10 ways not to epically fail at cause marketing

10 Ways NOT to Epically Fail at Cause Marketing

The phrase “epic fail” can be used to describe a lot of unfortunate events. Perhaps this adequately describes the keish you tried to make for your best friend’s going away brunch? Or worse, you didn’t have a back-up plan for your outdoor wedding ceremony and a monsoon hit. Regardless of the experience, we have all been there.

Many CEO’s would say they attribute failure to the reason they achieved their biggest successes. No one likes to hear this immediately after making a big mistake, but once our ego’s get out of the way, we can agree that failure is a large part of being human. Failure is often described as:





In fact, here are some of the best epic company fails of recent times.

Either way, avoiding missteps and attempting to do things correctly the first time is the goal. Most of us would do research and even take a longer approach to solving a problem, especially when it comes to uncharted territory for your business like cause marketing. Improvement comes regardless.

Understanding Cause Marketing

By definition, Cause Marketing is the marketing of a for-profit product or business which benefits a nonprofit (or nonprofits) or supports a social cause (or causes) in some way.

Perhaps you’re an experienced cause marketer already. For those newbies to this marketing tactic, this idea may make you nervous. Marketing combined with social good might seem unconventional or risky. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling this way. We will address that sentiment in a bit.

Let’s first begin by reframing your thinking.

Cause marketing is far more common that most people realize and has gone from a $120 million industry in 1990 to more than $2 billion in 2016. Companies and nonprofits alike believe in the power it can provide for both entities. Additionally, research shows that more than 84 percent of global consumers want to buy socially or environmentally responsible services and products. Still not convinced? Here are some great examples of cause marketing done right.

Doing Cause Marketing the Right Way

As with anything, cause marketing can be executed incorrectly. Though we’d like to assume the best in all companies, cause marketing has been ridiculed and pegged to not only seem inauthentic, but at its worse, has detracted from the brand purpose and good the company is trying to do (even if their hearts were in the right place…). As a skeptic, you are not 100% wrong. Rather than tell you and your company how to create a successful cause marketing campaign (Kim Gordon has some simple tips in this Forbes article on that), we are going to tell you 10 Ways NOT to epically fail at cause marketing.

  1. Be Real – Your customers better believe you when you say “I care about the causes you care about” or “This cause is important to us because…”. If you are just doing something for PR benefits, you won’t get away with it. KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure” is a perfect example of one campaign gone wrong. 
  2. Talk to your customers first – What causes matter to those you are trying to engage? You will definitely not nail your focus down to one cause, so instead consider a focus area (healthcare, environment, education etc.) or even allow your customers to decide on the specific organizations they want to support. It should align with your brand and mission in some way (think TOMS® shoes and giving shoes to those in need).
  3. Focus on the right goals – One of the main goals for any company should be to drive brand affinity as a result of cause marketing. Look beyond the traditional customer loyalty measures which can be short-sighted and not inclusive of a personal and emotional relationship with your customers.
  4. Get social (media) happy – Knowing that Americans spend most of their online time on social media sites (does anyone else find this concerning?), use this knowledge to your advantage. Social media is a great way to research prior to launch and make your campaign go further with custom hashtags and the virality of social media to promote your campaign.
  5. Measure, Manage, and MultiplyKnow the goals of both your company and the organization(s) you wish to support, how you plan to achieve them, and how you can double down on any efforts your customers put toward the program. You want them to care, but you may need to do more to show them how important they are to the success of the program.
  6. Ask your employees – Your employees are developing close relationships with your customers. It would be a major miss not to get them involved. Build excitement around your cause marketing initiatives and involve a diverse group (not just CSR or Marketing) into the overall campaign strategy.
  7. Research community needs – Perhaps you run a local coffee shop and it is very clear as to what nonprofits need support in your area. For other Fortune 1000 companies, it is more difficult. The global nature of business has expanded our reach and overall needs for businesses to do good. While a single cause marketing campaign may be short-sighted, businesses with a national or global reach may be most suited for a solution that allows customers to support their specific community needs. Based on research among DoTopians, givers appreciate the ability to support nonprofits that are doing work that is visible in their communities.
  8. Be proud – As a company, you should be proud of the positive work you are doing in the pursuit to make the world a better place. Be prepared that regardless of how well executed your program is, internet trolls and haters will find their way to you. The more positive energy and employee excitement you infuse into your program, the more successful it will be.
  9. One and Done Doesn’t Work – If you are committed to aligning purpose to profits, you can’t just expect to do one campaign every year and for it to appear genuine. Cause marketing campaigns may be one-off initiatives, but you must find ways to engage customers in social good with your company all year. Providing DoDollars® as a part of a traditional customer loyalty program is one way you could remind customers of your desire to be seen as a socially good company, not just when it is convenient to do a marketing campaign.
  10. Share positive financial expectations with leadership – Real talk here. Your CMO is going to want to know the return of cause marketing whether that be in the form of leads, conversions, sales, and ultimately profitability for your company. This is NOT a bad thing. In fact, if businesses do not continue to be profitable, our nonprofits will be missing out on a lot of financial support, around $50 billion dollars. There is proof everywhere now as to why being a socially good company will lead to higher profits. American Express led the cause marketing movement with the company’s famous partnership with the nonprofit group that was raising funds to restore the statue of liberty during a three-month campaign. Often cited as the birth of cause marketing, American Express card usage rose 27 percent and new card applications increased 45 percent over the previous year. Customers want to see brands doing good and the reward will come in the form of greater profitability for your company.

If you can’t already tell, we are big fans of cause marketing and have witnessed numerous success stories on behalf of both the brand and the causes. Hopefully your company has already started giving your customers and employees what they are asking for in today’s socially tuned-in and giving oriented climate. If not, it is never too late to start. You should have also gathered that cause marketing is not a one size fits all solution nor is it the end game. As brands continue to pursue a greater purpose outside of sole profitability, your company will need an ongoing plan to attract and build affinity with your customers. We know one simple thing is for certain…

No one ever became poor by giving.

Next time you have the opportunity, remind your company.


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