Here's a progressive way to think about your small-business marketing strategy: 90 percent of customers are likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause if it has similar pricing and products. That's the power of "cause marketing."
"The for-profit gets favorability," Joe Waters, a cause marketing consultant, said during a recent Vocus presentation. "Cause marketing gives them a competitive edge that goes beyond product and price."
So, if you're ready to do some good—distinguishing yourself as a favored brand, while also helping others—let's take a closer look at what a cause marketing approach can do to increase both your customer loyalty and your bottom line.
Cause Marketing: What It Is and How It Works
By Waters' definition, cause marketing is when a nonprofit partners with a for-profit to engage in the kind of public outreach that benefits both entities.The nonprofit gets donations and new supporters, and the for-profit reaps increased brand awareness and basks in the positive light of its association with the nonprofit.
What that equates to, according to numbers from a study of consumers and cause marketing conducted by Cone and Duke University, is a win-win situation.
- Good news for the for-profit company: 79 percent of polled consumers said they'd switch brands if the new brand were of similar price and quality but also associated with a favorable cause.
- Good news for the nonprofit: Nearly half (42 percent) said they would tell a friend about the charity if they found it through a partnership with a corporation; and more than one-third said they would donate money to the charity discovered in this way.
And the numbers skew even further toward calls to action among millennials, many of whom expect their corporate choices to align with cause-related concepts. The numbers in a recent Barkley report tell the story: Some 42 percent of millennials said they'd buy products or services if their money in part helped a cause. And 35 percent said they'd donate money directly to the cause.
There are several ways to bring cause marketing in-house, according to Waters. Each approach is about crafting a genuine idea and message, and implementing them in ways that feel authentic to your customers.
1. You must care about the cause. The first challenges most business owners will face is how to find a cause to work with if they're not partnered with one already. It has to be the right cause. It has to strike both consumers and charitable givers as the right relationship to promote that cause.
"There are 1.5 million charities in this country," Waters said in his presentation. "The first thing I suggest to businesses is to choose a charity that they care about … you need to listen to your consumers, but what I know is that when companies are vested in a cause that they really care about, it makes a huge difference in the success of the cause … What's meaningful to you, as an owner?"
2. Recruit an army. The organization with which you partner should have the potential to drive consumers to your business. And lots of them. Tap into a cause that has supporters who come out for that non-profit (for example, think of the pink-ribbon campaigns during Breast Cancer Awareness Month).
"Who has the strongest 'army' that can be mobilized on behalf of the organization?" said Waters. "That's what you're looking for in a situation like this … Care strategically by pairing with an organization that has an army behind it."
3. Lead with emotion. The feelings that a cause invokes are central to what supporters and consumers expect. It's what they hope for, even—a sense of powerful personal connection. Have it yourself, so you can communicate it to others.
4. Match the cause to what your business does. If you sell children's clothing, a perfect partnership might be with a local youth center, a shelter or any program that connects with at-risk kids. But you've got to first have the above three strategies in place, and sincerely so. Consumers know when a match is too perfect, Waters warns.
What you do next with your business and your new nonprofit partner is largely about logistics. You might have a donation box in your storefront, or you might put up flyers in public spots. You could run a registration drive or round up volunteers.
Whatever avenue becomes the initial iteration of your cause marketing endeavors, the key points to successfully choosing a partner also apply to enacting a plan. Make it an activity about which you—and your team—care. Make it one that brings supporters of the cause to the table. And make it one that you can present sincerely to the new customers you're about to meet.
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