Before You Hit “Go”: Cause Marketing 101
Nonprofit organizations have been strategically partnering with businesses for some time to build cause marketing programs. The benefits are plentiful for both the corporation and the nonprofit, including enhanced visibility, access to a range of new audiences and the ability to build important relationships. And while the bottom line is often on the minds of businesses when they choose a cause marketing partner, there is also a widespread recognition that consumers now have a certain level of expectation when it comes to brands and the values they stand for. The same goes for nonprofit professionals – a great campaign can incentivize a substantial increase in donations, but dollars shouldn’t be the only focus. Cause marketing isn’t necessarily the right strategic fit for every organization, particularly because significant time and resources go into the process. But if and when you do decide to initiate a marketing partnership with a business or corporation, it’s important to maintain sight of the end goal, as well as the audience that will ultimately engage with the campaign. Before you begin, ask yourself these critical questions:
1. Are your mission and values in alignment?
For nonprofits, staying true to the values surrounding your mission is crucial for maintaining a positive image and keeping loyal donors around. If you’re unsure that your cause marketing partner shares the same values, it’s likely that the fit just isn’t right. For instance, if you’re an organization focused on saving wildlife, partnering with a retailer that sells fancy fur coats may not be sending the right message. More than obvious differences in values, you also want to make sure that you and the corporation share similar goals. The end result of a cause marketing program should be mutually beneficial, appealing to the broader audiences of both nonprofit and corporation.
2. Are you honoring your target audience?
Similar to the above, you’ll want to ensure that your typical target audience won’t be turned off or feel alienated by your corporate partner. Your donors choose to support you for a reason, and so maintaining that same message and image is important. Consider the product or service that you’re aligning with – is it relevant to the lives of your typical donor? Will they be able to make an easy connection between the causes at play? Can you expand into new audiences, while still honoring your mission?
3. Are you telling a good story?
People intrinsically connect to a good story, especially when they find it personally relatable. When there is the right fit between a nonprofit and a business, the ability to tell an engaging story comes relatively easily. It’s in the specific marketing tactics that will determine whether or not that story will make an impact. Leverage online video to bring stories to life, or engage communities on social media to share their own stories. Using only an un-engaging text or display ad, for example, does a disservice to everyone involved. Something else to keep in mind is that the campaign can’t just be about the product/service or the cause individually, rather it needs to weave the values and beliefs of the two parties together in order to ensure the partnership feels genuine.
4. Are you leveraging the right mix of marketing channels?
Just like any fundraising strategy, you’ll want to ensure that you’re leveraging an appropriate mix of channels to reach your target audience. For instance, many successful cause marketing campaigns demonstrate social media savvy, using not only their own social content to spread awareness of the cause and product, but also engaging local social communities to take part in telling the story. Consider what your audience has responded well to in the past – are they primarily mobile users, and tend to donate via their smartphones? Do they engage with email more than a text or display ad? Do you make your best connections at in-person events? Laying out a marketing plan that meets the donor everywhere they are is key to creating maximum visibility.
5. Are you focusing too much on the buy?
Cause marketing campaigns are about donations and purchases, but if the call-to-action is too heavily focused on the buy, it will likely feel inauthentic. Emphasize the cause and how the product or service naturally complements it. Leverage softer “asks”, rather than showing a simple “buy now”, which could make the engagement feel as if it’s just a simple transaction. Remember, this is about a true value exchange between nonprofits, businesses and their customers/donors.
When executed well, cause marketing partnerships can empower all parties involved – the nonprofit, corporation and the donor. Before you get started on your next campaign, it’s a good idea to check in with these important questions to help determine the approach best suited for your organization.