Cause and effect: The succinct guide to cause marketing, with infographics

What is cause marketing?

Cause marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on creating a social and/or environmental benefit in addition to the usual product marketing goals.

It can be as simple as donating an item to a charity, or it can be more complex. The idea behind cause marketing is that it generates a unique marketing message, which will make brands more memorable and produce a positive public opinion.

Confusing terms: Cause marketing vs. corporate social responsibility (CSR) vs. corporate giving

There are also two other related but different phenomena: corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate donation. CSR can (but doesn’t always) go beyond ensuring compliance to internal policies or regulatory frameworks to carry out actions that promote social or environmental good. This commitment to high ethical standards is the engine of good public relations for the company, but is often also softly enforced by laws. Corporate donations are distinct in that it is usually a specific gift that is tax-deductible (and often given solely because of the tax benefit). In contrast, cause marketing is a voluntary marketing technique used by the company to promote their cause- related products or services. What all of these have in common, is that they are mechanisms of funnelling money, time and other resources back into communities and the environment, to improve societal conditions.

Infographic explaining why cause marketing is important

Why care about cause marketing? These interesting statistics may open your eyes:

  • 80% of consumers belief brands must play a role in addressing societal issues (source:
  • 91% of consumers said they were likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality (source:
  • 92% said they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit given the opportunity, and 67% said they had done so in the past 12 months (source:
  • 70% of consumers want to know how brands are addressing social and environmental issues (source:
  • 46% of consumers pay close attention to a brand’s actions (source:

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What are the benefits of cause marketing?

There are many benefits to cause marketing, such as:

  • It can be a very powerful marketing tool for brands by giving them an opportunity to create awareness for their products.
  • It’s an opportunity for brands to make a positive contribution to society.
  • It’s an opportunity for brands to create favourable associations to their stance.
  • It’s an opportunity for consumers to support responsible, sustainable brands and make a difference in support of the cause.
  • It’s an opportunity for consumers and brands to strengthen mutual ties around belief and value systems, which creates brand loyalty and propels the cause even more.

What are the downsides of cause marketing?

  • It can be notoriously difficult to get cause marketing right, and the possible mistakes are endless.
  • It is easy to come across as tone-deaf, insensitive or inauthentic… and worst case as opportunistic, power-hungry, greedy and low-class.
  • Making mistakes with cause marketing can easily cost a brand billions in revenue and untold losses in reputation.
  • You have to actually follow up and do the things you promised to do… your audience is watching!
  • You have to be authentic and genuinely support the cause – if not, you will likely leave subtle clues that you don’t really care, your audience will pick up those signals and the campaign will lose its effectiveness.

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5 ways to ensure your cause marketing is authentic

1. Find rapport with customers

Often, companies try to reach the goal that most appeals to people without trying to find a true resonance among specific consumers, brands or products. In this case, companies are playing the wrong number game.

There’s nothing wrong with supporting charities, but it doesn’t have to have the effect of enriching your brand.

Harmony is the missing component of a global philanthropic campaign. Think about why your existing customer base might be buying your product or service, then pair it with a meaningful and recognizable social impact program. Otherwise, no matter how good the goal is, there is a good chance that your hard work will be ignored by your customers.

2. Find a cause with intrinsic, true value

Don’t find a fake cause! Your efforts must lead to an actual benefit to society or the environment, not just line your pocket!

There are two risks here: the first being a cause that is not good, and the second is a good cause that is executed poorly.

If you are donating money, goods or services to a charity or non-profit, choose them well and ensure that they are in fact doing the good work that you think they are. Corruption and crime exists, even in charities, and that is counter-productive. If you are in control of implementing or overseeing the efforts, then do take time to verify desired results vs. actual results.

3. Authentic beliefs

The greatest risk to, and most frequent common denominator between, failed cause marketing campaigns, is coming across as inauthentic. If your audience thinks that you don’t really care about the cause like you say you do, it will almost surely backfire and result in a big public outlash. To be seen as authentic, the best advice is: BE authentic. Find a cause that relates to your brand’s values and beliefs, your company culture, and your core mission. If the cause relates to your brand identity, the chances of you giving a **** about it is high, and so will your chances of success be.

4. Align with your core business

The social mission you choose should be tailored to the needs of the market that interests you with your company’s solution.

As an example, if your business specialises in female personal care and hygiene items, then for every pack of sanitary pads bought, your business can donate a pack of sanitary pads to girls in need (on average, South African girls miss up to 60 school days per year due to lack of affordable sanitary care – that amounts to 500 school days in a girl’s school career… Think about the implications of that).

Without consensus, you run the risk of sending messy messages and spend a lot of money for a good cause without benefiting your business.

Many companies that have tried out social programs have created a subsidiary brand for this purpose. The problem with this is that consumers may not be able to connect your good work with your brand. You don’t develop the loyalty or goodwill you’re looking for, and some customers may wonder if the company is really behind the cause and invested in it. Make the mission part of your job.

5. Collaborate

Donating products or profits is not a bad start, but it is not enough. What kind of world could we create if more businesses collaborated with social entrepreneurs, who are natural experts at combining profit and purpose?

To elaborate on the sanitary care example above, if you want to donate sanitary pads to girls in need thereby giving them dignity, promoting their chances of success at school and contributing to a more gender-equal schooling system, you could partner with a South African initiative called SubzPads, that creates reusable, washable, very affordable pads (having the double benefit of producing less plastic waste than normal disposable pads).

As you work to strengthen your social arm the next time, keep in mind that almost three quarters of people think brands and consumers can do more to support charities by working together. Be strategic, spend smarter, and empower your customers to make a real, positive difference in the world.

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Strategy and Implementation Tactics

Assuming you’ve found a worthy cause, and taken heed of possible mistakes to avoid, it’s time to draft a strategy.

Establish the goals of the campaign, the performance metrics to track, and the desired results. Narrow down timeframes, audience, key shareholders, key beneficiaries, the benefits, roles and responsibilities, etc. Decide on the implementation details: will it be a once off event, or an ongoing effort?

Next decide on the engagement channels: can you in any way involve the public? (Participation builds camaraderie and brand loyalty) Will you be hosting fundraisers? Will you be hosting events of rendering service? Will you be donating through a third party and if so, will you be present at the donation events?

Think about how you will inform your audience… Bill boards and other outdoors advertising, pamphlets and flyers, spreading the word at community centres, social media and digital marketing? Flesh out the details of the communication channels… In any event, it is advisable to make use of social media and digital marketing tactics because of ease of reach and the inexpensive nature thereof. If you work through an agency, make sure they are reputable and understand the domain as well as cause intricacies.

Have a plan in place if things go wrong… A thorough risk analysis is not undue! If things get very ugly, you may even need to scrap products, fire employees, or pay reparations. Of course nobody expects that when embarking on “supporting a good cause”, but it can pay to be prepared and keep an eye on risk indicators.

Map out the above details in a marketing plan, and follow through on the plan. As the campaigns gets under way, constantly monitor public opinion, alongside the actual benefit to your chosen cause. Correct course at any early signs of mistakes, and apologise early and earnestly, if necessary.

Holisteeq: A young case study of authentic cause marketing using digital marketing

Weboteeq has a sister company, called Holisteeq. Holisteeq’s central mission is to provide South African consumers a viable sustainable alternative to toxin-filled plastic-wrapped every day household consumables. The vision is to expand to reach most South African communities, and offer goods in a variety of price ranges to cater to different needs and budgets, to provide healthy, natural, environmentally friendly and locally made and locally grown products. In doing so, Holisteeq hopes to drive large scale consumer behaviour change – not just the top 1% of earners, who are currently targeted by many “sustainable” brands. Holisteeq believes that if only 1% of the population can afford healthy, environmentally friendly goods, then that effort is pointless – we need almost all the population on board. In a practical sense, the venture is young and startup capital is tight, but the venture will grow towards achieving these goals, little by little.

Thus it is clear from the central mission and vision, that Holisteeq is founded in a cause, and most marketing efforts will also surround this cause. Visit the website and related social media channels to gauge the marketing messaging and implementing.

Watch this space, as Weboteeq will be closely involved with the evolution of this project, assisting with digital marketing aspects.

In conclusion

Cause marketing must be handled with care. Misteps can have lasting detrimental effects. But when you truly care, it will show. You can truly contribute to the good of society and environment, and your customers will take notice.

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