Guest Blogger Cal Zarin discusses the value proposition of cause marketing and suggests some different ways for nonprofits to approach cause marketing. Cal is Founder and CEO of Shared Value Media.
My background is in media buying and planning and then later in nonprofit development. I spent years being pitched the value proposition of cause marketing and spent almost as many years trying to convince others of its merit. Being on both ends, I have grown an appreciation for the nuances and challenges of this ‘ask’. In this post, we’ll break down how we, as Development Professionals, often present the marketing value of our nonprofit assets. We’ll offer our perspective on the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each position. And, then we’ll offer Shared Value Media’s somewhat different take on it.
First the good: I am a big believer in the engagement proposition of nonprofits. Compared to other platforms, I think nonprofits offer a strong opportunity to drive action among a targeted consumer group.
According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, nonprofits are more trusted than business or media institutions by a margin of over 5%. According to Nielson 2011 Trends, 76% of people trust advertising from people they know, versus the next highest platform, which is opt-in email at 40%. In other words, when nonprofits communicate with our constituency base, they often listen and trust what we tell them.
As a result, when asked, these constituents are often willing to act on our behalf. As a nonprofit, we can confidently say we have the ability to drive traffic, promotion, attendance, click-throughs, content, etc. This is powerful stuff! If your corporate client will share what they are paying for each engagement (i.e., a click-through, a new fan on Facebook, a content submission) try to create a pricing structure that challenges those rates. If you can produce a stronger engagement ROI than some of your partner’s other marketing platforms, watch out! You could be in for a very different conversation in Round Two! And, you would be surprised through our celebrity partnerships, pro bono media, alumni groups, social platforms, etc. how successful we can be in driving engagement.
I believe too often we, as nonprofits, try to sell our reach: We serve this many children. Our newsletter list is this big. Our Facebook page has this many fans. When competing against other more traditional media/marketing investments (TV, online, print, etc.), our reach proposition will often fall short. Unless we represent a large national or global nonprofit, we just can’t compete with the number of eyeballs that a marketer can reach through a more traditional platform. So, I recommend we do our best to represent our total numbers, but understand this isn’t our strongest ace in the hole.
Another value proposition that we often emphasize is that a cause association can help drive the business of our partner. On one hand, according to the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, 79% of consumers claim they would likely switch brands, if price and quality were equal, if the other brand is associated with a cause. In addition, according to the 2010 Edelman Good Purpose Report, nearly half of Americans cite social purpose as the number one deciding factor in making a purchase. However, these studies represent consumer attitude, not necessarily consumer behavior, as do the majority of other studies on this topic.
I have only seen two studies that offer quantitative evidence that brand association can impact purchase intent: Cone Inc. and Duke U. Behavioral Study (2008) and Hiscox and Smyth (2005). Until we can reference the study/studies that demonstrate conclusively that purchase is driven by cause association, all we can do is put a fairly meaningless asterisk at the end of our presentations –
**And you have the benefit of being associated with a cause that is important to your consumer… for whatever that is worth**
Probably the weakest part of our value proposition is measurement. We, as an industry, have no excuse for this one. Probably a separate topic for a different article, but unless we can offer an apples-to-apples measurement framework with other marketing platforms, we are severely handicapping our sell. Our pitch is dependent on our ability to say the quantitative impact we will have on our partner’s business and then explain how we will measure and benchmark against that impact. If we can’t do that, how can we ask their marketing department to re-allocate dollars to our platform?
In addition, we need to better understanding the demographics of our constituents and our donors. It is not enough to present the age, location, and ethnicity of the people we serve. We need to be able to provide information on the household income of our newsletter list and event attendees, the psychographics and consumer trends of our donors, etc. There is technology out there that helps with this. But, without it, we are going to the negotiating table with one arm tied behind our back.
The SHARED VALUE MEDIA APPROACH
The Cost Proposition:
The value proposition that Shared Value Media often leads with is that nonprofits can help our marketing counter-parts reduce costs. We can do this not necessarily by replacing our partner’s existing marketing efforts, but instead integrating into them.
Let me explain what we mean by applying this approach to a few different event-marketing examples. Why event marketing? Nonprofits can integrate seamlessly into an event marketing campaign and reduce costs consistently.
Trial / Sampling
For the sake of illustration, let us examine Brand Granola. Brand Granola wants to drive trial of their new granola bars. To accomplish this, they hire brand ambassadors to stand at busy intersections and hand out a granola bar to every person who walks by. For this service, Brand Granola will pay for every hour it takes their hired guns to hand out their sampling goal. In addition, Brand Granola may need to pay a permit fee to sample at their target destinations.
What would happen if Brand Granola took a different approach towards sampling? And, instead of hiring an event-marketing agency, Brand Granola forged a partnership (or numerous partnerships) with afterschool nonprofits who provide snacks every day to their constituents. These nonprofit will gladly agree to hand out Brand Granola’s granola bars (if they meet the nonprofit’s health criteria) to an extremely targeted demographic at no cost, since it will reduce the nonprofit’s costs. In addition, by agreeing to partner with Brand Granola, a trusted resource in the community will implicitly be endorsing the brand as a healthy snack option for the kids they serve.
A partnership structured in this way has a very clear, measurable ROI for Brand Granola. If they took even a portion of their trial/sampling budget and donated that product to the right nonprofit(s), Brand Granola would still reduce their marketing costs, meet their trial/sampling objectives, and launch a potentially more effective sampling strategy.
In addition, Brand Granola decides to launch a national mobile tour, where they hand out granola samples to parents and their children, ask the families to record a jingle in their traveling recording studio, and offer a number of on-site activities that bring the brand to life. Again, traditionally Brand Granola would hire an event-marketing agency to build the experience, secure the venue permits, hire staff, and promote the event locally. The costs would be well over $10,000 / week to keep this campaign on the road.
So, what is the sell for a nonprofit? Its simple: we can help you launch the exact same campaign for a third of the cost.
If Brand A also partnered with a national nonprofit focused on youth health, that nonprofit could do the following to support the tour:
- Reduce venue costs, by leveraging their 501c3 status and relationships to secure venues across the country at a free or reduced cost
- Reduce staffing costs, by replacing in-market staff with volunteers
- Reduce local marketing, by promoting the event to their constituents in each market and help to reach an engaged audience vs. random bystanders
- Strengthen the campaign message by making the tour not only about the product, but also about the product’s values
For a fraction of the cost, Brand Granola could increase the effectiveness, impact, and attendance of their mobile tour.
Finally, Brand Granola wants to engage consumers around the country in a promotion that asks consumers to post jingles about their new product. Brand Granola’s goal is to drive traffic to their site, social engagement, and eventually produce content for their new ad campaign. Through numerous online buys and leveraging their event marketing tour, they intend to drive participation in the promotion.
Again, Brand Granola could dramatically reduce costs (and legwork) by finding a nonprofit partner that had an incentive in driving consumers to upload a jingle. There are thousands of nonprofits across the country teaching after-school music. Without any semblance of mission drift, these nonprofits could work with their children and families to record and submit jingles that brought the values of their nonprofit and programming to life. Finding alignment between the values of a nonprofit and the brand of a granola bar should not be difficult and would only enhance the positioning of a promotion like this.
Again, if Brand Granola even put a fraction of their promotional media spend towards a donation to one or more targeted nonprofit(s), Brand Granola would reduce costs and increase impact.
At the End of the Day…
There is no magic formula to selling in the cause marketing value proposition. However, the better we understand the business needs of the brands we are pitching and the strengths and weaknesses of the value we provide, the more likely we are to convince our marketing counter-part that we fill a need.
Good luck – I’ll be rooting for you! And, if you have any tidbits to share with us, we’re always anxious to hear.
About Shared Value Media
Shared Value Media (SVM) helps facilitate corporate partnerships through a network of national or geo-targeted nonprofit partners. Our partnerships are customized, and launched through numerous nonprofits, with a clear set of quantifiable outcomes. This allows us to craft corporate partnerships with reach, measurable deliverables, and clear campaign goals. If you’d like to know more about Shared Value Media you can watch our video here.