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Cause Marketing: Preparing for a courtship

Cause marketing is a growing industry (reaching more than $2 billion in 2016) and a growing consumer expectation of businesses – but what makes a good cause marketing partnership?

As the definition states, cause marketing is a business strategy, not an act of charity. So, while the social and/or environmental impacts are important, a good cause marketing partnership should deliver both a return on investment for the business and advance the charitable mission of the nonprofit. While there are several great cause marketing partnerships, many businesses and nonprofits struggle to broker these relationships. A cause marketing partnership, like any relationship, requires that you know yourself first, then look for a complementary match. Two organizations unsure of who they are, what they want or how they can work together creates frustration and disappointment.

Here are three questions to ask yourself as you begin your cause marketing courtship:

What do you want from the cause marketing partnership?

A cause marketing partnership will require work – time, talent and resources – so it is important to define success and be transparent about your expectations in the beginning. Ultimately, both partners will have to account for the cause marketing effort, so acknowledging and discussing each partners’ objectives can help manage expectations and minimize conflict.

Common Motivations for Cause Marketing Partnerships

Who do you want to reach?

When pursuing a cause marketing partnership, it is important to know who you want to talk to. Clif Bar’s Brooke Golden described a cause marketing partnership as being like “any other brand collaboration...where you can come together around a shared voice and message to amplify both your efforts.”

Businesses and nonprofits have carefully crafted brands that already engage a core audience of loyal followers. This core audience is an asset and an opportunity in a cause marketing partnership. You should pursue a partner that aligns with the interests of your existing audience and/or provides additional reach into your core audience. In a collaboration between The Walt Disney Company and, a new children’s coding tutorial was developed called Moana WayFinding With Code. Audience engagement was a core asset and measure of success for both organizations in this cause marketing partnership. Disney’s Moana had generated significant character affinity among young viewers drawing them to the new coding tutorial, and’s existing base of young users reached into the key movie-goer-markets where Disney sought a boost Moana viewership in theaters.

How do you engage the audience?

Some moments are more opportune than others for trying to engage your audience. Round-up suggestions at checkout and embedding messages into existing communication channels, for example, seamlessly integrate into the individuals expected journey rather than calling them off into a new activity. This careful thinking about where and how your audience will encounter your cause marketing campaign (the user journey) should not be neglected in partnership discussions. An “if we build it, they will come” approach leaves a lot of room for failure. Rather, spend some time understanding how individuals currently experience each partners’ products and/or programs to identify the opportunities to engage your shared target audience.

The Alzheimer’s Research U.K. agency partnered with Shazam, a song identification app, to launch a cause marketing campaign that raised awareness of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s among a younger audience. Rather than just post ads with symptom descriptions, Shazam programmed its app to show signs of forgetfulness before ultimately providing the song details. This creative experience provided the educational content to the target audience while keeping them on the expected journey within the app.

If you do your homework before approaching a prospective partner you will be better prepared to communicate the strategic value a cause marketing partnership can yield. Nonprofits should not approach businesses to discuss a cause marketing partnership expecting charity, and businesses should not approach nonprofits with plans for a PR blitz masked as cause marketing. Transparency and authenticity are a foundation of a good cause marketing partnership.

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