Cause Marketing: "More Important Than Ever"

Of late I've felt a lot like this billboard.  A little exasperated and out of sorts about my cause marketing prospects.  But thanks to Cone last week and Jim Stengel this week, I'm feeling better. "More important than ever."

That's what Jim Stengel of Procter & Gamble said about cause marketing in a recent AdAge article on how major marketers like Sears, Target, OfficeMax, General Mills and P&G are actually increasing their cause marketing efforts, even when the prognosis for the economy is poor.  The reasons are simple.

There is a sense that consumers are waking up to the need for some social responsibility. Marketers say they believe cause initiatives help them stand out.  Some also say cause marketing adds another layer of value for customers, who get the product they want and make the charitable donation they want, in a sort of two-for-one deal.

Another point the article makes is on the great data Cone released earlier this month on how cause marketing really does work.  I especially like this point: 79% of consumers said if price and quality were similar, they would switch to a brand associated with a good cause.  That's powerful stuff and shows that cause marketing is really a sales driver.

Finally, the article points to the bread and butter programs that I often preach.

But some of the most popular [cause marketing] programs could be those that donate a percentage of sales to charities or add on dollars at the cash register. Those programs, say cause-marketing experts, are relatively inexpensive for marketers, enable consumers to be charitable while watching their budgets and, in some cases, boost sales.

So, let's review.  in reaching out to businesses about cause marketing you're armed with three powerful tools.  First, you have a bunch of examples from AdAge of large, well-known and respected companies that are continuing their cause marketing despite the lousy economy.  In speaking with businesses large and small you can use them as examples of why it's important to start/continue a program.

Second, you have the latest study from Cone, which is packed with great research that shows that cause marketing works.  You can download a free copy here.

Lastly, having read my blog, you know what works and that point-of-sale and percentage of sale will be two of the best cause marketing initiatives out there in the coming months.

Here's what else you need to know.

Target the bluest chip companies you can find.  You might not have Sears, Target or OfficeMax as prospects, but you can target chains that, like them, are well established, buy advertising and have multiple locations.  These are the businesses that will most likely see opportunity in the downturn and respond to your appeals.  Who are these companies?  They may not be national companies like Home Depot and Walgreens, but they will have a strong presence in your market.  For example, I spoke to a fundraiser in Cleveland, OH not long ago who said they had no national supermarket chains to target.  But they did have a large, family-owned chain with about 75 supermarkets in Greater Cleveland.  Those are the type of businesses I'm talking about and that fit the criteria I outlined.  Like Sears, Target and OfficeMax, they are more likely to "get it" and see the value of cause marketing.  But don't stop there.  A business with half as many stores may be a good candidate as well, just a lighter shade of blue. 

Know who you're dealing with.  Be prepared for the three types of prospects you'll meet in your travels: Thinkers, Feelers and Deferers.  Most people are a combination of all three, but one usually dominates. 

  • Thinkers are my favorites because they are most like me!  They want to hear the rationale, the logic behind cause marketing and why it makes sense for their business.  They like facts, figures, research, statistics, data and any other analytical information to drive their decision. 
  • Feelers are moved more by narrative and emotional appeals and will respond better to talk about the mission of your organization, how the consumer experience will be enhanced and how employees will derive more meaning and fulfillment from their jobs.
  • Deferers follow the lead of others.  Show them what the companies they admire or compete with are doing and how you can help them imitate and keep up.  Credibility and reputation are important to a lot of people.  But for these prospects, it means a whole lot more.

To compete you must retreat.  As cause marketers we have to realize and accept that we are competing against not just other charities, but also other forms of media and marketing in dealing with companies.  That means creating a competitive advantage for our service.  And because most businesses--especially the local and regional businesses you'll work with--don't understand or fully value cause marketing, you need to make cause marketing so appealing, so valuable, so easy, so cost-effective that anyone would be nuts to turn it down.  This means companies pay nothing for cause marketing and get lots of value-add, also at no direct cost.  But that doesn't mean you lose any value because you retain the critical money-maker: the company's customers, not the company check book.

That's what's great about selling cause marketing.  Retreats aren't followed by routs.  They're followed by the register!