Cause Marketing: Definition, Examples and How To Do



Cause marketing - heart

Have you ever thought of supporting a cause in your business, such as a charity or a social issue, for marketing visibility — as well as for doing good?  Cause related marketing is a big deal these days among large brands. More brands take a stand on societal issues than ever before.

Small businesses, of course, have always supported their communities by giving back. They may not call it marketing. Marketing may not even be their primary goal. Yet, many small businesses do in fact get marketing benefits from supporting causes.

Below we take a few minutes to explain the benefits of cause marketing in a small business. We’ll also cover cause marketing examples, how to amplify them with ads or PR, and how to create a cause related campaign — all with tips from an expert.



What is Cause Marketing?

Cause related marketing, or cause marketing for short, is when a business supports a charitable cause or a social issue and gets marketing benefits from it. To better understand what the definition of cause marketing is, consider two examples:

  • An example of a charitable cause might consist of a 10K run to raise money to fight cancer. Or it might consist of donations to a food bank or gifts in support of other nonprofits or charities.
  • An example of a social issue would be when a business supports sustainability with a fundraising campaign.

Companies that engage in cause marketing do it in part because they believe it helps them gain and retain customers.

Rise of the Belief-Driven Consumer

Corporate social responsibility has taken on greater importance in recent years because many consumers let their beliefs drive purchase decisions.

According to the Edelman 2018 Earned Brand Study, one out of two consumers are belief-driven buyers.  Or as Edelman puts it, “buying on belief is now the new normal.”

This means consumers make a conscious choice to buy from businesses that share a common belief or commitment. Online shopping and social media have opened up a world of possibilities for where consumers can spend their hard-earned money. Belief driven consumers choose to spend it on companies with shared values.

Hence, we see CEOs of large brands publicly identifying their positions on social issues. They are taking stands, even when controversial.  In the past, corporations were likely to go out of their way to avoid showing support for social issues. Fast forward to today, and a social cause might form the nucleus of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.

Cause Marketing Benefits

“As a small business, it’s important to tell the world or local community how you are a positive force,” says Saru Saadeh, co-founder and CEO of AdRobin.



In an interview with us here at Small Business Trends, he pointed out three main benefits of cause based marketing:

  • Cause marketing helps the world. “This bears repeating because it’s important not to lose sight of the purpose. By supporting a cause, you are helping the world become a better place.  You must be authentic and believe in the cause you stand behind. Keep that at the forefront of all cause marketing activities,” says Saadeh.
  • It adds purpose to your marketing. “Cause marketing opens the door to new conversations with your target audience. It creates a distinctive message to coalesce your advertising and PR efforts around. And it helps your business distinguish itself from competitors,” he says.
  • It can be low cost.  Costs vary, especially if you decide to tack on advertising to your cause marketing. But generally speaking, basic forms of cause marketing are inexpensive. “Small businesses can endeavor on cause marketing initiatives for little to nothing. For example, a local grocery chain may ask customers if they would like to donate to a local charity partner. With little to no tech, the stores can collect donations and periodically send them to the non-profit partner they support,” Saadeh notes.

Saadeh should know, because he and his company actually participate in their own charitable cause, Aspire to Be Foundation. “We helped create a small cause-based program ourselves. This cost us roughly $850 a month for a short period. And it was well worth it.”

But he’s seen other small and medium businesses spend upwards of $5,000 a month on cause marketing. “It depends on the business, the cause, and size of the initiative.”

Using PR and Advertising to Maximize Results

You get a bigger marketing impact by combining cause marketing with a public relations campaign, advertising campaign, or both, according to Saadeh.



“The hard work required to successfully position a brand as cause-associated deserves recognition. This is why cause marketing is typically followed by public relations efforts, centered around communicating about the cause and its success,” he says.

A cause accompanied by a PR campaign can lead to earned media.  In other words, the news media may want to write about your cause and your business. You will earn even more visibility and goodwill.

Advertising also helps grow the cause bigger and amplifies your marketing campaign. “It helps spread the news about the cause efforts, getting more customers involved. Advertising can be the engine for both driving a positive impact and communicating it.”

Of course, Saadeh notes, the cost of advertising and public relations are often above the base cost of cause marketing.  “PR and advertising will always require some up-front resources. Take, for example, a low cost situation such as the grocery store that accepts donations from its customers. If the store decides to match the donations and also advertise that it is participating in the fundraiser, that is where we begin to see an increase in marketing expenses.”



“But these can be offset by increased sales,” he adds. One way to measure the sales impact is to compare sales or conversion rates before and after the roll-out of an ad campaign.

It takes a while for cause marketing alone to make an impact. Advertising, though, usually drives results quickly and the impact can be more measurable.

Cause Marketing Examples

Nike is a large brand that is a case study for several cause-related marketing campaigns. For example, the company launched ads promoting their support for women in sports.

And who hasn’t heard about Nike’s campaign featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick? The ad says simply: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”



Nike ad - cause marketing examples

Another example is that of corporations showing their support for LGBTQ rights. In fact, the Human Rights Organization puts out a ranking called the Corporate Equality Index of huge companies supporting the cause. Many have undertaken marketing campaigns. See examples of how corporations display their affiliation in ads.

Dove offers several cause marketing examples. One is its #ShowUs campaign that highlights body positivity.  The following image says it all.

Dove - case study, cause related marketing examples



Do causes like those seem too ambitious for your budget? Or perhaps they are not what you had in mind? In that case, Saadeh offers two cause marketing examples for small businesses:

  • One idea is to set up a donation-matching cause. This gets customers involved and is an opportunity to launch an ad campaign and PR.
  • Another example could be publicly supporting human rights via your website and social media. This provides a nucleus for a PR or ad campaign. It’s great for, say, a software or consulting business that otherwise might have trouble getting buzz and publicity. “It makes a great PR story to pitch to media outlets.”

How to Do a Cause Marketing Campaign

So, you’re convinced. Now how do you get started with cause marketing?  Simple:

1. Pick a Cause

It should be something you believe in and sincerely want to support.  It should bring gratification to you and your team, irrespective of the marketing benefits. Use the cause marketing examples above for inspiration.

If you want other ideas, DoSomething.org identifies 24 different types of causes. They include animal welfare, body positivity, bullying, disaster relief, homelessness, mental health, physical health, STEM, the environment and women’s rights among others.



Avoid pitfalls. If a small business chooses a cause that is too polarizing or political for its customers’ tastes, it can backfire. Boycotts, turned-off customers and financial losses may result.  Author John Ringo coined the term “get woke, go broke” to describe this very thing.

2. Set a Cause Marketing Budget

Decide how much you can afford each month for a cause related campaign. Pick a monthly amount.

If your budget is tight, consider a cause where customers donate. Your business mainly can serve as the central collection or coalescing point.  This way you engage customers and make it easy for them to be part of the cause.

A donation matching campaign can also be cost effective. In this type of campaign, your company offers to match donations up to a certain dollar amount or proportionally.  Put an overall cap on your participation (say, up to $5,000) to make it easier to budget.



3. Factor in PR and Advertising

You’ll get more bang for your buck by amplifying your cause marketing with ads or PR efforts to get media attention. Be sure to factor in the costs of PR and ads.

And create a plan for any associated PR or advertising campaigns. Write down what you’ll be doing, when you will start, where you plan to do it, and what it will cost.  Get specific about campaign details such as messaging and graphics. Seek help from an agency to do a great job if you’re unsure of your own skills.

4. Establish Metrics to Track the Campaign

No type of marketing can be considered a success unless you track results.  Establish a baseline such as the amount of sales, leads generated, size of customer base or other indicators before you start your marketing.  Then later after the campaign gets going you can measure results.

One proviso Saadeh cautions against:  price increases. “Don’t expect customers to pay more for your products or services simply because you’ve started cause-related marketing. It’s better to measure growth in social and digital awareness, overall volume of sales, or lead growth and retention rates. Cause marketing is more about getting customers to choose you — not how much they are willing to pay.”



You can also measure typical PR or advertising metrics to the extent you use those techniques to amplify your cause marketing. For digital ads you might measure  impressions, click-throughs and conversion rates. For PR campaigns it could be the number of interviews and articles written about your company or cause related campaign.

5. Get Employees Involved

The best cause-related marketing campaigns go beyond simply paying money to a charitable cause. They actually involve employees.  This can include employees who volunteer their time to help with special events or otherwise get involved directly supporting the cause.

Communicate regularly with employees about the cause.  Better yet, involve them in helping communicate so they feel part of it.

6. Make the Cause Lasting

DoSomething.org says to focus on the cause, not the campaign.  It’s important to talk about what you stand for … your values. Make it last longer than a single fundraising event or a one-time ad campaign. Walk the talk.

7. Celebrate Successes

Last but not least, celebrate all the great things that happen around the cause. Set milestones for your campaign and each time one is achieved, let everyone know. But don’t stop there. Talk in general about the cause, why you’re committed to it, and how else you plan to support it.

At the end of the day, remember that doing good is the right thing for society.  Plus, it makes you feel good. “You and your team will get the personal satisfaction that comes from being part of something bigger than your company.  That’s priceless,” adds Saadeh.

Images: DepositPhotos, and Nike, Dove cause marketing examples More in: 1 Comment ▼


Anita Campbell


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

One Reaction

  1. This is interesting. I guess it is because today’s customers pay for more than just the products but the cause and belief that goes with it.

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