A Pause to Reflect on Cause Marketing

To Make Good Work Greater, There Needs to Be Collaboration and Sharing

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Brian Powell
Brian Powell

Cause marketing spending is projected to reach $1.57 billion this year, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report. And it's more powerful and effective than ever in this economy. According to Performance Research, 41% of U.S. consumers believe companies can best improve brand perceptions by increasing their cause sponsorships -- for the first time surpassing sports and arts/cultural categories as ways to boost consumer opinion.

While philanthropy may be down, consumers often see a cause campaign as a way to break a tie on a choice and enable them to personally contribute at low to no additional cost. With the demand for increased transparency, brands are learning to leverage their efforts in sustainability and support of other social issues as differentiating drivers of favorability and word-of-mouth.

Meanwhile, nonprofits, advocates and social entrepreneurs see other fundraising methods and budgets stagnating, and find the potential increase in donations and awareness by aligning with a corporate brand to be much more critical.

But for all its success, cause marketing is still a relatively new discipline. Ask five people about it, and you're likely to hear five different perspectives covering corporate social responsibility, strategic philanthropy, donations at check-out, nonprofit marketing and limited-time-only transactional programs, among others. Too often, it's pigeonholed into two broad models: short-term promotional partnerships or long-term corporate citizenship.

Brian Powell is a managing director of TracyLocke in Dallas and a passionate believer in cause marketing for making business and social impacts. He writes about cause-related subjects on twitter at @goodconcepts or read his blog at thegoodconcepts.com.

Instead, cause marketing should include both -- as well as many other strategies -- in an integrated approach. It needs to craft stories that inspire people to take action, presenting those stories in myriad forms and prompting action in both storefronts and on social fronts.

So the broad definition of cause marketing should be ideas with business and social impact.

Specific interpretations aside, too often nonprofit organizations ask corporations for funds without providing a real partnership. And too often brands ask causes for their logos without providing real programs. Jason Saul of Mission Measurement said it best at the recent Cause Marketing Forum Conference in Chicago: "Cause marketing must shift from fundraising to selling impact."

To make the good work greater, there needs to be more collaboration and sharing -- among like-minded nonprofits and national, regional and local entities; among the for-profit and nonprofit sectors; and among clients on both sides of the profit fence and their outside service providers, including agencies.

Cause marketing, much like digital marketing, will continue to evolve from a specialized discipline to a more integral component of an overall strategy. The qualitative and quantitative results are simply too powerful to ignore. But it will always require the specialized gifts and talents of people driven to do more.

Procter & Gamble Co., at the recent Cause Marketing Forum Conference, shared a quote from its CEO in 1973 that still guides its cause strategy to this day: "Business is only a means to an end, and the end is a constantly improving society." My pithier version: Done right, doing what's right always turns out right.

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