Four tips for effective cause marketing


With everyone eager to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather, it seems like there’s no better time than the week leading up to Earth Day to focus on cause marketing. Movements like the Ice Bucket Challenge and #WomensMarch have shown that social media is a powerful driver of cause-related activism. Especially when it comes from a place of authenticity.

This has brands of all sizes fighting for a piece of the social good pie. Even if it means aligning their marketing with causes that have nothing to with their brands.

Earth Day, an important time to learn about recycling, sustainability, and protecting the planet’s ecosystem, seems to bring out the biggest cause marketing offenders. You know, the brands who try desperately to use any aspect relating to April 22 they can to push their products and services.

In fact, so many brands have started engaging in one form of cause marketing or another, that consumers have become increasingly wary. At best, cause marketing efforts appear to be desperate. At worst, they come off as completely dishonest.

Numerous studies have shown, however, that consumers—especially those in the highly-coveted category of ages 18 to 34—prefer brands that are aligned with some sort of progressive cause. Which means, under the right conditions, the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and #WomensMarch can be duplicated.

Here are four actionable lessons you can learn prior to Earth Day to ensure your cause marketing efforts are a success. 

Keep it simple

While you may have rolled your eyes whenever your elders told you to “Keep it simple, stupid,” it seems they were on to something.

The well-known principal, which states that simple designs perform better than those that are complex, can be considered the number one rule in cause marketing. If you make it too confusing to support your cause marketing efforts or too hard to participate in your cause-related initiative, your work will be for nothing.

For the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the rules were extremely simple. Accept the challenge and ice water drenching or give a donation to ALS. Then it was your turn to pick who was challenged next. Hashtags like #ALSIceBucketChallenge and #IceBucketChallenge made sharing among participants and fans easy.

And share it exactly what numerous participants did. Because it was easy.

Timing is everything

The notion that timing is everything is relevant to many aspects of business, but it is particularly important in terms of running a success cause marketing campaign.

Why? Because when, where, and how you launch your campaign can be the difference between its failure or its success.

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in June and reached a fever pitch by mid-August, which was crucial to its success. Being that it was summer, kids were out of school and workers were enjoying a more relaxed work schedule. There were extended hours of daylight which meant more hours in the day to participate.

As the nature of the challenge was soaking oneself in ice cold water, sunlight and warmth made the concept more appealing. Pouring water on your head wouldn’t have been too exciting in the dead of winter, now would it?

After being devastated by the results of the Presidential Election, Teresa Shook set up a Facebook event to march in protest. When she woke up the morning to nearly 10,000 responses, the Women’s March was born.

Shook’s post was timely and provided a ready-made avenue for those who did not vote the winning candidate to channel their anger. Her one post provided the foundation for support, resources, and action.

It’s doubtful, had the election results swung another way, there would have been any similar organized movement.

Activate your network

Per The Beatles, we all get by with a little help from our friends. Engage your extended network in your cause marketing to further ensure its success.

Especially if your network includes big names, like celebrities.

Celebrities are human, too. They have hopes, dreams, cares, fears, and causes that they go above and beyond to support. If your cause marketing efforts align with their endeavors, it could be a win-win.

Media is interested in celebrities because celebrities draw in audiences. Celebrities are interested in doing something worthy or valuable that furthers a cause they believe in or helps promotes their own personal brand.

Navigating all of this can help secure positive exposure for your cause marketing when the celebrity is engaged and on message.

The Ice Bucket Challenge started when former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates, who has ALS, made the cause personal and leveraged his network of friends and family to spread the word.

The Challenge became viral after a few local Boston celebrities and sport figures participated. Then, their huge followings helped the Challenge explode nationally. The end results were an eclectic mix of celebrities and famous faces taking the Challenge and making donations.

The Women’s March took a similar route to success. From the beginning, founders secured support from well-known women like Gloria Steinem, LaDonna Harris, Angela Davis, and Dolores Huerta by giving them honorary positions.

March organizers than appealed to outspoken celebrities known for supporting female-friendly causes to join their speaker line-up, like America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson, Rabbi Sharon Brous, Sister Simone Campbell, Ashley Judd, Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, and Donna Hylton.

Mind your reputation

If you’re planning on pulling off a successful cause marketing initiative, brand reputation is key. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur or large corporation, everyone representing your brand must be able to clearly articulate why you’re involved.

Especially if the media takes interest in what you’re up to.

You can protect your brand, and take advantage of the media spotlight, by having a well-defined PR strategy in place prior to launching your initiative.

While one Facebook post in November 2016 ignited the Women’s March, it didn’t end there. Between that time and January 2017, supporters found the common themes that bound them to their audience, created a proactive communications plan, and then announced their plans as a united front.

The consistent communication of their shared commitment to both cause and community—extending from the organization’s founders to its youngest supporter—had a powerful impact on not only their turnout, but also the organization’s reputation.

Earth Day, or any day, use the four lessons above and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring your cause marketing efforts are a success.

How do you plan to use cause marketing to advance your brand?

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