Cause-related marketing: Don’t overlook this brand-building tool for your small business

One of the most effective ways to build the brand of your small business is cause-related marketing, in which you align company with a social cause that your customers care about. Associating your business with a cause builds positive visibility and generates customer goodwill. Cause-related marketing pays big dividends in employee satisfaction as well.

For 20 years, Cone Communications, a Boston public relations firm, has conducted an annual consumer survey on the impact of cause-related marketing. In their 20th anniversary survey, 88% of consumers said they want to hear how companies are supporting social and environmental causes, and 54% said they bought a product associated with a cause over the last 12 months, up 170% since the survey started in 1993. Also, a 2012 study by Net Impact, a nonprofit that helps young people drive social and environmental change, found that employees who say they have an opportunity to make a direct social and environmental impact through their jobs are twice as likely to report higher satisfaction levels than those who don’t (49% compared to 25%).

The Cone Communications survey found that 43% of consumers want to feel the impact of corporate efforts close to home in their local communities. This fact means small businesses are perfectly situated to build an image as a local company that cares about their community. In fact, I would argue that cause-related marketing can be even more powerful in terms of image building than it is for large corporations because you have your finger on the pulse of your community and can often be more directly and meaningfully involved with a local cause.

Here are three important guidelines for your cause-related marketing efforts:

• Pick a cause you are passionate about. In an ideal world, the social cause you select would have some relationship with your business, but this is not as essential. For example, if you own a hardware store and love the work of Habitat for Humanity, that would be a natural choice. However, even if the cause doesn’t have such an obvious link to your business and its products or services, don’t hesitate to support an organization that you love. Your passion (or lack thereof) will show through in your efforts for the cause, so it’s important to choose a cause that is near and dear to your heart.

• Choose a cause for the long haul. I used to shop at a supermarket where they seemed to ask me to donate to a different cause every week at the checkout counter. Sure, they were building a reputation as an organization that raises money for a lot of nonprofits, but there was nothing about the various causes that linked together in my mind. I didn’t have a strong picture of what the company really cared about – other than asking me to fork over a dollar to charity every time I shopped there.

Rather than try to be all things to all people, pick a cause that you’ll be happy to stick with year after year. Over time that cause will become a strong part of your brand image among your customers. Those who also care about the cause will want to do business with you. Effective cause-related marketing is never a one-and-done type of thing.

• Make a substantial effort to support your cause. It’s one thing to stick a charity’s collection can on your counter or to donate 10% of profits to a cause on its special day. It’s a whole other thing to donate your time, your products, and/or your expertise to a cause. Building a strong link between the cause and your brand image takes a significant commitment on your part. If everything you do is superficial, people won’t be impressed. Instead, if what you do in support of your cause is highly visible and consistent over time, people will appreciate your sincerity and commitment.

The things you can do to support your favorite cause are only limited by your imagination. Brainstorm with your employees and you can come up with fresh, feasible ideas that will attract the positive attention of your community and build your company’s image as a good neighbor and a business worth visiting.


  1. This article has given me a great idea that we should put together a white paper on all the eco-friendly measures our business has implemented over the years. As we are a company that supplies products for environmental remediation projects, this is a no-brainer as something we should've thought of a long time ago.

  2. techiv says:

    This will be very effective for small businesses to grow and expand. Cause-related marketing provides satisfaction to both customers and employees. For additional info, check ClickMinded – Internet Marketing Training.

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