Christian Retailing

Industry Forum: Marketing from the heart Print Email
Written by Toni Birdsong, Co-owner and communications strategist, Birdsong Creative   
Thursday, 07 February 2013 11:05 AM America/New_York

ToniBirdsongConsumer sentiment moves businesses to consider causes they want to support

Cause marketing is taking place all around you. It can be seen everywhere from the local fitness center’s “10K to Cure Heart Disease” to Yoplait’s nationwide “Save Lids to Save Lives” to TOMS “One for One” campaign that sends shoes to kids in Third World countries. Corporations and charities are teaming up to make a difference—and generating revenue (and donors) in the process. 

And, by all accounts, consumers like it. According to a 2012 Edelman Goodpurpose Study, 87% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on its own interests.

Numbers from 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study reveals:

  • 83% of Americans wish more of the products, services and retailers they use would support causes.
  • 80% of consumers are willing to switch from one brand to another that is about the same in price and quality—if the other brand is associated with a good cause. 
  • 61% are willing to try a new brand or one they have never heard of if it’s associated with a cause.

A few factors that have contributed to the rise in cause marketing are a consumer base that includes more socially minded millennials; increased consumer-brand engagement via social media; and corporate efforts to innovate and compete in a tough economy. 

But, it should be noted that it’s not enough to simply hook your brand to a cause, nor is cause marketing for everyone. Some basic principles need to take root before you will see the cause marketing rewards of increased brand awareness, customer loyalty, a competitive advantage and a boost to revenue.



Think outside the box. If you own a store and truly desire to connect with your customers’ “cause hot buttons,” take a survey at the counter over the course of a week or send one out via e-blast. What social issues most concern your customers—missions, evangelism, at-risk youth, hunger, sex trafficking? Ask them to rank their concerns. Research how to align with an organization, publisher, author, ministry or church that already spearheads these issues. 

Make sure your cause is a good corporate fit. When you consider a nonprofit partner, make sure it’s a strong brand fit on both sides of the table. Make sure both teams contribute real value and authenticity to the mission.

Head first, heart second. Not every cause is a fit for your brand. Be strategic. Study connections that work: TOMS/shoes for kids, Yoplait yogurt/breast cancer cure, Oil of Olay/skin cancer prevention. Committing to a cause long-term is a decision that is head-first (strategic) and heart-second (passion). That commitment also needs corporate support from the top down. The partnership should extend your brand personality and further tell the story of who you are and what values your company embraces. Ask yourself what matters most to you, your employees and your customers. You will work harder for a cause that is fueled by both strategy and passion, in that order. 



Be authentic and communicate clearly. People will move on your behalf if they determine you are sincere, consistent and focused in your mission and message. Your primary task is to communicate—succinctly and with rabid consistency—the definitive impact you are making in the world. Authenticity communicated well builds brand trust—the holy Grail of repeat business. And, authenticity—not inspiration—is what pays the bills. 

Tell a great story. Getting people to listen depends on your ability to tell a compelling story. People want to align with companies that do good, but they also want to know where their money goes and if it’s truly making an impact. 

As we recently experienced with one of our clients, HEAL Ministries, revamping your message and telling your story in a compelling way is key to creating raving fans. In HEAL’s case, no matter how passionate the ministry communicated the mission, potential donors eventually tuned out when the ministry repeatedly asked them to donate money for Bibles to send to widows and orphans in Uganda. They tuned in when we decided to tell the same story, but in a more compelling and consistent way—and giving increased. 

Integrate your marketing. It takes more than Facebook fans and Twitter followers to carry a cause campaign over time. Tell your story consistently and powerfully across targeted marketing channels such as your website or blog, radio or online ads, TV, email marketing, speaking engagements, community events or editorial placement. 

Tell people what you are doing. In the past, companies have avoided appearing boastful about their charitable deeds. However, as the economy limps along and customers leverage online platforms to voice their like or dislike of companies, savvy brands realize that marketing is a two-way conversation in which the consumer has a say—and a pretty big one at that! Not only do consumers want to hear about a company’s good deeds, they expect to, and they want to personally, and publically, be aligned with that cause.

For example, our company recently aligned with The Autism Society of Middle Tennessee. While the group came to us initially for services, it didn’t take long for us to transition from vendor to advocate and tie this group’s mission to our company. We’ve communicated our alliance with this group and supported their efforts on our social channels. By raising awareness for autism, we’ve created an extension of our own brand values of community, education and advocacy around causes we believe in. 

You can’t fake cause marketing. If you are genuine and communicate your cause consistently and well, your customers will likely engage with you at a higher level. This means you end up evangelizing with your business purpose and your business, which is always a win-win.

Doing good is indeed good for business. To be successful, businesses must evolve with and respond to the demands of an increasingly socially minded consumer base. 

Properly executed cause marketing has the potential to fill an important need, create brand loyalty and give your customers one more reason to purchase from you. And at the end of the day, that matters.