cause marketing

Cause Marketing Gains Popularity, Maturity

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing continues to gain in popularity and recent examples have moved substantially beyond co-promoting a company and a worthy cause by asking for a donation or signing a petition.

A great example is Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at home. The insurance company's choice of a safety program aligns with its business. Instead of teaming with a single organization, Nationwide reached out to a hospital, pediatricians, parents, caregivers and toy manufacturers to identify sources of injury that could be prevented.

David Hessekiel, founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum and author of "Good Works!" says companies are pursuing more sophisticated and creative approaches to address nagging social problems. Some, like Nationwide's campaign, hitch together "complex, multi-player coalitions."

The "Make Safe Happen" program scores well on another pair of important virtues – usefulness and relevance, both key components of successful content marketing strategies. The program isn't just about doing good; it's about helping to avoid an injury to your child or grandchild.

To ensure the campaign was useful and relevant, the techniques used by Nationwide zeroed in on firsthand, frontline sources, such as partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide to "engage caregivers in real time," explained Hessekiel.

In an article written for Forbes, Hessekiel cited other significant cause marketing trends in 2015:

•  Using iconic branding to make a point (Coca-Cola replaced its trademark logo with "Labels are for cans, not people" to promote acceptance of cultural differences).

•  Promoting behavior change (AT&T's It Can Wait pledge to persuade motorists to stay off their smartphones while driving).

•  Educating younger generations (H&R Block's Budget Challenge initiative to teach financial literacy).

•  Creating multi-channel experiences (Coke's #MakeItHappy campaign to encourage positivity).

Cause marketing examples involving large companies can be intimidating for small and family-run businesses. But it would be a mistake to see cause marketing as only the purview of the big brands.

Micro-volunteering is one of the more interesting tools that smaller companies – or nonprofits and public agencies – could exploit in a cause marketing effort. Micro-volunteering involves bite-sized chunks of time that employees can give at work, home or almost anywhere in support of a wide range of causes.

NPR recently featured a micro-volunteering effort to aid blind people who live at home. In the story, a blind woman who needed help in identifying the ingredients she would use to prepare a meal hooked up online with a micro-volunteer. The volunteer, who in this story happened to be in a different city, and the blind woman connected via live streaming so the volunteer could read the ingredients of various bottles. The volunteered assistance took only a couple of minutes.

According to the website, popular micro-volunteer causes include animal welfare, environmental watchdogs, health, poverty and scientific research. The website says micro-volunteering opportunities let people "make a difference on their lunch break."

Doing Good and Getting Noticed

Encore careers can be rewarding and high-impact, aiding struggling nonprofits and helping smaller businesses gain notice and respect.

Encore careers can be rewarding and high-impact, aiding struggling nonprofits and helping smaller businesses gain notice and respect.

Cause marketing is usually reserved for the big rollers, but there are ways small and medium-sized companies can team up with worthy nonprofits to do good and be noticed.

One way is through Social Venture Partners (SVP), which serves as a matchmaker for companies that want to contribute and nonprofits that need the help.

SVP – which operates in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and Calgary – sponsors a program called Encore Fellows. The idea is to connect seasoned private-sector professionals with nonprofits with specific resource deficits in areas such as human resources, organizational design, financial management and marketing communications.

Encore Fellows agree to provide 1,000 hours of their time over a six to 12-month period. Fellows receive a stipend – typically $20,000, which can be paid by the employer, the nonprofit, SVP or some combination.

While this may not seem the equal of glossy relationships with more of a retail edge, the fellowships can mean life or death to a promising, but struggling nonprofit doing good work.

One of the fellowships featured on the SVP website involves semi-retired Portlander Wendy Weissman, who has worked at General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. She teamed up with Friends of the Children, a youth-mentorship nonprofit, lending her HR expertise to assist with leadership development and process-improvement programs.

Even though Weissman completed her 1,000-hour fellowship, she is volunteering additional time. "My heart got hooked," she says. "It's a dream come true."

With the growing number of Baby Boomers retiring or moving toward retirement, they afford an ample supply of talent to tap and a pool of people with a strong desire to put their talents to good use in the twilight of their careers. Many nonprofits have gaps or challenges they can't afford to fill with a full-time employee or an expensive outside consultant. It is a perfect and fairly obvious match.

For a relatively small investment, a small company can loan one of its senior people – or a recently retired employee – to a nonprofit, creating a beneficial partnership with tangible, local outcomes.

SVP has placed more than 250 senior professionals in high-impact nonprofits, according to Jim McGinley, the director of Seattle's Encore Fellows program. He expects that number to grow dramatically.

"Finding quality candidates who are looking for a second act in their careers is the least of our problems," McGinley says. "The focus now is on finding the right companies."

It is a perfect set-up for companies that want to make an impact in their community – and in the minds of their customers.

Turning a Negative into Positivity

Easy to say. Hard to do. But it can be done.

Dick's Sporting Goods has turned the erosion of youth sports programs into a cause that extends beyond mere cheerleading and fundraising.  It has produced TV ads, created a website, signed up celebrities and collaborated on a movie that touts the benefit of sports in the development of young lives.

The Sports Matter website features a short video showing student athletes, boys and girls, in a wide range of sports, with "Did You Know" student athlete factoids: 

  • They are four times more likely to attend college;

  • They show up on time at school more and are absent less;

  • They are better at managing emotions, resolving conflicts and resisting peer pressure.

The video also includes grim financial facts, such as 27 percent of public high schools will not have sports teams by 2020 and "pay-to-play" school policies may make it harder for low-income athletes who aren't star athletes to get on the field or court.

Marketing on a Shoestring

Small businesses and startups can get the marketing boost they need without spending a fortune.Small and startup businesses shy away from marketing because they fear they cannot afford it. However, lean marketing plans can be affordable and extremely effective.

Business owners imagine astronomically expensive ad campaigns, but a whole lot can be done for far less. In fact, the whole notion of marketing public relations is based on clever, cost-effective techniques that attract the attention of target audiences.

The first steps to success on a shoestring budget include:

  •   Clear, mutually agreed upon objectives
  •   Sharply defined target audience
  •   Fixed dollar limit
  •   Measurable outcomes 

A Big Bark Out to Cure Cancer

A young cancer survivor, an outsized therapy dog and a contented customer inspired Heel Cancer, a creative cause marketing campaign launched by a smallish, Portland-based organic pet food maker.

Castor & Pollux, the maker of Organix pet food, has teamed with PetSmart and a tall, long-tailed Great Dane named Bentley to raise money for human and canine cancer research.

The campaign was inspired when Bentley's owner, who has fed the dog Organix since he was a puppy, told the company the amazing story of his brave young cousin in Nebraska.

The story began when Chase Caspersen's mother discovered a big lump on the 9-year-old's right forearm. The lump was diagnosed as a cancerous tumor and doctors feared amputation of Chase's arm may be required to save his life.

The boy's parents searched and prayed for another treatment. They found a surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center willing to cut out the tumor and save Chase's arm. Chase underwent chemotherapy before his surgery to shrink the tumor to allow enough room to remove it without damaging nerves. The surgery was successful, preserving Chase's Little League baseball career. The 5-inch gash in his arm was patched using bone mass from a deceased 58-year-old female organ donor. Chase underwent more chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and now is in remission, living a normal life.

While in the hospital, Chase interacted with service dogs, which provided one of the few bright spots in his painful days. To show his appreciation for the dogs, Chase cut up fleece blankets to make chew toys. That sparked the idea in his mind of making dog toys to sell to raise money for cancer research. Supported by his school classmates, Chase made 1,200 dog toys and raised more than $1,600.

Chase's cousin, Patrick Malcom, who lives in Colorado Springs, was so impressed with the service dogs that attended the boy, he decided to train his dog, Bentley, as a therapy dog. Bentley already holds the dog record for longest tail and is in contention for the Guinness Book of World Records title as tallest dog. Bentley is hard to miss.

Malcom told the story of his cousin's cancer and his super-sized therapy dog to Castor & Pollux because of his affinity for its Organix dog food. The staff at Castor & Pollux was alert to the potential of his story, and the Heel Cancer campaign was born.