What Is Cause Marketing and Why It’s Important for Your Business

Marketers are looking for more ways to connect with people while advertising. One of the best ways is through something called “cause marketing.”

What is cause marketing?

brainstormCause marketing is the mutual cooperation between a for-profit and a nonprofit business to raise money or awareness for a particular cause or organization, while simultaneously supporting their own brand. Some of the most popular and influential examples of effective cause marketing campaigns are the 1,000 Playgrounds in 1,000 Days from 2005 to 2008, the ongoing Dove Campaign for Real Beauty since 2004 and the continued Product (Red) campaign since 2006.

Since 2002, IEG has issued reports that indicate that cause marketing has grown exponentially over the past few years. From $816 million in 2002, to a predicted $2 billion in 2016, there is strong evidence that cause marketing will continue to rise in years to come.

Who does cause marketing appeal to?

Everyone.

And yet according to research Millennials are the demographic that connects the most to causes. The recent Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 found that 6 out of 10 millennial workers said that a sense of purpose is the main reason they chose their current company. In general, it seems younger generations are more in tune with charitable giving and feeling like they are making a difference in their everyday lives.

When choosing between two similar brands, Gen Y are more likely to choose to buy from the company that has a strong cause marketing campaign or possesses a fervent desire to help those in need or the environment. Additionally, recent millennial impact research suggests that the vast majority of millennials feel the need to trust the cause they are giving – and they would stop giving if they felt that trust was lost. To capitalize on this unique demographic, businesses must be careful about which nonprofit they partner with and what message they intend to support.

It can be time, money, in-kind donations, or all of those

The great thing many times about cause marketing is that how you give depends on what you have to give. If you’re a technology company, you can give in-kind donations — old laptops, servers, keyboards, mobile devices, etc. If you’re a legal firm, you can give back with services — legal advice. If you’re a creative agency, you can put together some killer programs and flyers.

You can sanction employees to work on your behalf. Many companies do this for Habitat for Humanity and a variety of other organizations like PBS.

And of course, your company can provide money — even offering up the opportunity to match whatever employees give.

Choose the right nonprofit for your business

While a large majority of consumers report that a quality partnership between a brand they like and a cause they believe in makes the campaign most appealing, there are still concerns. For example, if customers believe in a particular nonprofit’s mission, but sees that it partners with a business they don’t trust or believe in, they may view this act as insincere or manipulative.

For this reason, businesses must ensure that their cause marketing campaign aligns authentically with that of their particular brand, service or product. This way, they can successfully support the cause they are highlighting, along with the brand name they wish to push in order to draw in more loyal customers.

How to get started

Cause marketingResearch companies that align to your brand — mission, vision, constituents / customers — around a topic your company cares deeply about. For example, if you’re a green landscaping business, maybe you want to support nonprofits who take care of the environment. If you’re a children’s resale shop, maybe you want to ensure children’s health or education. Restaurants might consider working with food banks.

Even nonprofits can do cause marketing. Consider partnering with like-minded organizations that might be considered “competitors” to work toward the common good.

In this way, you’re appealing to new and current customers while doing something good. Everyone benefits.

Don’t Disrupt, Evolve

The “Uber of this.” The “Netflix of that.” In today’s business circles, the companies that successfully pull off a disruptive innovation of their industry become almost instantly legendary. We study them in business school, hold them up as shining examples of forward progress, and brainstorm ways that our own organizations can think differently in order to operate differently.

As a result, disruptive innovation has become decidedly trendy. And as with all trends, it now faces a backlash. The pundits are declaring disruption dead. New studies claim to strike down the original evidence behind the theory. There is, according to the Atlantic, a “growing disjuncture between all this talk of disruption and its actual practice.”

In my opinion, this is manufactured debate created to sell magazines and incite clicks. Disruption isn’t dead. A new Netflix or Uber will come along this year or next and take its place in the annals of MBA case studies. But that’s not what I’m interested in. For every one of those unicorns, there are 100 companies evolving less dramatically, but more impactfully, than their revolutionary counterparts.

Evolution is the new disruptive innovation.

Work from homeIt doesn’t sound as sexy, I know. Evolution by definition is slow, incremental, the opposite of the “big bang” implied in disruptive innovation. But it’s also more diverse. Evolutionary innovation can happen via technology, culture, and infinite combinations thereof. It occurs through natural selection, as consumers and markets drive the success or failure of products and services, or from more defined inciting events – a “punctuated equilibrium” effect brought about by new leadership, product advancements, or technology breakthroughs.

Companies that innovate via evolution are just as successful, if not more so, than their disruptive counterparts. Twitter emerged from a podcast syndication service into a micro-blogging platform. Starbucks started out selling espresso makers. Nintendo began as a playing cards manufacturer in 18th century Japan. And Apple, of course, pivoted from niche PCs to a string of failed devices before refocusing on elegant, user-friendly consumer electronics. The iMac and iPod were not born in a vacuum.

This is the future of innovation. With the amount of available data and almost instant feedback loop between businesses and our customers, we have no excuse for not evolving. We should focus not on the One Big Idea, but on the million small things that make our offerings unique, different, and better than our competitors. Innovation happens via APIs and If This Then That (IFTTT). It grows through company culture that trusts and supports its employees. It thrives changing corporate environments that not only allow for the possibility of failure, but actively encourage it.

Disruption isn’t dead. The process has simply shifted from revolution to evolution. The businesses that succeed will not appear out of nowhere. They will reinvent themselves for survival.

A version of this article first appeared as a CEO Insight in Enterprise Networking Magazine.