How to Lead a Successful Cause Marketing Campaign

Good marketing tactics may seem second nature to your team, but cause marketing is a different beast. Here's what you need to know.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Your marketing money is precious, and spending it to promote another organization may not seem worthwhile. But think again.  

Indeed defines cause marketing as a "type of campaign in which a for-profit business seeks to advocate for a social cause while increasing profits." In this way, cause marketing is different from charitable giving, says Lauren Reed, CEO of Reed Public Relations, a Nashville-based public relations and marketing agency that offers cause marketing services: "It's truly a marketing function that drives sales and awareness for your organization while also benefiting your nonprofit or community partner."  

Pulling together a top-tier cause marketing campaign could be a key differentiator for your business, particularly now, as CEOs across the globe put a greater emphasis on social issues. Here's how to stand out in the saturated market and get cause marketing right. 

Vet your partners  

Most of the success of your cause marketing campaign is determined before you even pick up the phone to call a potential partner, Reed says. Due diligence is crucial to determine that the charitable organization you want to work with is a worthy partner and resonates with both your target audience and your employees, Reed adds. 

Reed recommends asking yourself several key questions to vet a potential partner: Do your core values align with this potential partner? What is their reputation? Are they efficient with their funding? Could your company make a real difference in their efforts? Is the organization open to a true partnership?  

"If you don't take that really thoughtful step--that vetting and knowing your audience and what they're looking for--all of the tools aren't going to matter," Reed says.  

Consider: Is it executable? 

For a cause marketing campaign, you are looking for a turnkey solution, Reed says--not something that's going to create undue headaches or work for your already strapped team. 

Tiff's Treats learned this the hard way. When the Austin-based cookie-delivery company opened its second location in the city and third overall in 2008, it partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the grand opening and committed to donating at least $5,000 through cookie sales. But with the day's low price point of $2 per dozen cookies, the team quickly realized how difficult it would be to reach that goal--and how hard they'd have to work to make it happen, says Tiffany Chen, chief creative officer and co-founder of Tiff's Treats.  

"We set ourselves up for a pretty rough day," she says. Since then, the company has had approximately 90 more grand openings successfully supporting community causes, Chen says. But she cautions that business owners should carefully consider the achievability of their initial goals. To do this, Reed suggests starting small with a pilot program: "See what the result is, and then tweak it."  

Focus on the cause first, then marketing   

The very definition of cause marketing emphasizes the both-sides benefit, and that shouldn't be taken lightly in planning a cause marketing campaign, Reed says. "Most of our clients are taking their cause-related marketing out of their marketing budgets. So there still needs to be a marketing ROI."   

And yet, customers can sniff out campaigns that aren't genuine, says Leon Chen, co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Tiff's Treats. "You've got to think of it as cause first and marketing later. If the worst thing that happens is we help this charity out, that's pretty awesome, too." 

Reed saw the power of a cause-led campaign in 2020, when her team worked with the furniture maker Good Wood Nashville. After a tornado ripped through the Nashville area, the Good Wood team created and sold "Nashville Strong" signs to support small businesses in the area, including a number of local restaurants. The signs started at a $25-$50 price point, depending on the type, and 50 percent of sales (more than $25,000 in total) was donated to neighborhood businesses.

The move generated goodwill from the community and helped Good Wood reach restaurant owners, a target market for their high-end woodwork--but the true power of the campaign came from the team's commitment to the cause, Reed says. "The most impactful cause marketing campaigns I've seen have been when the owners or the team are truly passionate and engaged." 

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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