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B2B Marketing

The Time is Right for Cause-Related Marketing

Cause-related marketing (CRM), the pairing of non-profit and for-profit enterprises for co-marketing purposes, has been around for decades. The strategy may or may not be a part of a company’s corporate responsibility charter, but businesses from Ford to ConAgra to American Express have found that supporting a social cause through marketing channels can yield a big payday – and build corporate strength.

In the era of global marketing, there is no shortage of causes to build a marketing campaign around. Famine, education, disasters and disease exist around the world. Though traditionally executed only through offline channels, CRM has been a component of the integrated marketing approaches of some companies since 2006.


Records show one of the first of these campaigns was developed between Marriott Hotels and the March of Dimes Foundation in 1976. The partnership promoted the opening of a Marriott family entertainment center in California while boosting donations to an MOD program. A campaign in 1979 paired Famous Amos cookies and the Literacy Volunteers of America. In 1982, Nancy Brinker began courting enterprises to add the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to their marketing paradigms.
Since then corporate sponsorship dollars spent on CRM has grown to over a billion dollars. According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship spending by U.S. and Canadian companies topped $16.9B in 2009.

Opportunities for Co-branding

The cause doesn’t always have to be an external element. For example, the “green revolution” has provided enterprises with opportunities to address the environmental impact of their operations and create awareness through branding. Look at Walmart: the company decided to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner, and it’s increased its visibility of eco-friendly practices through fleet and store signage and supply chain requirements. Synergy with corporate values, operations and image is an important criterion for selecting the right cause to partner with. Marketing experts often recommend allowing a cause to find you rather than the opposite.

Latest Trends

Two promotions have evolved for product enterprises:

1) Buy one, give one. When a consumer buys a product, another unit is donated to a needy cause. For example, BoGoLight, a solar flashlight company, provides one flashlight to its Light Haiti campaign for every one sold.

2) Donation contest. A company will set aside a percentage of profits and request charitable organizations to apply for funding. Then the enterprise will hold a voting contest to determine which nonprofit(s) will receive a donation. Awards are based upon the number of votes received from the public by each nonprofit.

Social media provides an organic channel to promote brand and cause. The worldwide potential market presents an attractive audience because there are so many causes to contribute to. By integrating the enterprise website or cause-specific web pages into a CRM campaign, marketing executives can gain valuable data about which customers favor corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The channels for CRM have evolved from one-time, onsite promotions to annual campaigns that enhance visibility, such as the partnership between the National Football League and the Komen Foundation; each year players, officials, personnel and others don pink garments to build awareness for Komen’s breast cancer cause. Some apparel can later be purchased, with a portion going to the Foundation.

The dawn of the millennium appears to have brought a heightened awareness about social, environmental, health and economic causes. Enterprises now have another bullet in their marketing chamber. As social-conscious millenials exert more buying power, the company that ignores CSR and CRM risks losing its business to a more aggressive cause-related marketer.

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