Insights | April 9, 2020

Cause Marketing in a Time of Crisis

It’s been remarkable to see how many organizations and businesses are changing strategies and models to create opportunities for giving back. At a time like this, we’re hitting a tipping point where all businesses need to do something. And we want to do something. But many of us are wondering how and where – especially when resources are tight.

By Braden Douglas

The good news is that nobody has the right answer. Even the leaders of our country are trying their best to come up with solutions. We’re all trying to figure this out which means it’s going to be okay to fail a bit.

So, what is cause marketing, and how is it different from philanthropy? These are two separate approaches for giving that frequently get mixed up. Cause marketing is when you have a dual purpose to your promotional strategy, where you intend to drive sales and revenue while bettering society.

A great example we all know well is TOMS. Likely the pioneers of the one-for-one model; if you buy one pair of TOMS shoes, they’re going to give another pair for free to people in need. That’s cause marketing, where you’re driving revenue and sales, but also doing good for the planet, for society, for others in need.

Philanthropy is giving without expecting anything in return. Its where you see a need and are giving to that cause and charity without expecting anything in return. And there are a lot of great businesses and organizations that do that frequently.

So, with these two approaches, let’s look at some examples of how organizations are talking about COVID, and consider whether it’s cause marketing or philanthropy.

  1. Airbnb is reducing rates with hosts for 100,000 healthcare providers.
  2. TULA skincare has an offer where if you buy one of their skincare masks, all proceeds will go to purchase face masks for the New York City healthcare providers.
  3. Danone has just donated $200,000 to The Breakfast Club of Canada organization to help feed the kids that used to rely on getting meals at school. Belairdirect has also donated 500,000 to that same program.
  4. Bauer, which makes hockey equipment, has retooled its manufacturing to make face shields to supply the healthcare system.
  5. Zoom is offering free services to schools and has also dropped their 40-minute meeting time limit.
  6. Audible has launched hundreds of free titles for children and students.
  7. Crocs is donating 10,000 pairs of shoes every day to health care providers. Currently, they have 400,000 people waiting to receive them.
  8. Serta Simmons Bedding is donating 10,000 mattresses to New York City hospitals right now, and they’re asking other partners to do the same.
  9. Verizon is donating 2.5 million to help local nonprofit initiatives during this time.
  10. The Carvery Sandwich Shop in White Rock, BC is delivering free meals to healthcare providers and hospitals each day, and challenging other restaurants to do the same.

How would we categorize these? And is it better to have philanthropy, or is it better to have cause marketing? Here’s my answer: both are right as long as the cause is greater than the expectation of return.

When you’re deciding what to do as an organization, here are four things I suggest you keep in mind:

  1. Stay in your lane. Stay true to your purpose. When you’re asking yourselves what you should be doing, and how, staying in your lane is key. For example, Zoom isn’t going out and trying to do something that they don’t excel in. They’re giving away or providing their services to those who need it. Don’t try to create a whole new division or element to your business. It’s more important to look at your core competency and purpose and find ways to leverage and channel that.
  2. Understand the need. If you’ve been around me long enough, you know that I put a lot of focus on getting to know your audience and understanding what the need is in the market. Instead of replicating what others are doing, ask healthcare workers, customers, organizations in your area, or your employees, “what do you need, and where can we help?” Reach out to your customers and ask them what issues they are dealing with that you could help with. Really understand the need before you jump in and start to do something.
  3. Start small. I can’t emphasize this enough. When we hear these examples, it feels so big. You may feel like it’s working for other organizations because they have the means and resources, and you don’t have a lot. The key is to start small. Use what you have, where you have it, and just take that next step. The answer is not to become paralyzed. Marketers are prone to paralysis because we tend to think we have to do something big or cool. It’s got to be great and to reflect our brand in new ways. I don’t think that’s true. If you have a cause that you feel passionate about that aligns with the benefit of your product and service, just start to take small steps within that.
  4. Be consistent. You have to quell your expectations that it’s going to lead to some massive return or great PR, etc. You just have to be consistent. Whenever you do something for the first time, it’s going to be scary. It’s not going to feel good. You might ask yourself, “am I doing this right? Is it even helping? Should we be doing this?” You’re going to question a lot. My advice is to stay consistent, start small, and over time you’ll progress and then can measure effectiveness.

That’s why I think it’s so important to make sure that the cause is bigger than the expected return or the expense.

There are hundreds of organizations and small businesses right now finding new ways to give and offer support during this time. When it comes to deciding what that looks like for your business, there’s no right answer. It all comes down to what is manageable for you and aligning it with your purpose and the needs of those you want to serve.

If you are looking for ideas, we’d love to have a conversation and help point you in the right direction. True to our vision of being A Global Brand for Good, we work directly with numerous non-profit organizations as well as encourage and help clients integrate with charitable causes they feel passionate about. It’s an area of business we’re most proud of and continue to make a priority.