How to Sell Cause Marketing as a Groupon-Like Promotion

Persuasion occurs through identification. It's one of the basic tenets I live by. It means that we are usually more convincing when we can identify with our prospect's needs, attitudes, interests and beliefs. When your message aligns with needs, the "pain", as it's sometimes called, you get a spark of persuasion. String enough of those sparks together and you have the light and warmth that comes from the flame of a new partnership.

Despite its lofty intentions, cause marketing isn't any different from any other idea, product or service: nothing happens until it gets sold. That's why I'm always looking for new ways to meet the needs of prospects and create a spark.

My flint today is a recent post by Sam Decker on Analyzing Groupon Profitability: 7 Factors for Group Buying Success. It really got me thinking about how Groupon works and its similarities to cause marketing (not to be confused with my earlier post on Groupon as cause marketing, better known as Causeon).

Here's an example of how I plan to use Groupon in future conversations with local businesses to explain and underscore the value of cause marketing.

Me: Are you familiar with Groupon?

Prospect: Sure. We did a promotion with them last year when they weren't as wildly popular as they are now. It went really well. We didn't know what to expect from it, but I think we made money off it. We've been trying to do another offer ever since, but good luck getting anyone from Groupon to call you back. They have plenty of business now.

Me: Well, the cause marketing programs I offer are a lot like Groupon.

Prospect: How so?

Me: Like Groupon, our cause marketing model is focused on helping local businesses like yours attract new customers.

Prospect: I thought you wanted to raise money for your charity?

Me: I do and we will. But cause marketing partnerships are win-win. We both should benefit from working together.

Prospect: I hear that, but Groupon has a huge mailing list of prospective customers for me. You want me to to sell pinups to my customers. How do I get new customers from that?

Me: True, we don't have the huge list Groupon has, but we do have two other retail partners for this program. With you on board, we could potentially recruit more. All these partners will be selling pinups in their stores with your offer alongside theirs [I present exhibit A]. You'll do the same for them.  One of our pinup partners redeemed 700 coupons from pinups that had been sold in another partner's stores. The cross-promotion works.

Prospect: But with Groupon I got this incredible awareness and visibility from the program that really got people talking about my business. That was priceless. Can you do that?

Me: We can actually take it one step further because cause marketing delivers favorable awareness. When customers see that you're involved in a campaign to help a cause, you'll get a lot more than buzz. You'll get positive buzz, the kind that deepens your favorability and credibility. Only cause marketing delivers this.

But the real upside from cause marketing is that while your average Groupon customer may only be as loyal for as long as the expiration date on the coupon you give her, cause marketing can actually sustain customer loyalty. It gives you a competitive edge beyond product and price. The edge is slight when product and price are equal, but an advantage is advantage, right?


By selling cause marketing as a Groupon-like promotion you'll be speaking a language to which a prospect can relate and is responsive. It's a wonderful way to start a conversation.

Hitting the Wall of Cause Marketing

The economy is impacting every type of business and cause marketing is no exception.  I know we've lost our share of corporate partners this year.  Just this week a major partner slashed its sponsorship from $93,000 to $7,500.  Ouch!  Business is off, marketing plans are changing and new faces bring new perspectives and new challenges.  Here are some of the ways we're adapting our cause marketing programs for these leaner economic times. Keep your friends close.  You know who they are.  These are the companies that have drunk the cool-aid and will stick with you through good and bad.  Committed partners like party-supply retailer iParty continue to generate record sales in the three mobile programs they do for us each year.  As other retail partners have faltered or disappeared, we continue to work with iParty to maximize their cause marketing program and to make up the shortfall.  So far it's working.

And your enemies closer.  I love the dramatic, but let me assure you: these companies aren't your enemies.  But they are the ones who want to run when things get hot in the trenches.  These are the companies that you have to hand-hold through the rough spells.  The ones you have to reassure that cause marketing delivers a unique benefit that can not be found anywhere else.  The ones you have to give room to to adjust the timing, theme and length of their cause marketing program to fit their new reality.  If they want to be an event sponsor of your April fundraiser but can't do a point-of-sale program to pay for it until October, let them!  Make it hard for them to say no and easy to stay your friend.

If you can't bite, nibble.  Because we know there are a lot fewer five and six-figure cause marketing partners for events like Halloween Town this year, we're focusing our efforts on a three and four-figure strategy for raising money from the business community.  Since corporate ticket sales for Halloween Town have always been significant ($200k since inception) we plan to drive volume with corporate ticket packages that start as low as $500.  We've committed two sales people to calling on law firms, architects, investment houses, real estates offices, etc.  Many of these businesses cannot afford or don't want to be five or six-figure sponsors of Halloween Town, but buying $500 in tickets that they in turn can give to their employees or give back to us for distribution in the poor communities we serve is an easier yes.    

Other ways we plan to "nibble" our way to more revenue with Halloween Town this year include a Door and Floor strategy.  Already under-priced compared to the $23 to $25 Halloween events in Boston, Halloween Town tickets will go up at least a buck this year.  This will generate thousands of dollars in additional revenue.  Also, once inside, guests will be asked to pay a dollar or two for some of our most popular activities (e. g. laser tag) and will have to pay extra for things like face painting, balloon animals etc.  This too will boost our bottom line.

Like hitting the wall at mile twenty during the Boston Marathon, hitting the wall of cause marketing during a tough economy is neither fun nor pretty, but it is survivable.  You survive the same way you survive those last six miles: focus, perseverance and a great support team.  The goal is to finish intact, unhurt, and, most importantly, unbroken.  Tough times don't last.  Tough people do.     

Other Types of Corporate Fundraising

A question I got after last week's post was what are some of the other ways I raise money from companies.  If a company isn't a retailer with foot traffic that you can run either a point-of-sale or a percentage-of-sale program, how do I make money when I'm pitching my organization to law firms, investment houses, construction companies,  etc.?  It's a good question because reaching out to different industries represents a huge growth area for corporate fundraisers.  Cause marketing is great, but eventually you run low on the big retailers that make these programs go.  You have to diversify.  Here's how I'm expanding my corporate footprint in Boston and even retrofitting some of my current cause marketing programs for new corporate missions. New missions for existing programs.  Most of the events I run--Halloween Town, Team BMC--are cause marketing driven, but also deliver great opportunities for corporate involvement and support.  For Halloween Town, companies can send volunteer groups by the dozen to participate and give back.  They can also buy corporate tickets for their employees, or they can donate them back to the poor children we serve.  When it comes to Team BMC, our annual Boston Marathon fundraising program, companies can buy blocks of waivers that they can use for their employees, clients and vendors.  Of course, we don't just hand over the numbers, we create a whole program for them that maximizes their chances for employee and customer involvement and satisfaction.

In-house fundraisers.  One area I've been looking at more is workplace fundraising programs.  A few weeks ago at Cause Marketing Forum, Lee Krajian from NBA-E introduced me to a good one.  Lee's company organizes gift card drives at local companies.  Here's how it works.  Most people have a gift card or two that they either don't plan to use or only has a few dollars left on it.  Thanks to Lee's company you can bring that card to your work and drop it in a collection box.  He'll extract what's left on the card and, after taking a small fee, give what's left to your charity of choice.   Lee's idea is simple, easy to execute in the workplace and costs the donor nothing because the gift card cost them nothing or had close to nothing left on it, or both.

Custom fundraisers.  Whenever I visit a company I become their de facto charity consultant who is there to, first, help them achieve their employee and customer goals, and, second, to raise money for my organization.  Some may think my order is screwed up, but I would refer them to Henry Ford:

It is not the employer who pays the wages.  Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.

Our success as corporate fundraisers hinges on how well we service our corporate supporters.  If my prepackaged programs don't resonate them, I find out what does.  If your company loves kick-ball, how about a tournament with other employees?  Better yet, how about one with other companies?  Could your directors help with recruitment?  The partner in charge is happy to open his home on Nantucket for function?  How about a clambake for employees and clients that asks for a donation and tens minutes of their time to hear about your organization.  You have a motivated group of employees who would be happy to raise money if they could get race numbers for next month's Falmouth Road Race?  Let me make a few calls and see what I can do.

Whether it's involving companies in an existing event, designing an in-house program or customizing a program based on their goals and interests, the opportunities with companies of all industries and sizes are endless.  Cause marketing is great for retailers, but what if you wanted to raise more money from other businesses?  Here's a hint: If the store you shop at doesn't carry everything you want, you need to shop somewhere else.

Selling Cause Marketing in a Down Economy

There's no doubt selling sponsorships and cause marketing is a lot harder this year than last.  The cause marketing side is especially challenging as many retailers--the backbone industry for many cause marketing programs, whether it be point-of-sale or percentage-of-sale--just aren't doing well and are looking to cut anything that's not directly driving sales.  Here's what we're saying and doing to keep the partners we have and to recruit new ones.

Cause marketing drives sales.  A lot of people view cause marketing as just "branding" or "identity management".  "Yeah, it helps your image but where does it really get you?," they say.  Fortunately, we've collected a lot of great evidence that shows that cause marketing can help companies make and save money.  One of my favorite is from a retailer that made $350,000 from a coupon they had on our Halloween Town mobile.  Those are the kind of results businesses want to hear about and will help get cause marketing viewed differently.

Cause marketing is free advertising.  Our point-of-sale programs come at no cost to the retailer.  Nothing.  Zilch. Nevertheless, they are great ways to build loyalty and favorability with employees and customers, highlight in-store promotions and offers and, of course, raise money for a great cause.  When one of our partners wanted to promote a new service to consumers but didn't want to spend a lot of money advertising it, we printed the offer right on the mobile so employees could point it out and shoppers wouldn't miss it.  The retailer closed more business, we raised more money and shoppers got a great deal--all for a buck.  Win-win-win.

Enlist cause marketing champions.  As a nonprofit, you can only open so many doors by yourself.  It helps to enlist the aid of others.  Allies can include media outlets, sports teams, anyone who might have a connection or relationship with key businesses.  Your pitch to them is that their advertisers are sick of ad reps showing up with expensive advertising programs.  Instead, offer them something for free.  Explain that if they have multiple store fronts and lots of foot traffic they can do a point-of-sale program that will raise money for a great cause and underwrite a free advertising program with their favorite radio or TV station, newspaper or sports arena.  You don't want money from the marketing budget; you want access to the store's customers.  The latter is where the real opportunity lies.  There's ten times more money to be made there than from the company checkbook.  Just ask Bono and the folks at Product (RED).

Focus on other forms of corporate support.  W. C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, and try again.  Then give up."  Sometimes the moment isn't right for cause marketing and you should look to other forms of corporate funding.  Fortunately, I work for a large institution with lots of business partners so we've doubled our efforts in reaching out to other "friends" of the organization.  Thanks in part to them our largest fundraiser of the year will set a new record next Saturday night.  Of course, this type of corporate fundraising is not as challenging and interesting as cause marketing.  But the dollars we'll raise will be as good as any other until our sails fill again and we can set our sights on more lofty goals.  As the Roman proverb commands, "When there is no wind, row."

10 Ways to Win a Corporate Partner (con't)

Katya has a great post on ten ways to win a corporate partner.  To hers I'll add my own insights and comments for cause marketers.

  1. Find your match.  As Katya points out, "you want to partner around mutual benefits."  Focus your energies on companies with whom you have natural synergy.  Mission, goals, audience, and, let's not forget, just plain personal chemistry.  If it's not a good fit you'll know it from the get-go.  Emerson was right: "Only in our simple, easy and spontaneous actions are we strong."
  2. Find out the business and philanthropic agendas.  And press the former more than the latter.  Not every business is interested in charity, but all businesses are interested in making money.  Show how philanthropy can drive sales and you've built a platform from which to present your mission.
  3. Find an entre.  Connections can make a huge difference.  But what do you do if you don't have one?  Start by offering them something of value that comes at no cost to them.  Now that's a conversation-starter.
  4. Try to get to the business people rather than the community service people.  Where do you think there's more money in a company, in the marketing department or in the community relations department?  Act accordingly.  Sadly, I've never met with a community relations person who really "got" cause marketing.  But business people grasp the value almost immediately.
  5. Start your sentences in the right way.  I love this one.  Fundraisers make the mistake of always talking about the things THEY need, instead of focusing on the needs, interests and goals of their listener.  In short, they're a one way street!  Use audience-centric language that shows you're as focused on your partner's success as your own.
  6. Sell the benefits to them along with the social impact.  Business people hear the latter all the time, but rarely hear about the benefits to them.  Get and keep their attention by being better than 99% of the fundraisers that have ever sat across from them.
  7. Go into partnerships - like relationships - with open eyes. There are ups and downs in any partnership.  Just remember on what your relationship is built: trust, respect and, most importantly, mutual interest.
  8. Put work into it.  Become an extension of your corporate partner's marketing team.  For the mid-size companies I generally work with (that are already pretty lean on marketing) I become their consultant on cause-related endeavors, even for the ones that don't involve my organization.  Being useful and unbiased only makes me more  valuable to my partner--and keeps me close to potential opportunities.
  9. Communicate constantly.  Just keep it relevant.  Regardless of what I'm sending my partners I always ask: is this something they will find useful, if not valuable.  Again, see things through their eyes and position yourself as a resource that's helping them cut through the clutter and grow their business.
  10. Know when to call it quits.  If you do the nine things Katya and I suggest you'll always be the heart breaker.  They'll be the ones crying, not you.       

Reeling in More Business

Rates1With Halloween Town over, the cause marketing team has been busy meeting with sponsors to get their feedback and to recommit them for next year.  We've also been spending a lot of time reaching out to new sponsors, many of them retailers. 

Why retailers?  Because they have the foot traffic to support the mobile programs that are our bread and butter fundraiser.  In exchange for asking their customers to support the hospital (our best Halloween Town partner raised over $100k), retailers receive a major sponsorship to one of our events.  Win-win, no?

But retailers are more than just good partners for cause marketing programs.  Practitioners like you and me can also learn from them.  I was reminded of this by the November issue of Boston Magazine, which had a sales article on how local retail pros reel in buyers.  Their tips may be just the bait you need to land that next big partner.

From Patricia, a fur specialist for Saks: “It’s not hard to sell any product that you understand, love and believe in....Clients come to me because I have an understanding of practicality and fashion.”

As a cause marketer you need that same kind of passion for what you do.  But enthusiasm isn't enough.  You also need to understand your prospect’s business and how you can realistically help them.  If you can do this, you’ll share something with Patricia: clients that come to YOU.

From Donna, general manager of a jewelry store:  “It’s much harder to sell diamonds now.  People come in with notes, pads, pages of information.  They study….but there’s still something that they won’t see—the punch, the something special.”

Likewise, prospects are much more discriminating about which organizations they work with.  Like diamonds, they pour over them and rarely pick the first one they see.  But what can distinguish you is that “something special.”  What is it that you can do that’s unique and different and valuable from what anyone else can do?  Find out what makes you a diamond in the ruff and shine.

Jim, salesman at a BMW dealership:  "BMW customers are extremely bright, and most are very well educated.  If I can appreciate that and not patronize them, then we're usually very much in step.  [For example] Doctors are very technical, they know what they want, but it takes a lot of patience and a lot of time."

Like Jim, I size-up my prospects.  Shortly after speaking with them, I'll decide if they are a thinker, a feeler, or a deferrer.  Thinkers are evidence based and want to see all the stats and figures (like Jim's doctors).  Feelers respond to emotional appeals.  And deferrers yield to the opinions of others (e.g. If so and so is doing it, then it must be right for them).  Gather your information, size-up your prospect and pitch accordingly.

From Seth, manager of a ski shop:  “Most of the stuff we sell here I don’t really consider to be a necessity.  It’s more entertainment or recreation….We’re not really pressuring sales people….It’s just about building a relationship and getting to know people.”

Yes, it's true: cause marketing, like snowboards, isn't a necessity.  But it does make beautiful window dressing.  Starbucks would still be a good business if it didn’t practice cause marketing, but it probably wouldn’t be as good a business.  That's what cause marketing does.  It enhances, it magnifies.  The lesson here is to be less focused on being pushy and more concerned with building a rapport with prospects.  Be nice.  Say "free" a lot.  Smile.  Mr. Prospect is holding all the cards.  And he knows it.