit brand is different than a for-profit brand. As Jeff Brooks has said, a nonprofit brand makes two promises:
- To have an impact
- To communicate that impact clearly and powerfully
The first priority for a nonprofit should be building its brand. And while most nonprofits are having an impact, they do a terrible job communicating that impact clearly and powerfully. This is why creating and publishing quality content (see prediction #1) is so critical to the success of your organization.
With a powerful brand everything is possible. It's the warm sun that every company and individual wants to bask in. That's why companies and individuals want to work with nonprofits like Donorschoose.org, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Feeding America. They're unique and irreplaceable.
To compete, nonprofits just can't be good anymore. In 2015 and beyond they'll need to be extraordinary. And that's a fact, not a prediction.