Cause Marketers Find Success With Targeted Messages

When it comes to promoting a cause, marketers are finding that it’s best to get specific. Targeting certain customer segments and using signature cause products is increasingly popular among nonprofit and charity organizations looking to engage consumers and corporate sponsors.

Whether it’s LiveStrong’s iconic yellow bracelet, or the American Heart Association’s (AHA) red-dress pin given as a thank-you to those donating to its Go Red campaign (focused on women’s heart heath), these products not only give donors something tangible for their gifts, but are something of a badge of honor that gives them social currency with friends and family.

“It’s about awareness building, and strengthening affinity with that cause,” says Anne Erhard, vice president of cause branding and nonprofit marketing for the firm Cone, which developed the Go Red effort. “Within these campaigns are a lot of areas for consumer segmentation,” she adds. Cone has helped the AHA develop several targeted campaigns, including the Power to End Stroke, aimed at African Americans, and Start!, urging physical activity for the general American population. 

For-profit companies both large and small are promoting their cause-marketing efforts through similar strategies. Blue Sky Scrubs, which sells stylish scrubs for female health professionals, announced in mid-September that it would donate a fashionable hospital cap to a cancer patient for every set of scrubs purchased.

“We just recently started promoting this charitable aspect,” says David Marquardt, CEO of Blue Sky Scrubs. “We realized that it was kind of a growing area and we wanted to make as big of an impact as possible.”

The economy has certainly presented challenges for the nonprofit sector, but it remains a major user of promotional products. Organizations like Autism Speaks offer full online stores that not only offer ways to donate and support the cause, but segment their messages for the time of year (Autism Speaks recently targeted its message around a back-to-school theme).

Indicative of the growing significance of marketing in the nonprofit sector, the American Marketing Association recently hosted its first Senior Nonprofit Marketers' Summit in Chicago, bringing together 18 top executives from American Red Cross, AARP, United Way, American Lung Association and others to discuss strategies.

“The nonprofit sector has always been a vibrant, but not always well-recognized, marketing sector,” says Cynthia Currence, chair of the conference. “If ever there was a time to use all the levers that are available, it’s now, and marketing has been a perennially underused function for these organizations.”

But while these marketing areas are growing, charitable events remain a mainstay for nonprofits seeking to strengthen their appeal. “Events are the most traditional outlets nonprofits use for promotional items, but the ways they are using them are changing,” says Erhard. “Now you find sophisticated pop-up stores, rather than just a T-shirt. Also goodie bags at the end of the event, and promotional tents co-sponsored with corporate sponsors, with co-branded items and products and sampling.”

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