Cause Marketing and COVID-19

We recently gave some tips for communications and marketing projects you can be working on in the midst of COVID-19. One topic that came up briefly during that last video was cause marketing. We wanted to revisit that today to share a bit more about what exactly cause marketing is and how it relates to COVID-19, as well as a few steps you can take to develop an effective cause marketing campaign.

So. Let’s dive in.

What is cause marketing?

Cause marketing is a type of campaign that rallies behind a particular cause, organization, or effort for the greater good. Even though it’s got the word “marketing” in its name, we like to think of cause marketing as a PR campaign since it focuses on a business’s “why.” (Click here to read a little more about how marketing represents a business’s “what” — what product or service we offer — while PR represents the “why” — why we exist, why we do what we do, etc.)

Cause marketing can come in a variety of forms. A cause marketing campaign could involve offering free products or services, funding for a community initiative, etc. But we figured the easiest way to explain cause marketing would be to give a few examples:

  • Donation of labor. When I worked at Collier Construction, we worked on a number of cause marketing projects. One that came to mind during our video recording was when Collier repaired the eagle enclosure at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center. Most businesses wouldn’t have the skills, expertise, or equipment to pull off a project like this, but Collier did. In addition to being such a unique opportunity, the project aligned with Collier’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
  • Use of existing company resources. When David worked at Bellhops, the company donated moving services on slower days to benefit seniors who needed help rearranging furniture, as well as food pantries in multiple cities. Not only did this enable them to make a personal touch with the organizations and individuals they helped, but they also had a chance to get a branded moving truck out on the road for added brand awareness opportunities.
  • Donation of tools and services. One of our clients, Text Request, began offering their business texting tool free of charge to local restaurants whose dining rooms are closed due to COVID-19. This campaign was born out of an obvious need to help area restaurants who were struggling to adapt to an influx of delivery and curbside pickup orders as opposed to the traditional dining room setting most were accustomed to.

Developing your own cause marketing campaign.

If you have already outlined your goals for philanthropy within your business, a cause marketing campaign can be developed using those same themes. The best cause marketing campaigns are those that align with what you do and/or what you value. (For instance, if you make hiking shoes, it would make a lot of sense to develop a cause marketing campaign around trail maintenance, planting trees, camping opportunities for kids… The list goes on.)

If you haven’t outlined specifics around your company’s plan for giving back, now is a great time to do so. (After all, many of us have a bit more time on our hands at the moment with traveling to and from the office/meetings removed from our daily routines!)

Once you have a concept of the types of causes you’d like to rally behind:

  1. Ask yourself: What can I realistically give? You want to give what you know you’re great at! Not only do you want this to be a slam dunk for the individuals or organizations who are benefiting from your good deeds, but you also want to make sure that what you offer won’t stretch yourself or your team too thin, especially during a climate of uncertainty like we have right now. Start with a smaller offering if you’re conflicted. (Your “lower tier” offering may be a luxury to a young business or nonprofit!)
  2. Be specific about what you’re giving. If you’ve been on a board, worked for a nonprofit, or been involved in pro bono projects, you may have seen a project that started with good intentions go awry — David and I definitely have. In every situation we could think of where a cause marketing effort led to frustration (for the donor, the recipient, or both parties), the frustration could always be tied back to a lack of expectation setting in the earliest stages of the project.
  3. Make sure the project aligns with your business objectives. As you’re coming up with ideas, remember: The easier it is to draw a line from your business to the cause or organization you’re supporting, the easier it will be to tell the world about the partnership.

Don’t hesitate to spread the word.

We’ve had clients in the past who have done incredible things for our community but are reluctant to talk about those efforts for fear of sounding disingenuous. We totally understand this sentiment, but taking an authentic and caring approach from the outset of project development will ensure that your cause marketing efforts are well received. And in many cases, the more people who know about what you’re doing, the more people will benefit from it. (For instance, if EPB in Chattanooga didn’t work hard to let folks know they were expanding free access to Wi-Fi recently, then the families who desperately need it for online learning wouldn’t find out.)

So get out there, friends. Figure out how your business can pitch in, and then tell the world about it. We could all use some good news right now.

Have a cause marketing idea you’d like to discuss? Give us a shout.