“Confessions of a Cause Marketer”

“Confessions of a Cause Marketer”

Over the past several years, we’ve seen Cause Marketing grow into a $2 Billion dollar industry.  Think of any brand, and chances are that you’ll now find some sort of cause attached.  The reason is simple: brands are adopting cause marketing strategies because they work. I’ve seen well-executed cause marketing campaigns lift online engagement rates as much as 10 – 100x for many leading Fortune 100 brands.  There is a question though that is now lingering in many cause marketer’s minds:  Is there such a thing as too much success?


There are some things that we as cause marketers aren’t talking about.  Namely, the cause model as it exists today is starting to get a little stale; the market is becoming overly saturated; and consumers are just seeing more of the same.

Let’s admit it, the cause marketing model is still pretty one-dimensional.  It hasn’t changed much since it’s inception.  Consumers make a purchase or give their attention to an advertisement and in return they can earn a donation that goes to support a charity for a cause they care about.  An entire industry has been built on finding different ways to apply this one basic concept.

It’s becoming clear that it’s time for us to find new ways to evolve the model.   It’s time to start a new conversation about the next generation of cause marketing.  I don’t see this as a problem, but as a great opportunity for all of us to find ways to make a more meaningful impact.  Here are the three areas where I see the greatest need for innovation:

Cause marketing must tell a better story: As human beings, we are conditioned to relate to our world through story.  In order for consumers to make an emotional connection with a cause campaign, they must understand the impact they are making through the stories of the people and places they are affecting.  Cause marketing stories need to be specific, they must be personal, and they’ve got to be relatable.  Most cause marketing campaigns are missing the opportunity to make powerful, genuine connections with consumers because they don’t (or can’t) share these stories.  Let’s face it, capturing and sharing true stories of personal impact can be a real challenge to manage. Especially when dealing with a cause campaign that is running at a national scale.  But it’s a problem we’ve got to solve.  With no story, a cause marketing campaign comes in danger of becoming a transaction and not the meaningful experience we all want to provide.

Cause Marketing should make a more direct impact on the consumer’s life. In 2011, a Cone/Echo Global Study found that 47% of U.S. consumers surveyed wanted companies to focus on issues that improve their quality of life.  That is almost half the U.S. market that is not being served.  This is because cause marketing campaigns tend to focus on large national issues and not the local issues that impact communities.  The reason for this is really just a matter of scale. cause marketing campaigns tend to partner brands with mega-charities like Susan G. Komen and Feeding America in order to achieve the reach of a national campaign.  Sacrificing local scale for national reach is a huge trade-off that needs to be considered.  Doing something that actually impacts the lives of individual consumers gives creates a much more meaningful experience.  That is the way to build the kind of consumer loyalty that we are all striving for.  As cause marketers, we must find a way to make a more direct impact in the lives of our consumers.

Cause Marketing needs to enable consumers to get involved:  The cause marketing industry has now reached full maturity and consumers are seeing different cause campaigns for every brand under the sun. The market has gotten to be pretty saturated and this represents a real problem.  Cause marketing only works if it is genuine and believable.  As marketers, we must understand that, consumers want an experience, not a transaction.  This is an area where they want us to do better. In a 2011 Cone Cause study  “78% of participants wanted to volunteer with a company in support of a cause they care about and only 39% had that opportunity”.  This is one of the greatest emerging opportunities we have in the cause marketing industry.  We must find new ways to help consumers get involved!


The Road Ahead: Cause marketing is evolving.  The maturation of social media and its almost universal acceptance by the public are giving us new ways to win the hearts and minds of consumers.  Now we can get local, we can provide new ways for consumers get involved, and we can become part of their story of impact.  In the next installment of this article series I’ll address a new iteration of cause-related marketing called “Impact Marketing” and share how it is providing new ways to turn consumers into powerful brand advocates.

This is the 1st article of a 3-part series “The Next Evolution of Cause Marketing”.  Click below!

Article 2: “Impact Marketing”     

Article 3: “The Brand Value of Impact Marketing”



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