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.

From time immemorial, small businesses have been the backbone of local communities, often providing unwavering support.

While they might not label these efforts as “marketing,” there’s an undeniable element of brand awareness that stems from these philanthropic gestures.

The intent may not always be promotional. However, the unintentional marketing gains accrued from such goodwill gestures are palpable, positioning the business favorably in the community’s eyes.

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.

cause marketing definition examples

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 definition examples

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

Identifying the right cause is a crucial first step. It should be an issue or initiative close to your heart, one that evokes genuine passion and commitment.

While marketing advantages are a bonus, the primary motivation should be the inherent satisfaction derived from supporting the cause.

To help streamline this selection, consider referring to the cause marketing examples provided earlier as a guide.

If you want other ideas, 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

Financial planning is pivotal. Dedicate a monthly stipend to support your chosen cause. Even if finances are stretched thin, don’t be disheartened.

There’s always an alternative. For instance, you could champion a cause where customers contribute, transforming your business into a hub of collective philanthropic action. Through this, you not only involve customers but also simplify their contribution process.

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.

  • Dedicate a Percentage of Sales: Allocate a fixed percentage of sales or profits to the cause.
  • Budget for Collaborative Efforts: Set aside funds for partnerships with non-profits or other businesses.
  • Plan for Marketing Expenditure: Include cause marketing in your overall marketing budget.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish a budget that aligns with your business size and revenue.
  • Flexibility for Opportunities: Maintain some flexibility in the budget to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities that align with the cause.

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.

cause marketing

4. Establish Metrics to Track the Campaign

Every marketing effort, no matter its nature, requires a metric-driven approach to gauge its effectiveness. Before setting the wheels in motion for your cause marketing initiative, it’s vital to set clear, tangible benchmarks.

This could range from quantifying sales figures, identifying the number of leads generated, to even evaluating the growth or maintenance of your customer base size.

Once these benchmarks are established, as your campaign moves forward, regular assessments should be conducted.

This allows you to tweak strategies and ensure that your campaign isn’t just well-intentioned but also delivers 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

While financial contributions to a cause are commendable, true magic unfolds when a business’s most valuable asset—its employees—become part of the mission.

Encourage and foster an environment where employees feel driven to donate not just money, but their time, skills, and passion.

Events, on-ground support, or even brainstorming sessions can provide avenues for them to contribute.

Constant communication is key. Regular updates about the campaign’s progress and achievements can motivate them further. Additionally, creating platforms where they can voice their suggestions can make them feel more involved and invested.

cause marketing examples

6. Make the Cause Lasting

There’s a profound difference between running a campaign and building a legacy.’s emphasis on the cause over the campaign highlights this.

While campaigns have a start and end, your commitment to a cause should be perennial, echoing your brand’s core values and ethos.

It’s crucial to ensure that your association goes beyond just events or promotional runs. Let your brand’s association with the cause be authentic, consistent, and deep-rooted, ensuring it becomes a part of your brand story.

  • Long-term Commitment: Ensure your brand’s commitment to the cause is enduring and not just a one-time campaign.
  • Integrate into Brand Identity: Weave the cause into your brand’s core values and messaging.
  • Regular Engagement: Keep the cause active in your business operations and customer interactions.
  • Ongoing Support Initiatives: Develop continuous programs or events supporting the cause.
  • Employee Involvement: Encourage and facilitate regular employee engagement with the cause.

7. Celebrate Successes

The journey of cause marketing is filled with milestones, each representing a step forward in making a difference. As you hit each of these markers, take a moment to celebrate.

Acknowledgment boosts morale and motivates all stakeholders to push harder. But your communication shouldn’t be confined to just achievements.

Engage in ongoing dialogues about the importance of the cause, reemphasizing your brand’s unwavering commitment. Share your future vision, plans, and ways in which you aim to further the cause, making everyone a part of this vision.

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.

Navigating the landscape of cause marketing can be challenging. To make it clearer, here’s a comparison between traditional marketing and cause marketing, outlining their key differences and features.

AspectTraditional MarketingCause Marketing
PurposeSales, brand recognitionSupport a cause & gain marketing benefits
Consumer AppealProduct quality, priceShared values, belief-driven purchases
BudgetFixed, often highVariable, can be low-cost or matched donations
ImpactDirect sales, leadsBrand loyalty, societal impact, sales
DurationCampaign-basedOften long-term, beyond a single campaign
Employee InvolvementMay varyDirect involvement, volunteering
MetricsSales, leads, clicksDigital awareness, sales volume, lead growth
Public PerceptionNeutral or positivePositive, values-based, community-driven

Images: DepositPhotos, and Nike, Dove cause marketing examples

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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.