Causeon: Groupon for Cause Marketing

We all love Groupon, right? They offer us great deals with savings from 50% to 90% and if enough people sign-up for the deal everyone wins. Now a Portland-based company has launched Causeon. Same concept as Groupon, but Causeon offers up to 20% of its revenues to causes.

When Causeon launches in Portland this week the local chapters of Komen, YMCA and Girls, Inc. and others will be in line to receive checks.

I love the concept of Causeon. As a cause marketer, I think it represents a great alternative to point-of-sale programs and is a great step toward building a cause marketing community.

But can Causeon work?

Groupon works because they get tremendous deals and have a large, rabid following, which leads to better deals, more followers, etc. Oh, and one other thing: Groupon is a one-of-a-kind gee whiz phenomenon, much like the Daily Candy was a few years back. And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it's no guarantee of success. No one ever approached the success of the Daily Candy, and Groupon is way ahead of its 500+ competitors.

Will Causeon's cause focus be enough to distinguish it in a crowded field?

History says no. From GoodSearch to CauseWorld, the Internet is littered with cause-centric businesses that were founded on the belief that generous consumers would drive success but didn't. As I said with CauseWorld, people don't want a cause world, a dedicated cause product or service, they want a world with causes (e. g. Facebook Causes and the Groupon/Donor Choose partnership I describe below).

That said, here are some ideas on how Causeon might stand out from the pack and really work.

Groupon/Causeon mashup.This would be ideal because it's the best of both worlds. Groupon has already shown that it can raise money for causes. In May, Donors Choose raised $162,000 when it was Groupon's featured daily deal. It would be great if causes were a regular (or more regular) part of Groupon's daily deals. Maybe Causeon can show Groupon that causes should be a more prominent part of its business.

Branded deals. Retailers like Macy's and Bloomingdales host charity shopping days to help causes raise money and gain access to their supporters. Retailers could achieve the same results with a branded deal via Causeon. Working with Causeon, Macy's could partner with Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for a special one-day deal. Causeon provides the branded medium and deal from Macy's, and the MFA provides the large donor base that are motivated to help the the museum and eager, like everyone, to get a deal.

Dedicated partner. Causeon hopes to quickly expand to other cities. If I was them, I'd identify a nonprofit in each major city that has the best and most experienced cause marketing team and recruit them to solicit great new deals for Causeon. In exchange for their efforts I'd make them the sole recipient of Causeon's 20% donation. Here's why.

  • There are only a few cause marketing teams in each city anyway (3 here in Boston) and they tend to be housed in well-known nonprofits with strong emotional messages (kids or cancer, sometimes both). You'd gain a sales team with lots of local business contacts and be aligning with a mainstream cause that most people would give to.
  • Anyone who thinks that aligning with more nonprofits in any given city will mean more promotion for Causeon is, well, a damn fool. Fact: nonprofits have failed again and again to help any business that has promised to help them if they will only promote them. Most causes can't market themselves, you expect them to market you? Causeon should focus on those one or two nonprofits within each city that "get it."
  • Ultimately, Causeon will succeed or fail based on the quality of its deals. A dedicated partner means an instant sales team in each city, more local deals, and a partnership with a cause that people recognize, respect and empathize.

I really wish Causeon the best and look forward to their arrival in Boston. But just as Groupon's CEO keeps on saying that his business concept is a very simple one, Causeon needs a simple value proposition to be successful. And being the cause version of Groupon isn't it--unless they merge with Groupon, do branded deals with nonprofits or focus on dedicated partners in key cities.

What do you think?