Cause Marketing: New Paths For Good Goals

Let me be clear - I would be thankful if you passed this article along to others in/outside of your industry and social graph.

If you asked Donald Trump to describe his business like a board game, he would probably compare it to Monopoly. Then he would buy your mother and tattoo “Trump” on her forehead in bold, gold letters.

You and I are a bit more cerebral about our industry – which is why I compare media relations to chess. It takes strategy, finesse, a little luck and some art. Sadly, I’ll probably never meet your mom, because she won’t be caught dead in the bars where we hang out.

Strategy for the marketing game varies depending on the medium. Traditional media calls for more of a cutthroat style. But social media requires you to keep all the pieces on the board, while progressively optimizing throughout the campaign. And the thing I continually preach about social is to avoid selling yourself. Pursue blatant, direct sales in social meda – and you will turn off the vast majority of your audience.

© Allan Shoemake

But there is one segment where the rules change. “Cause Marketing” is a different game altogether. It is subject to different rules, tactics and social interpretations. You can take great liberties with your approach, given that you are honest, candid and you have pure intent. So while I’ve preached a lot of hard rules and best practices for social media in general - they do not apply in all cases.

Such was the case when blogger and dear friend John Terry reached out to me with a post about teens in foster care, and their all-too-frequent descent into homelessness. And while I've had a great deal of pro bono clients in the past, it's interesting to reinterpret a position with new tools.

I'm not advocating that social media is the only way to convey the message for a cause. Traditional media and grassroots efforts will benefit you just as much social media. But in this case, let's look at how you can reinterpret the way you approach your social engagement in order to maximize your cause-marketing effectiveness:

  • First and foremost, make sure you have clear and focused goals. Make sure there is an audience willing to support, listen and participate. This means you need to do your due diligence within the category of your cause. If there is another cause dominating vertical, it will be exponentially harder for you to benefit.

John promoted The Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (ODBF). He’s been involved on the fringes for almost two years and has developed personal relationships with key players. Awareness and interest was already established and verified.

  • Unlike normal social outreach, you can ask your friends, fans and followers to perform certain actions you would not normally advocate with an audience bound by a consumer or B-to-B brand. The cause is the brand. Therefore people who are loyal to the brand are loyal to the cause, and are willing to support you with “virtual volunteerism.” Also see 'pay-with-a-tweet' as a good driver too!

ODBF presents a well-developed brand through a professional website, memorable logo and organized infrastructure. These elements combine make readers more comfortable with a request to support the organization

  • Have a clear idea of what you want the audience to do for you. Do you intend to seek donations? Do you intend to have an event that would raise funds or awareness? Do you require physical participation at a specific time or place? Within this mindset, think critically about the schedule, its frequency, and being respectful of your audience’s time and attention. While people can be exceptionally giving when they are moved, they can turn quickly if they feel exploited. 

John made it clear in this post that he wanted people to do one simple thing: Pre-order a book prior to the wide release by Random House. He highlighted the inexpensive price of the book, and provided buy links.

  • Sharing is an extremely powerful aspect of cause marketing. Ask the first layer of your social graph to pass along a message, and the ripple effect takes over. Therefore when you post, Tweet or upload additional material regarding your cause, tactfully request that they pass along the information to others who will find it useful. This extension may not immediately become one of your metrics, however it will add to your bell curve of potential social growth.

In this case, John was low-key about asking his social graph to pass along the message. But there’s a catch: He’s familiar enough with his audience to know that many of them would take it upon themselves. His low-key nod to sharing is the sentence in which he suggests people buy multiple copies and give them to teens who need inspiration.

  • Do your research. Make sure you look against the marketplace to determine other key subject matter experts within your cause, and friend or follow them. These SMEs can make great guest bloggers, advocates - or celebrity guests if you have an event.
  • When you promote and support a cause, your friends, fans and followers might leap to the conclusion that you are a thought leader in that space. Therefore, progressively support your communication efforts with slide-share presentations, documentation and related data as your cause finds an audience. 

You don’t always need a lengthy slideshow to make your point. John’s post contains two key facts that resonate with his audience: Half the kids in foster care “age out” without earning a high-school diploma or GED. And 50 percent of them experience homelessness within six months. 

  • Reach out to related groups, bloggers and associated local and/or national events to gain more traction within your cause’s space. There is a lot of competition for time and money from philanthropic people. So network as much as possible, and give them a reason to make the emotional connection and fiscal investment in your cause. You might want to tier your request for money based on the user’s commitment and longevity within your cause. Consider long-term followers as VIPs, and/or brand ambassadors. And you must treat them as such. Give them special attention.
  • If you're just starting on a local level, it might be in your best interest to seek a like-minded nonprofit to work with when raising funds. Therefore if you create an event or campaign, you can combine your efforts and maximize your draw with a larger audience. And while you might have unique goals and directives, make sure your awareness is balanced and within the same "mindset" as the partner organization.
  • When seeking local sponsorship, ask if you can tap into their social media base as well. Pre-construct some Tweets, posts, blog entries, and supporting information so you don't make extra work for anyone who tries to help.
  • It's incredibly important that you maintain constant engagement with this audience. Even more so than a typical commercial brand, these people are loyalists on a different level. They feel a direct emotional connection to your content and goals. 

Singer-songwriter Kevin Montgomery is the brother of “My Orange Duffel Bag” co-writer Echo Garrett, and later this year he will tour all 50 states of the U.S. in 50 days to raise awareness of the ODBF. John teases the audience and shows his commitment by promising more news about the tour as shows are booked.

  • Actively update and communicate with your audience throughout the campaign. Tell them about your successes as well as your defeats. To maximize your effectiveness within cause marketing, you need to actively build on your intent and show ongoing commitment.
  • Lastly, it's important to make the material personal. Don’t simply publish written communication. Include photos, video, and any additional supporting media that will give your audience a sense of the effectiveness of your efforts. And while you're running a current campaign or fundraiser, it’s wise to prepare your audience for what is coming in the future. The commitment they feel toward the cause must start with you.

John’s post includes photos and embedded videos that help tell the story, and create deeper engagement from his readers.

I hope this helps you grow your cause-marketing effort. And as always, if you feel like you have something to add, or I've missed something, please feel free to reach out. I would love to hear from you! All my best.