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Cause Marketing Really Works

Cause Marketing Really Works

A small business with virtually no budget can earn itself profitable marketing visibility if it thinks creatively and aligns itself with the right cause.

Customers and celebrities alike will break all the conventional commercial rules when they feel they are doing so for a worthwhile charity or other feel-good reasons.

Just think of all of the celebrities who donated their endorsements and talents to participate in this summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which in less than one month raised more than $110 million for the nonprofit organization. The Ice Bucket Challenge was not conceived by some large advertising agency or sophisticated marketing team.  It was a grassroots, bottoms up, concept that went viral in a major league way.

Two years ago, at this time of year, I was challenged with the question of how to get more people to donate socks to Colorado’s homeless population.  Winter is a brutal time to be without proper footwear.

Two dedicated local businesswomen had begun the socks drive a year earlier, but only managed to collect about 600 pairs.  They approached me to use my experience as a “buzz snatcher” – i.e. grabber of the public’s attention – to help them.

My concept was simple. We selected a random day in early December and designated it as No Socks To Work Day. Instead of wearing socks on the job that day, we asked locals to donate a new pair of socks to us.  In conjunction with No Socks To Work Day, we also asked business owners, politicians and celebrities to let us photograph them wearing shoes, but no socks.

In less than two weeks, we received donations of more than 10,000 pairs of socks, thanks, in part, to participation by the Mayor of Denver, the coach of the Denver Nuggets basketball team, and numerous local radio and television personalities.

Please note, however, it’s not just celebrities who want to help a worthy cause.  What made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge so successful were the millions of unknowns who also stood in front of the camera, poured chilled water over their heads, and asked that their friends do likewise.

So you own a retail store or provide a service and are in a marketing rut.  Not enough people know you or take advantage of your services.  How can you quickly and inexpensively change that?

The two women who originally approached me about their socks drive fit that description. Both were struggling to get noticed in the business world.  One was a kids’ educational book author; the other a local holistic healer and instructor.


Denver Mayor Michael Hancock Without Socks

Getting the Mayor of Denver to endorse their businesses would have been a nonstarter.  But asking Mayor Michael Hancock to pose with pant legs raised and his bare ankles showing, was actually quite easy.  The exposure generated by the socks drive was a big win for everyone involved.

Cause marketing needn’t always tie in to a formal charity, either.  One way to do well for your business, and your conscience, is to donate some products, services or time to a needy individual or group of individuals.  Closing your offices for a day to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or visit the sick and elderly can build a great deal of customer and client goodwill. (Be sure to alert the media, blog about it, post photos on your social networks, etc.)

Consider offering your customers and prospects a special deal where they can share in your charitable pursuits by purchasing your products or services – with a percentage of the sale going to charity, or dropping a donation off at your store.  A local, small dry cleaning chain here in Denver for years accepted donations of stuffed animals, which it cleaned for free and then donated to global children’s charities.  The stuffed animals promotion drew in thousands of first-time customers.

Just this month, a business friend of mine posted a video he created for YouTube in which he got some minor celebrities to help him propose marriage.  Most of those appearing on the video had to explain what roles they played in movies or on TV, or I wouldn’t have recognized them.

But saving the best for last, my friend also persuaded Bono – he of U2 fame – to appear for free on his amateur YouTube proposal video.  No doubt Bono has a soft spot in his heart for love. [Watch the video here:]

As a small business owner, you have to find a cause that your customers and some celebrities will warm to, be it ALS donations or matrimony.  Of course, you will have to be patient and willing to have many people say “no” when you seek their participation.  But keep your eyes on the goal.  It is those who say “yes” who will elevate you and your business from obscurity to the limelight. And, as a bonus, you’ll feel good about what you accomplish.

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by Dean Rotbart // Host of Monday Morning Radio and originator of the “Buzz Snatching” workshops designed to help small business owners generate low-cost viral marketing campaigns. He has advised hundreds of small business owners and entrepreneurs on public relations, social media, strategic marketing events, and general reputation management.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.