Charity as a Marketing Channel

Using charity as a marketing tool doesn’t have to be sleazy. In fact, it’s a great way to make your company seem personable, thus building your social trust. There’s even a legit name for it: cause marketing.

Why not help your brand out and do what Coca-Cola, Bank of America, KFC, and other major companies have done for years? Here are a few basic ways to incorporate cause marketing into your general marketing strategies.

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How Much to Spend

There’s not a set number for cause marketing, but it’s best to start small and grow your budget carefully over time, advises the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Typical amounts might be 1 percent of sales or net profits, or 5 percent to 10 percent of the marketing budget. The key is to do what you can afford. Cutting back can cause damage; therefore, whatever amount is budgeted should be at a level that is sustainable and won’t be cut.”

Think Small

Most companies don’t have the resources that Coca-Cola does. But cause marketing can start on a local scale, says Social Media Today. Some suggestions they have include:

  • Sponsor or co-sponsor a charitable event.
  • Create a limited-edition product for a special cause, or donate a product or service.
  • Collect donations. This could mean physical donations, like a canned-food drive, or monetary donations, like a campaign on your company’s website.
  • Donate your space for a charity event.

Whatever you do, be sure to promote it across all media channels you use. That seems obvious, but if you don’t get the word out, what’s the point?

Make It a Good Story . . .

“For cause marketing to work on the brand level, it needs to be unique, authentic, talkable, and iconic,” says Advertising Age. The magazine points to Toms’ “One for One” philosophy—the shoe company gives away one pair for each pair it sells—as an example.

“It’s a great story consumers can talk about, and the shoes are distinctive and desirable . . . No one has done anything like that before, it’s true to the brand’s core values, and consumers find it more credible. Supporting causes that are widespread and generic (breast cancer awareness, Fair Trade, etc.) may win the battle temporarily at the point of purchase—but won’t win long-term brand love in people’s hearts and minds.”

. . . But You Have to Believe It

Build your campaign around a cause you and your employees really feel great about, writes Kim T. Gordon in Entrepreneur magazine. Don’t pick a charity just because it seems like a popular cause to support. “Work with an organization you and your team believe in, whether that means supporting the fight on behalf of a national health issue or rescuing homeless pets,” she says. “What matters most to you, your team and your customers? You’ll work hard to make a difference when you give from the heart.”

Learn From the Experts

Still not sure where to start? Seek inspiration from some brands that have really demonstrated their mastery of cause marketing. Check out some of Forbes’ “leaders of the pack”:

  • Proctor & Gamble: “A cause marketing pioneer for more than three decades, Procter & Gamble focuses its corporate social investments on supporting disadvantaged youth and providing relief when disaster strikes.”
  • eBay: “[The company] was honored for its Giving Works initiative.  Giving Works makes it convenient for businesses and individuals to raise money for their favorite causes through several avenues . . . It’s an outstanding example of a cause initiative that is deeply integrated into a company’s operations.”
  • Macy’s: “Instead of pulling back on cause marketing efforts when the recession hit, Macy’s deepened its programs.  In 2010, the company, its foundation, employees and customers contributed $60 million to causes through partnerships with the American Heart Association, Feeding America, Make-A-Wish Foundation, National Park Foundation, Reading Is Fundamental and many other groups. “

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Quin Woodward-Pu

VP-Marketing Audienti. Former Director of PR Brightline Interactive. Former Editor Vocus. Social media guru.

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