Join Forces

Marketing for a charitable cause can benefit your company, too.

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Research shows that two-thirds of Americans consider companies' business practices when deciding what to buy, so what are your actions telling prospective customers about you? In today's cause-conscious era, nearly 90 percent of U.S. consumers say they would switch from one brand or vendor to another if the other were associated with a good cause, according to the "2007 Cone Cause Evolution Survey."

The term "cause marketing" describes a partnership between a business and a charitable cause and the surrounding promotional marketing campaign. It's a superior tool for conferring credibility on a company and can benefit growing businesses that want to earn respect and build name recognition and overall company awareness. Consumer loyalty increases when customers believe you stand for something worthwhile or that their purchases further a worthy cause. Cause marketing is a win-win, and entrepreneurs are using it to make a difference while building their businesses.

For true success, a quick-fix association with a cause or simple lip service won't do the trick. You need an integrated campaign that incorporates an issue-related message. Follow these guidelines for a campaign that will serve your business and the community.

1. Identify potential causes. Your business has a culture and a mission all its own. So select a cause that matches your company's values and allows you and your employees to share time, effort and support that comes from the heart. Your marketing campaign will be most effective if the cause you select relates to your company or its offerings. A clothing boutique, for example, could form an alliance with an organization that provides winter coats for children.

When Gold's Gym International strategically partnered with the American Diabetes Association, it offered information and exercise programs for diabetes prevention and management and promoted the organization's annual cycling fundraising event. Gold's Gym not only raised more than $600,000 for the ADA, but also increased its own telephone inquiries, new-member visits and customer appreciation.

2. Define the partnership. It's vital to select a nonprofit partner that provides mutual support. Choose an organization that's capable of formalizing and carrying out an agreement that will achieve your goals for increased visibility and brand awareness. Define how the organization will use your company logo and name in its press releases, on its website and in other informational materials. Negotiate for opportunities to jointly promote to the organization's constituency through its newsletters, e-mails and events. Also, agree on how your company will be permitted to use the chosen organization's name and logo in your marketing campaign. Select an organization that you can team up with to create new, mutually beneficial marketing campaigns. Then plan for a long-term alliance you can build on year after year.

3. Create an integrated campaign. Cause marketing is all about motivating an audience to take action, usually to raise money or collect goods. That means you need an integrated campaign that educates the audience about the need for their support and how they can help. Make the campaign an integral part of your company's overall marketing strategy and allocate advertising and promotional funds, plus time to run the PR component of your campaign. You can foster interaction between your company and its audience via your website, or you can create a unique site specifically for this purpose. Pantene, for example, created a campaign encouraging women to donate their hair to create free wigs for cancer patients and promoted it via a multifaceted PR effort, events, public service announcements and a campaign website. Once your campaign gathers momentum, you can share the positive results on your site and through the media.

—By Kim T. Gordon

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at smallbusinessnow.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur at smallbizbooks.com.



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