How to Do Cause-Related Marketing Well

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The goals for a businesses – nonprofit organization partnership or cause-related marketing campaign are generally one or more of the following:

1. Branding – Associating with a good cause
2. Awareness – Getting the nonprofit organization to promote the business among its supporters
3. Promotion – Incenting consumers to buy from a business in a particular time frame, such as by donating a certain percentage (or a fixed amount) of sales to a charity

Businesses need to beware that the effort to create a unique program with a particular nonprofit organization can be very labor-intensive, even if the program seems “cheap” in terms of cash expenses. In order to limit the time and effort needed to run a cause-related marketing campaign, many businesses opt to participate in third-party programs such as 1% for the Planet. Member businesses pledge 1% of sales to worthy causes and receive networking and promotional benefits in addition to the recognition (via a logo on their website) that they are a member.

Unique Programs May Stand Out More and Can Get You Press

If you have a PR budget for your business and some time to develop a unique marketing partnership, you can get some extra mileage from a creative program. No member of the press is going to write a story about your business joining a standard program. However, you might interest the press in a special event or a program with unusual features.

Make Sure the Marketing Program Relates to the Audience You are Trying to Influence

Visitacian Valley ParkFace it. If you are a business owner, you are creating a marketing partnership with a nonprofit to boost your business. You want your customers and potential customers to appreciate your efforts.

Say, for example, you are Banana Republic, and you want your brand to be more green. How do you associate your urban and suburban stores with an environmental cause. Banana’s solution is to donate 1% of in-store and online sales during Earth Week, April 22nd thru April 27th, (up to $100,000) to The Trust for Public Land, a land conservation organization. The donation is specifically targeted to preserving open space in urban settings (generally fixing up and creating new parks and public gardens). Banana Republic could have chosen any number of worthy environmental projects, but they chose an environmental organization that is greening many of the locations where Banana Republic has a high density of stores.

Long-term Association

Not every potential customer is going to see your promotional event even if it lasts for an extended period, like a month. And even a customer that knows about a one-time event may not be convinced about your social responsibility or commitment to a cause right away. Longer-term programs have a much better chance of associating your brand to both a particular cause and to “the greater good”. In the example I am using here, Banana Republic has made a $1 million commitment to The Trust for Public Land and has organized volunteer events in New York and San Francisco on April 27th, for Banana Republic employees and the public. (If you are interested in signing up or just want more information, go to

Walk the Talk

You won’t get a lot of marketing benefit from supporting a nonprofit organization, if the way you operate your business conflicts with the mission of the nonprofit. Not a moment too soon, Banana Republic has just come out with a collection of clothing made from renewable or sustainable fabrics (like bamboo, organic linen and cotton, and soy/silk knit blends). Unfortunately, I can not find them on the Banana Republic site, but maybe that is just me, or maybe they are not yet on the site.

To really be seen as an environmentally concerned business, Banana Republic will need to do a lot more in terms of store design and locations, as well as distribution, packaging and operations, but I see their Earth Day promotion as having legs beyond Earth Day.

Your Experience?

If you have conducted a cause-related campaign or have seen one that you thought was particularly good or bad, we’d love to hear from you. Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo by: Lisa Hokholt, USDA (Visitacion Valley, San Francisco)


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