All Cause Marketing is Local

Not that it's a bellwether or anything, but outdoor retailer REI's announcement last month that it will decentralize its presence on Twitter from one corporate handle to 53 local handles may be sign of things to come. It got me thinking of how social media may be shifting the balance of power back to local businesses and giving nonprofits an edge over national players when it comes to cause marketing.

REI is playing it smart with Twitter. They know that customers in California have different needs and questions than shoppers in New England. Needs that are best addressed by local staff that know the product and the area.

Empowering local stores seems to be a growing trend with national chains (e. g. L. L. Bean, Whole Foods). Sure, a lot of things are the same, including store layout, numerous products, branding, etc. But local stores are getting more autonomy in how they work with customers AND nonprofits.

This autonomy will extend to cause marketing as local stores of national chains try to tap into regional sentiment and win customers' hearts and wallets with cause marketing.

But will your nonprofit be ready when they come calling?

  • Are you building a brand that consumers know, respect and love? Just because a business is willing to forgo a well known national charity for a local one doesn't mean they'll pick just any nonprofit. Make sure you're at the top of the nonprofit food chain in your area. I've seen this at work here in Boston with nonprofits such as Children's Hospital and The Jimmy Fund, and even smaller players that haven't been around as long. It's powerful.
  • In REI's case, social media platforms are driving localization. If they do the same with their giving and adopt a charity in each of those 53 markets, I bet they'll choose a nonprofit that uses social media as well as they do. How would you grade your nonprofit's presence on social media? If you gave yourself anything less than a B+, it's time to get to work. My new book would be a good start point. But there are many other resources. For blogging, visit For Facebook, visit the high priest(ess) himself For Twitter, start with
  • The key to success of these national/local partnerships is trust. The national office is entrusting the local store to help the community and boost the bottom-line. The local store is counting on the nonprofit to not let them down. And the nonprofit is counting on the store to support them. Make sure you're ready for the responsibility.

Nonprofits must both inspire and perspire. They have to inspire businesses by choosing the right cause marketing program, and then perspire doing the lion's share of the work to ensure success. You'll only have one chance with a national company. Don't let it fail because you were waiting for your national partner to do all the work a local nonprofit can do better.