Foursquare, Cause Marketing Find Home with Housing Charity

I love this cause marketing promotion from a UK housing charity that brings together eight Edinburgh thrift shops with the leading location-based service, Foursquare.

It capitalizes on a physical location. Shelter Scotland helps people with all sorts of housing problems from homelessness to poor living conditions. 16 percent of Shelter's annual donations come from its two dozen thrift shops throughout Scotland. Not all nonprofits are destinations for shoppers or visitors. But the ones that are should follow Shelter's lead and tap Foursquare, which just isn't for nonprofits that are cultural institutions and museums. What about thrift-store giant Goodwill or a busy historical attraction like the Freedom Trail in Boston? Foursquare should be part of their [cause] marketing too.

Shelter jumped in with both feet. They launched the program in eight stores to start and created a great video to educate supporters about the campaign and how to use Foursquare. Shelter isn't assuming anything. They're building a Foursquare promotion one user at a time and are not giving people a reason to say no (e.g. "I've never heard of Foursquare." "I don't know how to use it.")

Shelter also developed real benefits for users that regularly checked-in to their stores. They’re offering a buy two, get one free special for both newbies and for loyal customers on every sixth check-in.

I also like how Foursquare users can earn cool badges from a noted designer. Shelter even created a unique badge for each store. Those who collect all eight will be entered into a contest to win prints of the designs.

The folks at Shelter really gave this promotion some forethought and didn't skimp on the details.

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The promotion has room to grow. Shelter is off to a great start and can develop the promotion in  a couple ways. The charity has a number of corporate partnerships they could add to the promotion. In exchange for a co-marketing opportunity on Shelter's Foursquare page a company could make a donation for each check-in. The real opportunity, however, is for Shelter to create Foursquare promotions for businesses--preferably ones with lots of locations--and include a cause marketing component that will benefit the charity. Companies would profit from Shelter's expertise and the housing chartiy would profit from sharing it.

Shelter was smart to focus on smartphone users. Now's not the the time to question the merits of mobile. Trust me, its future is as bright as the printing press! However, Shelter shouldn't stop with Foursquare. What about SMS? Those who read me regularly know that SMS is my new cause marketing darling so bear with me. Adoption rates for location-based services such as Foursquare are low and growing slowly. Adding a text component to Shelter's mobile promotion might make sense.

Use SMS for reach--because it's the ring that everyone answers--and then a QR code, landing page, application such as Foursquare for a richer media experience. SMS is the messenger that will tell mobile users that supporting Shelter Scotland and earning rewards for themselves is just a check-in away.

Tevolution Brews Cause Marketing Success with SMS


You all know I love cause marketing - a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. But I also love iced tea. So it's no surprise that I love Tēvolution, a delicious new brand of iced tea from Purpose Beverages, Inc., launching right now in in Washington, DC and Los Angeles.

This is purpose-driven entrepreneurship as Tēvolution was created specifically with causes in mind. But their model is also a great example of cause marketing that uses text messaging - SMS - to direct donations and engage consumers.

The company has initially partnered with four nonprofits and contributes 25 cents from every bottle sold to one of these causes.

Those of you who read my post on SMS last week know that I have a renewed interest in SMS because of its ease of use and widespread adoption. In short, just about everyone knows how to text. But not everyone understands QR codes, location-based services and apps.

And that's just one of the reasons Tēvolution co-founders Ian Simpson and Gerard Artavia chose to go with SMS.

Here's how Tēvolution works.

Once you tear off the label, you still have the choice of going online to enter your bottle’s unique code. This is a good idea your first time as you can create a profile for yourself that, among other things, allows you to share your giving with friends on Twitter and Facebook, and track your total contribution.

The Tēvolution guys have even gone the distance there, optimizing the same message for SMS text (160 characters), Facebook (embedded branding), and Twitter (140 characters, @ user names, and great use of Twitter-speak).

Tēvolution chose SMS for what it's meant for: broad reach. Text is just the messenger. In addition, Tēvolution smartly engages consumers with a variety of messages that are designed to educate them about the causes they’re supporting. It’s a cross-platform approach that really shows what a company can do when thinking outside the box. Their texts include a link to a richer media experience for those with smartphones, in this case a landing page with an embedded video on the cause.

“We wanted to be at the leading edge of cause branding,” explained Ian.  “We are transparent about how much we’re giving and how we support our nonprofit partners who make a real impact in communities across the US.”

Regardless of the type of cause marketing your cause or company is using, Tēvolution offers an excellent example of how and why more promotions should include the simple, but ever-present text message.

How is your cause or company using text messaging for cause marketing?

Is the Humble Text Message a Cause Marketing Star?

I'm reevaluating my thinking on text messages (SMS) for cause marketing. Previously, SMS only meant text-to-give for me. And unless you used SMS after some horrific disaster, or at a concert displayed it on a jumbotron at some major sporting event it wasn't very useful for cause marketing.

However, the more I learn about text and the more I sober up to the reality of adoption rates on things like smartphone apps, location-based services, QR codes and other mobile gadgetry in general, the more I appreciate the simple text message.

  • I know a lot of people who know nothing about iPhone apps, QR codes and location-based services, but know how to use SMS. I bet you do too. It's something my eight year old son and 85 year old godmother can both do.
  • The fact that you don't have to learn anything about text to use it is really the beauty of it. Most phones push text messages so they're hard to miss. Compare that to getting someone to download your app. Or explaining Foursquare to a newbie. Or explaining what a QR code is.
  • Maybe that's why 97% of mobile subscribers will read a text message within four minutes of receipt. I mean, WOW. Forget talking to my two kids. I should just text them!

Nevertheless, we should be careful not to oversell SMS. Hipcricket Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Hasen, a SMS campaign veteran, puts it nicely: use SMS for reach and something else for a "richer media experience" (e.g. landing page, QR code, mobile app). He also says that for the companies he works with SMS is best for special offers or time sensitive deals.

So while SMS is the knock that just about every consumer will answer, they're particular on what they will let in.

Which brings us to how text messages can be used for cause marketing (beyond text-to-give). For this, I turned to Douglas Plank who founded MobileCause, a company focused on providing mobile solutions to nonprofits and companies.

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Doug agreed that nonprofits generally think of just text-to-give when it comes to SMS. But it could be used for a lot of things.

  • Communication - An environmental nonprofit could use SMS to update supporters on key activities or "breaking news."
  • Outreach - An agency working to stop teen pregnancy could use text messages to target teens, the most common and responsive users of mobile devices.
  • Information Gathering - A local YMCA could poll members on their choice for gym hours over the holidays.
  • Activism - A city hospital could use SMS to urge supporters to call their governor, congressman or senator to weigh in on an important piece of legislation.

There are a lot of good ways to use SMS, and nonprofits should encourage their donors and supporters to opt-in for text messages.

But to make this a cause marketing effort, nonprofits should partner with companies that boast a long list of SMS subscribers. The company could tap its list to help a nonprofit with communication, outreach, information gathering, activism and even fundraising.

  • SMS could inform customers of an in-store promotion for your cause with a link to more information about your mission. (SMS is the QR code you type instead of scan!)
  • A point of sale or purchase triggered promotion could include a keyword and short code that would reward donors with a special offer or discount, which they can access right from their phones.
  • A text from the company could ask customers to give by replying with a provided keyword and short code to make an instant donation.

There's a lot of potential with SMS. Nonprofits should build their own SMS subscriber base. But another option is to explore the potential of SMS with current business partners and make a point to target new partners that are known for their SMS savvy.

I believe in the future of location-based services, QR codes and smartphone apps. Over 100 years ago, the early inventors and makers of the automobile believed in its future too. But good, strong horses were needed until the age of the automobile arrived. The same is true of SMS. It's the best thing we have right now and it can do more than we think.

SMS is a good, sturdy workhorse. We shouldn't look this gift horse in the mouth.