Cause Marketing: The Art of Win-Win

The most perfect business relationships are the ones where each party feels like they’re screwing over the other.

Business isn’t always win-win. In fact, the unfortunate reality is that it’s usually not. Often times one side feels like they’re being taken advantage of as the other knowingly exploits. In other situations, all parties feel like they’re the one getting hosed. Less common are the ideal alliances where everyone’s a winner. Like a poker table where everyone walks away in the black. While in the casino it might be improbable, in business, however, it does occur and we’re beginning to see it more and more as professionals become smarter about how they conduct business.

We witness win-loss and loss-loss all the time in the business landscape. In M&A, businesses merge and one side often gets downsized or transformed all together. Or, both sides of the merger win but causes monopolistic circumstances that drive prices up for the customer who then loses. The most interesting occurrences of win-win that I’ve ever seen in business – and even win-win-win – involve the less-pervasive but longstanding concept of “cause marketing.”

What is Cause Marketing?

The idea of cause marketing is straightforwardly simple yet elegantly complex. It involves the coalition of business and charity in mutually fueled campaign bromance where one hand helps the other in order to support the goals of each side.

What’s in it for the business to help a non-profit?

Good publicity is golden for all businesses. In fact, it might be impossible to find a business of any nature that wouldn’t benefit from positive market recognition. Private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson predicts that business spend on PR could reach $4.4 billion in 2014. Much of this exorbitant sum could be saved by businesses forming strategic partnerships with established charitable organizations that possess the powers of strong branding, a wide distribution network and a great cause that could add PR value to a campaign as a result of the social responsibility.

What’s in it for the non-profit to help a business?

Charitable organizations often have big goals – spreading awareness and raising money for great causes being two of them. However, many of them lack the marketing budget, tools and/or people to reach objectives. Businesses often have wide networks of customers and prospects who they communicate with regularly, the right tools and good people who coordinate marketing efforts. Adhering a charity to a strong marketing campaign of an admired business is a wonderful channel for that non-profit to fuel awareness and fund raising potential.  Best of all, it could help the business in their goals simultaneously.

Mutual success is the best success


Cause marketing may have existed undefined in business forever; but a recognized instance that vividly conveys the model lies with the first strongly documented case,In 1976, with a marketing campaign executed through a strategic partnership between the Marriott Corporation and the March of Dimes.

The March of Dimes, who works to improve the health of mothers and babies, had a clear goal at the time: to increase awareness of their cause, while supporting the collection of pledges by their budget deadline.

Marriott also had a goal: to generate cost-effective public relations and media coverage leading up to the opening of Great America, their 200-acre family entertainment center located in Santa Clara, CA.

The Marriott/March of Dimes cause marketing strategy, led by Bruce Burtch – now dubbed the “Father of Cause Marketing” – involved a multifaceted marketing campaign conducted simultaneously in 67 cities throughout the Western United States. The campaign offered attractive contests for the pledge-walker in each city to win trips to Great America for them along with 100 of their friends. The campaign, and excessive “plus 100” offer approach, invoked widespread philanthropy points, awareness and word-of-mouth chatter for Great America among March of Dimes audience. The March of Dimes’ market enjoyed a fun and worthy experience facilitated through the financial and marketing support of Marriott’s team.

The results were fruitful on both ends. The cause marketing campaign was met with $2.5 million raised for March of Dimes, 40% more raised than the previous year. Marriott experienced hundreds of thousands in free publicity, and 2.2 million attended Great America in its first year.

Today, different variations of cause related marketing approach are quite ubiquitous if you pay attention to them. What makes it interesting is the infinite forms cause marketing could take. Campaigns involving charity logos on consumer products, offers from non-profits for discounted goods and services and more are common instances of win-win alliance attempts through cause marketing. I’d be remiss not to mention the recently published book by aforementioned cause marketing influencer Bruce Burtch entitled Win-Win for the Greater Good, which not only describes the concept’s notion in detail, but drills down into the intricacies of how to plan, build and execute a highly productive strategic partners hive with mutual contribution to creating a greater good (check out the book on Amazon).

Cause marketing should set a stage for how businesses conduct work with charities; but, also how they work with other businesses. Its philosophy could even help individuals work more proactively with other people professionally and even personally. Picture a marriage where both husband and wife view the other as the trophy, and each spouse can’t believe their luck in finding such an expedient mate in a way that feels almost exploitative. I guess taking advantage of others doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.