How Cause Marketing Can Help You Grow Your Business

Former British prime minister Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Today’s brands know that making a profit is not enough. They want to make a difference, not only to succeed financially but to leave the world a better place. It’s no surprise, then, that for 97% of marketing executives, cause marketing is a valid business strategy, not just philanthropy.

What Is Cause Marketing?

Experts define cause marketing as a program by a business or organization that supports a group in need, such as the homeless, nonprofits, or teachers. A cause-related marketing program may also support a worthy cause, such as the environment, a social need, or disaster relief.

Studies show cause-related advertising can have a powerful impact on customers’ purchasing behavior. Done well, this strategy can help brands:

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How to Build a Cause Marketing Strategy

With cause marketing, brands have the opportunity to distinguish themselves in unique, memorable ways. A successful campaign includes these steps:

01 Choose a Cause that Aligns with Your Brand

Look for a cause that you and your employees believe in and that naturally fits with your brand identity and values. In other words, define cause-related marketing in your own terms.

Analytics platform Alteryx created a social responsibility initiative that fosters the next generation of data scientists, drives customer loyalty, and gives back to the community. As part of that program, Alteryx gives students and their teachers an exclusive offer on their full-featured software.

02 Look Beyond Dollar Signs

Raising money is important, but so is offering time and expertise. In one survey, 64% of customers said giving money is not enough; brands should “integrate social good” into their business. Doing so raises awareness of both the cause and your brand. Find a non-financial strategy that ties in your brand’s concept of what cause-related marketing is.

03 Collaborate

If your definition of cause-related marketing includes supporting a nonprofit, work with that organization to create a mutually beneficial campaign. To help score a big marketing “win,” Joe Waters, a cause marketing consultant and author of the Selfish Giving blog, recommends choosing a nonprofit with an established audience. If your nonprofit partner aligns well with your brand, these people are ideal future customers.

04 Create a Call to Action

Successful cause marketing campaigns do more than showcase a brand’s commitment to social responsibility—they inspire your audience to take action. Customers participate in General Mills’ Box Tops for Education by scanning in their receipt into a mobile app, which finds participating products and instantly adds Box Tops to their school’s earnings online. Box Tops for Education has earned more than $900M since 1996.

05 Use Multiple Media Channels

Dumb Ways to Die, a safety campaign from Metro Trains Melbourne, began with a funny, unforgettable song and added in social campaigns with video outtakes, dolls, and mobile games. User-generated content in the form of parodies took the message even further.

Cause-Related Marketing Examples & Strategies

Brands have limitless causes to support and nearly limitless ways to support them. A few of the more well-known strategies include:

  • Checkout programs. One survey revealed that checkout donations were the most common way consumers contributed to charitable causes. In 2018, the top “point-of-sale players” were eBay, PetSmart, Walmart, Petco, and Costco. Petsmart and Petco naturally selected animal welfare organizations while Walmart and Costco raised funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
  • Product donations. The popular meditation app Headspace provides a free subscription to public healthcare workers in the United States. It’s the brand’s way of helping these heroes take care of themselves and their own health during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • A percentage of sales: The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is donating $5 of each sale of Dr. Fauci bobbleheads to support the 100 Million Mask Challenge—an initiative to increase the supply of surgical masks for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The museum raised more than $100,000 in less than a week.
  • Buy 1/Give 1:  Chipotle agreed to donate a burrito to medical professionals every time a Chipotle digital customer named their burrito order “4HEROES” on the Chipotle app or Within a day, the company gave away 100,000 burritos. 
  • Action-triggered: CSX, a transportation company, launched a “Drop and Give Them 10” campaign for the Wounded Warrior Project. Through various media channels, people were encouraged to do 10 pushups and share their experiences online. Each time they did, CSX gave $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project.
  • Digital programs: Beauty brand Rimmel partnered with The Cybersmile Foundation to tackle the issue of “beauty cyberbullying” with their #IWILLNOTBE DELETED social medial campaign.
  • Cause products: Proceeds from the sales of Apple’s (PRODUCT)RED products usually help fight HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. For a short time, the company will donate these funds to help with COVID-19 response.

How COVID-19 Influences Cause Marketing

As the above cause-related marketing examples illustrate, many brands have centered their giving around COVID-19 response. One survey found a 41% increase in cause-related marketing, and a recent SheerID survey shows that people hardest hit by the pandemic want brands to do good and care for people:

  • 72% of nurses and 74% of seniors want brands to donate to programs that support healthcare professions.
  • 69% of teachers and 74% of seniors want brands to donate to programs that provide urgent medical supplies. 
  • 64% said they wanted brands to provide extra benefits or services. 
  • 63% said brands should offer more discounts.

Numerous brands have responded accordingly. AT&T is showing its support by giving nurses and doctors free wireless service for three months plus a $200 activation credit. It’s a generous offer that was featured in SomeGoodNews, a show hosted by actor John Krasinski that garnered nearly four million YouTube views in three days.

And TIDAL is providing some relief by giving first responders a 40% discount on its streaming music plans. The New York Times is letting college students subscribe for just $1/week and giving high school students and their teachers free access to the newspaper.

Amplify Your Cause Marketing by Targeting Consumer Communities

Consumer communities are groups of people who share a deep-seated identity attribute such as interests, affiliations, stages of life, or certain occupations. Cause marketing campaigns that show support for these communities and issues they care about are especially powerful. Members of a consumer community are tightly connected and support each other, which means they will naturally spread the word of a meaningful campaign to others in their community. 

What’s more, consumer communities want to buy from brands that align with their values. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of global consumers prefer purchasing from companies that support a cause they believe in or value.

Brands can get the greatest value from cause marketing with a new form of personalization called identity marketing. Here’s how identity marketing works:

  1. A company creates a personalized offer for a consumer community that aligns with its brand and invites prospects to take advantage of it through whatever channels the company normally uses.
  2. Consumers opt in to redeem the offer and are digitally verified to ensure the offer’s integrity and prevent discount abuse.
  3. Brands use this zero-party data to nurture ongoing customer loyalty.

Identity Marketing Helps Cause Advertising Go Viral

Identity marketing helps companies:

01 Raise Brand Awareness & Reach New Segments

Identity-driven offers are a great way to win the hearts and minds of all consumers. Online mattress brand Tuft & Needle launched a personalized promotion that gave the military community an exclusive 15% discount. 

The brand later extended the offer to first responders—a move that demonstrated the company’s ongoing commitment to causes that matter to its customers. Supporting first responders helps Tuft & Needle stand out from its competitors because everyone appreciates the critical role first responders play in keeping their communities safe, especially during the pandemic. 

“Honoring first responders is a mission-driven approach that helps us rise above the noise,” said Melanie LaDue, Tuft & Needle’s Gives Back lead.

And with 1.1 million firefighters, 1 million police officers, and more than 248,000 EMTs and paramedics, first responders are a significant and influential group of consumers. Using a personalized promotion to engage them helps Tuft & Needle to expand into new audiences.

02 Nurture Customer Loyalty

Madewell’s brand identity emphasizes social responsibility and building community—priorities that greatly appeal to two key consumer communities, Gen Z and teachers.

Do Well is a Madewell program that fosters sustainability. Hometown Heroes helps local creatives all over the country grow their businesses. And Humans We Heart showcases artists, musicians, athletes, and others who inspire the Madewell brand.

These efforts make it easy for students and teachers to feel like part of the family because it demonstrates that Madewell’s values align with theirs.

03 Leverage Word of Mouth

In addition to serving doctors and nurses, Headspace supports teachers. The brand gave educators free access to the app as well as free resources they could use to integrate meditation into their classrooms. The exclusive, personalized offer brought in 25,000 new subscribers in three new markets

And when teachers use Headspace in the classroom, it encourages parents, friends, and other adults to subscribe to the app and enjoy the benefits of meditation at home—the halo effect.

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04 Create a Customer-friendly Experience

Customers, especially Gen Zers, want to shop on their own terms—in a personalized way that respects their privacy. Global apparel brand UNIQLO launched a gated, personalized offer that gave all US college students $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. It was a smart move that put the brand in front of a segment that shares its values but tends to have less disposable income than other consumers.

To redeem the offer, students simply entered basic information into a form on the company’s website, and digital verification instantly confirmed their eligibility for the promotion. They didn’t have to jump through numerous hoops or share highly personal data.

Each brand has its own definition of cause-related marketing. It can be a meaningful discount to first responders and teachers. Or it can be all-encompassing, such as T-Mobile’s multi-faceted campaign to honor the military. However large or small the cause, authenticity matters. Today’s savvy consumers will embrace brands that truly honor the causes that matter most to them.