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?

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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.

Product Red's Bono Learns the Hard Way: Don't Put the Cause Before the Horse

Last month the WSJ profiled U2's Bono and and his wife Ali Hewson's efforts to launch a fashion line with clothes made in sub-Saharan Africa. (Hat tip to the good folks at Cone for the lead). Edun got off to a rough start because Bono and Ali had the best of intentions, which, unfortunately, didn't top the list of reasons consumers would pay $800 for a jacket. Design and fit mattered more.

"We focused too much on the mission in the beginning, " explained Hewson. It's the clothes, it's the product. It's a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost."

Edun is just another business that learned you can't put mission before margin. The best way for a business to help a cause is to be a great business first, and an advocate for causes second.

At the Beyond Cause Marketing summit ten days ago my industry's mom Carol Cone told me that even cause leader Timberland had seen sales erode a few years ago when consumer interest in their styles waned. Cause couldn't save them. Ultimately, Timberland would rise or fall on their shoes.

Businesses are still making the mistake of putting mission before margin. Causeworld, Panera Community Cafe and Causeon are just three examples.

I've written on Causeon, spoken to the founder--a good man with good intentions--and like the idea. But the premise of Causeon is that consumers will choose it over Groupon and 200 copycats because Causeon supports greats causes. But consumers are looking for great deals first and to help causes second.

The real opportunity is when you take a great business and activate it for good.

Take Groupon, which will hit a billion dollar in sales faster than any other company in history. In May, when DonorsChoose.org was the featured daily deal on Groupon they raised $162,000.

Should we wait for cause-centric businesses like Causeon to take hold, or should we double our efforts to work with great businesses of all sizes to raise money for causes?

You know what side I'm on. What about you?

One last point. Next to developing a magnetic cause brand that sucks in great businesses, nonprofits should focus on finding great businesses to stick themselves to. Nonprofits spend too much time on fundraising strategy and ideas when what they really need is the horsepower drive them.

Given the choice between a great idea or a great partner, I'll take the latter. With a great business anything is possible, and even the most basic cause marketing tactic can be given new life with the right partner.

It's not enough to right your cart and put the horse in front where it belongs. You have to hitch your wagon to a star.

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?