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Stellar Partnerships

7 signposts for success in cause marketing

Everything 1980s is back in fashion – shoulder pads, big hair, bold colours, Duran Duran. I should never have cleaned out my closet, as my wardrobe would now be ‘vintage’ and not daggy. During the 1980s and 1990s cause marketing became the new way of corporates and non-profits working together. We were drowning in a sea of fuchsia from the Pink Ribbon campaigns around the world.

Cause marketing has lost its lustre over recent years, as more innovative forms of partnerships have emerged. Some observers noted the rise of ‘consumption philanthropy’ had started to detract from more regular giving, as consumers thought they’d already given to charity. However cause marketing is still a useful part of the partnership mix if done well. Research shows that 71% of Millennials would purchase from a company if they knew some percentage of sale is going to a great charity or cause. This is a generation that’s socially aware and keen to do good. If you want to explore cause marketing, watch for the following signposts to ensure success.

  1. Ask for a minimum guarantee

If you’re aligning your valuable charitable brand with a corporate, you’re putting your brand and reputation on the line. You’re also committing time, resources and effort to developing the cause marketing campaign. The corporate partner is getting a massive brand boost from the relationship with you, and you need an appropriate minimum cash guarantee. The amount will vary depending on the size and duration of the relationship, but you’ll need a clear understanding of projected sales to determine if it’s worth your time. We find that non-profits are approached constantly by start-ups or small businesses that promise big but won’t commit to a minimum guarantee. They’re generally not worth the effort, as they have an unknown brand, and they expect you to do the marketing for them. Far better to suggest they make a corporate donation once their sales are established and you can have them as a simple business supporter, not cause marketing partner.

  1. Look at the product shelf life

Have you checked the back of your pantry lately? I’ve got tins that are older than my kids. If you’re creating an on-pack cause marketing partnership, consider how long your brand will be on their product. You may have intended a time-bound or seasonal campaign, but if the product lasts as long as the baked beans in my pantry, you’re giving away valuable brand association for longer than you expected. Either price the partnership higher or consider moving from on-pack promotion to flyers, shelf displays or online messaging.

  1. On-pack positioning is a mixed blessing

Sometimes making major changes to a product’s packaging can confuse the consumer. When Carman’s changed the packaging of one of their muesli products to pink, for a cause marketing campaign, the sales went down. The consumers were used to the colour codes on the pack that helped them find their favourite cereal and thought it must have different contents. On-pack promotion is also costly for the corporate partner and requires a long lead time. When I worked on one campaign, I had to brief their production HQ in Singapore over 8 months before launch and it required time and negotiation over wording, brand positioning and colour clashes. You may have more flexibility, at a lower cost, with online promotion or simple swing tags.

  1. No endorsements

The nutraceuticals market, with players such as Swisse, Blackmores and Cenovis, is a fast-growing sector. They have big marketing budgets but it’s debatable about whether their products actually work. We’ve seen some organisations try to leverage charity cause marketing campaigns to add credibility to their products, whether its vitamins or environmental claims. As a rule, you should ensure that no campaign carries with it your charity’s endorsement. There’s too much risk to your organisation and it may compromise your status as a trusted, independent voice.

  1. No sales guarantees

Corporates creating cause marketing campaigns obviously want to sell more stuff. But success is dependent on many variables, most of which are not within your control. For example, you can’t control supply issues, weather factors, or competitor campaigns. Nor do you have access to the corporates sales data to understand the factors driving purchasing or the final numbers. Give them the research stats about consumer buying preferences, but don’t be bullied into giving your corporate partner a guarantee of sales.

  1. Get audience involvement

Consumers may love the idea of buying their favourite product and helping their cause. How else can you get them involved and excited? Maybe you can get them to share posts on social media, buy one for a friend, volunteer or learn more. Greater audience involvement leads to better sales for the corporate, more funds for you and the opportunity to broaden your engagement with the buying public.

  1. Make sure there is marketing spend to support the campaign

Simply putting your logo on a corporate’s product won’t ensure sales or engagement with a campaign. It’s always a warning sign when a corporate partner is stingy about the marketing spend that goes with a cause partnership. You may feel obliged to co-opt your marketing team to do the promotion for them, which is a bad idea. Before a cause partnership launches, you should look hard at the types of marketing and promotion that your partner is willing to undertake. It needs significant investment to make cause marketing work, and it shouldn’t come from your budget.

Be aware of these simple signposts and make sure you can maximise the value from a cause marketing partnership. The old can be new again with some careful handling.