It’s no secret that gaining new customers by way of referral is one of the most cost-effective ways to grow a business. Not only is it cheaper to acquire new customers this way than through advertising or other methods, but referred customers also tend to be a better fit for your style of doing business. However, beyond simply asking their customers for referrals or offering financial incentives to customers who give referrals, many local businesses are at a loss as to how to get more referrals.
One less utilized but potentially very effective method for getting people to talk about your business and refer new customers to you is cause marketing. Cause marketing is any type of marketing that involves the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for their mutual benefit. More and more local businesses are jumping on the cause marketing bandwagon, and for good reason. Consider the following:
- 87% of consumers say they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a good cause, according to Cone Cause Evolution.
- 72% of Americans want their employers to do more to support a cause or social issue.
- A whopping 93% of Americans say that it is important for their employers to give them opportunities to become involved in social issues
- 95% of college students say they are less likely to ignore an ad that promotes a company’s partnership with a cause
In short, if done correctly cause marketing can be a great way to not only make your customers more loyal to your brand and get more referrals, but also give your employees opportunities for personal growth and development. This will reduce employee turnover and help you attract higher-quality employees, which will allow you to deliver higher-quality service (which of course leads to more referrals).
How to make cause marketing effective
In order for your cause marketing efforts to be the most effective, it’s important that you partner with the right non-profit organization. Here’s a few tips to help you decide what organization to partner with:
- For local businesses, it’s probably best to partner with a non-profit that is active in supporting the local community, vs one that has an international focus.
- Avoid politically charged causes or organizations, unless you are ok with alienating 50% of the population.
- If possible, pick an organization related to your industry, your products, or your services. For example, a lawn care company might decide to partner with their local parks department.
- Get input from your customers and employees about what organizations they would like to support or already do support.
- Make it clear to the organization that you are interested in a partnership for your mutual benefit, not simply a one-way deal where they benefit and you don’t get anything in return.
Once you decide which organization to partner with, brainstorm ideas about how you can get both your employees and your customers involved. Simply donating money every moth to a non-profit will certainly benefit the non-profit, but probably won’t do a whole lot to boost your referrals or increase loyalty to your brand. However, with a little bit of creativity, you can really make your cause marketing efforts much more effective. Here are 15 ideas about how local businesses can use cause marketing to grow their business, along with suggestions about what types of businesses might benefit the most from each idea:
Sponsor a Habitat for Humanity build (contractors, tradespeople, real estate professionals)
Get your employees and customers to sign up to volunteer together at a Habitat for Humanity build site for a day. Offer customers who bring a friend with them who is not a customer a coupon or discount on your products or services.
Host or sponsor an event for Big Brothers Big Sisters (restaurants, event venues, movie theaters, entertainment venues)
Invite your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters to hold an event at your facility, either for free or for a drastically reduced price. Hand out coupons to those who attend that can be redeemed at a later date.
Volunteer at the Humane Society (veterinarian, dog groomer, kennel, pet store)
Offer your employees paid time off to volunteer at the local Humane Society, where they’ll interact with other volunteers who are not your customers. Offer discounts to people who volunteer as an incentive to become your customers (this strategy could be used with any organization that uses volunteers).
Sponsor a water stop in a running race (fitness clubs, personal trainers, fitness clothing retailers, health food store, outdoor recreation businesses).
Get your employees to volunteer to hand out water to people running the race. Offer discounts to your customers who register for the race and give them stacks of coupons to hand out to other participants.
Support your local Meals on Wheels chapter (restaurants, catering companies, any business with a fleet of vehicles, car dealers, auto repair shops, home health care businesses, doctors, medical or long term care insurance providers).
Incentivize your employees to volunteer to deliver meals, and offer discounts to customers who deliver meals. Give your employees who volunteer branded magnets to put on their personal vehicles while they are delivering meals.
Collect donations for Goodwill (retail shops with high volumes of foot traffic)
Put a collection box for your local Goodwill Store in your location, and offer people who come in to drop off a donation a discount or coupon.
Help support your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (moving companies, realtors, water and damage restoration contractors, remodeling contractors, home builders)
Help facilitate donations of used furniture and building supplies to your local ReStore, and encourage your employees to volunteer there. Give the ReStore coupons or flyers promoting your services to hand out to people who shop there.
Support a local theater, symphony orchestra, or performing arts venue (CPAs, financial planners, insurance agents, realtors).
Volunteer and encourage your employees to volunteer at the venue in question. Give your best clients tickets to events at the venue as a thank-you.
Support a local medical clinic or health wagon (medical professionals, insurance agents, attorneys, counselors)
Volunteer your time or professional expertise. Match donations made by your clients to the organization in question. Ask the organization to give you free advertising space in their newsletter.
Support your local zoo (veterinarian, pet store, kennel, entertainment venues)
Offer discounts to people who support the zoo via donations or volunteering time. Put a “donate” button on your website that links to the zoo’s website. Encourage your employees and customers to volunteer at the zoo.
Partner with a museum (financial services professionals, attorneys, B2B service companies)
Sponsor events at the museum or volunteer at the museum. Purchase tickets to give to your customers as a thank-you.
Support your local volunteer fire department (restaurants, entertainment venues, golf courses, event venues)
Offer to donate a certain percentage of proceeds from an event at your business to the fire department. Get the fire department to help promote the event to their mailing list.
Volunteer or support your local library (hobby shops, coffee shops, movie theaters, entertainment venues, pediatricians, dentists, health clubs)
Collect books to donate to the library, or offer to sponsor educational events at the library. Sponsor the summer reading program in exchange for the opportunity to advertise on materials promoting the program.
Participate in a clean-up day at a local park (lawn care companies, outdoor recreation retailers, landscaping contractors).
Get your customers and employees to volunteer together to clean up a local park. Offer coupons to anyone who participates in the event or who just happens to come by the park that day.
Be a booster for a local high school sports team or marching band (any business that caters to families with school-age children).
Help financially support a local high school sports team or music program, and show up to volunteer at their events. Be careful with this one, though—high school sports rivalries can get pretty intense, and you may lose some customers who are fans of a rival team.
Hopefully, something on the list above gave you an idea about how you can use cause marketing to grow your business. Perhaps you have already used one of these ideas or something similar and have benefited as a result. If so, please share your experience by leaving a comment below so other readers can be inspired by your example.
About Kevin Jordan
Kevin Jordan is a small business marketing consultant and member of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. He’s also co-author of the award-winning book The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Local Lead Generation and the host of the top-rated video podcast The Small Business Marketing Minute Show. You can connect with Kevin on Twitter @RMCVirginia.