You want to build a business that attracts a base of loyal customers, but you’re not sure how to differentiate yourself from your more established competitors. Perhaps they have better branding, bigger marketing budgets, and more robust distribution channels. How can you steal the attention of prospective customers long enough to show them how great your product is?
Or maybe you work for an established brand, and lately you’ve been scratching your head as trendy new businesses gobble up market share you’d started taking for granted. You’ve run a few surveys, and the results are depressing at best. Your brand, which was once considered innovative and cutting edge, is now described as “boring, lame, and outdated.” How can you show the market that you’re still relevant and transform casual purchasers into loyal brand advocates?
One opportunity that’s growing in popularity is cause marketing. For this article, we’ll define cause marketing as “Differentiating your brand by supporting a cause that’s important to the prospective customers you want to reach.”
If you’re considering a cause marketing experiment, here are 10 things you should know:
1. Cause marketing is a powerful way to connect with people.
“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” That’s what Simon Sinek argued in his famous TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Cause marketing is a great way to reveal the ‘why’ behind your company’s ‘what’. Maybe you’re passionate about assisting the homeless, so you decide to give your employees time off to volunteer at local shelters. When people with similar convictions see your company taking a stand, you can form powerful connections.
A good cause marketing campaign also builds emotional connections by humanizing a brand. For fiction authors, a key step in developing compelling characters is deciding what each character wants. When you know what someone wants, you understand them better, and you’ll even root for them if you want the same things. A good cause marketing campaign reveals what you want as a company, and customers who identify with your cause are more likely to connect with you.
2. Cause marketing is a brilliant way to differentiate your brand from its competitors.
Historically there have been two ways to differentiate a product or service from its competitors: price and features. The problem is, when it comes to price, there’s only one winner. Also, with many products, it’s hard to truly differentiate based on features. But what if one product is simply a product, and the other is a movement that’s supporting a cause you care about? Why not buy the laundry detergent that donates 10% of its profits to disabled veterans? A good cause marketing campaign can make a brand look remarkably different than an otherwise identical competitor. It’s the perfect tie-breaker. Clever, right?
3. Cause marketing is an effective way to build brand advocates.
Some products are so unique and valuable people can’t wait to share them with their friends, but many brands don’t have this luxury. So how can you turn casual purchasers into loyal brand advocates when your product is valuable but not revolutionary? One way is to support a cause your customers care about. If they’re passionate about ending hunger in the community and you’re the company that’s doing something about it, they’ll want to share you with their friends.
4. Cause marketing can bring free publicity.
A good cause marketing campaign can rake in lots of free press, as well as online shares. Those inbound links can boost your performance in search engines and bring new traffic to your site. Plus, local news outlets loves stories about organizations giving back. They make for great bookends to all the other stories about murders and scandals. Speaking of local…
5. Cause marketing can make even global brands feel like part of the local community.
In an age where ‘locally owned’ is a key selling point, demonstrating investment in the community is crucial for all brands, whether they be small or global.
Target is one of the many organizations to embrace this opportunity: “Each year, we’ve given 5 percent of our profit to communities, which adds up to more than $4 million each week…Our team members give hundreds of thousands of hours volunteering in their communities every year.”
6. Cause marketing is a powerful way to motivate employees.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink contrasts the effectiveness of intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation. Examples of extrinsic motivators are paychecks and health benefits. They’re rewards for doing something you don’t really want to do. Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, are natural desires people legitimately want to act on. Supporting a cause your employees are passionate about can make them proud to come to work; and when they’re motivated by more than just a paycheck, you might see better results and even a decrease in employee turnover.
7. Cause marketing is powerful because it lends itself to storytelling.
As humans, we love a good story. Heck, we even love bad stories. As Jeff Walker explains, stories cause people to lower their B.S. detectors, pay close attention, and engage emotionally. Many cause marketing campaigns lend themselves to storytelling. For example, they may focus on the story of how a brand helped a person, neighborhood, endangered species, or rainforest. For humans, that’s pure entertainment. They’ll gladly give you their attention and grow to like you as a result.
8. A cause marketing campaign helps users justify indulgent purchases.
We’re constantly trying to rationalize buying things we don’t really need. We think to ourselves…
“Well, it was on sale…”
“I’ve had a hard week, and I need to relax.”
“They had my perfect size, so it was meant to be.”
“It’s for a good cause.”
That last one is a product of cause marketing. You can nudge people into buying what they already want to buy and limit buyer’s remorse by making it easy for them to rationalize their purchase decision. Toms is company that has done this very well, by promising to give away one pair of shoes for every pair they sell. This is one reason why my wife’s closet looks like a Tom’s warehouse exploded inside it.
9. Cause marketing has the potential to become the rule, not the exception.
As more and more companies adopt or at least experiment with cause marketing, laggards could eventually run the risk of being perceived as disengaged or greedy. I’m in no way trying to scare people into prematurely experimenting with cause marketing, but I do encourage you to keep an eye on your competitors. You don’t want to become the only pet store that isn’t raising money to save homeless pets.
10. Cause marketing can sometimes be added to your current messaging fairly simply.
With the right partnerships and a minimum effective attitude, you can probably launch a cause marketing campaign without too much pain and toil. Just start small, treat it as an experiment, and let the results guide your decision making. If your cause marketing experiment is having an impact, consider upping your game. If not, maybe your campaign needs a tune up or perhaps cause marketing isn’t a good fit for your business. When evaluating your results, just remember to look beyond the money. Cause marketing can produce intangible benefits such as employee satisfaction, and that alone might be a reason to continue a campaign even if it doesn’t immediately produce a spike in revenue.