Groupon’s SuperBowl Kerfuffle and A New CSR Strategy

How Group Buying Sites Can Do Better by Doing Good
Feb 10, 2011 9:00 AM ET

The news is Good: cause marketing and giving back are as mainstream as is afternoon drinking on Mad Men. The value proposition for these increasing initiatives and spend is not merely altruism (though wouldn’t that be nice?) or seeking/reinforcing a social license for the relevant business to operate (which is increasingly important), it may be even simpler: all else being more or less equal, people will pick the product or service or employer that gives back over the one that doesn’t, and the likelihood of an individual taking the targeted action goes up, the more the chosen cause resonates with him or her personally. Whether customer or employee-facing, successful connection around shared values/causes creates an emotive connection – the path to true loyalty and engagement. That’s success on any scorecard. 

That Groupon’s approach to building cause into its messaging and operations was flawed doesn’t make them at all special; it just gives them temporary poster-child status in the category. The reality is that most companies are struggling to figure out how to integrate giving back into their customer-facing operations in a way that delivers lift to brand, corporate reputation, loyalty, sales, etc., while also representing an authentic betterment of society or the communities in which they operate.    The problem for most is that they (and their agencies) are often over-thinking it.   Most companies pick one or two or five causes to support in hopes that it will cut across a wide enough swath of their target demographic to create broad resonance, and there are plenty of consultants who will help them choose. Yet in the techno-centric, mass-personalized and empowered world in which we live, does imposing the choice for people that you’re trying to help give back make sense, no matter how scientific the alignment of brand and cause mission? Meanwhile, the more progressive companies trying to utilize cause marketing are embracing the crowdsourced approach to cause – let me vote on who gets the dough, so that I’m more engaged in the process. Quite apart from issues in gaming the voting, wanting to manage the results, etc., if you let me vote but I (along with the other 95% or whatever number of voters) don’t get to pick the winner, am I more engaged or less engaged with your brand and program? And what is the likelihood that the small local charity that I volunteer at or the one that helped get my cousin off the street is going to get on the big brand charity radar sufficiently to win a voting beauty contest?    The truth is, these programs are better than a poke-in-the-eye, but only a fraction of what they could be. The solution is about empowering choice, both at the user level and with participating retailers, in delivering an embedded, sustainable, transparent and authentic cause program as part of the everyday operations of the company. And Benevity has the technology to enable it.   So let’s use Groupon as an example. What if instead of writing the occasional check to a handful of worthy charities, they empower their user base and growing network of retailers to impact thousands of charities to the tune of millions of dollars as an ongoing part of the Groupon business model. By utilizing an API-based microdonation platform like Benevity, Groupon could create the ability for their users to generate donation currency as part of participating in the daily deal or select ones. As part of their profile, users could create a personal foundation of charities that matter to them, and would fill their “bucket” through a combination of their own funds, contributions from retailers and/or Groupon, thereby increasing the glue to Groupon and perhaps generating repeat business for the retailers (a key struggle for the sustainability of the group discount model itself). Instead of Groupon deciding where the donations were going, their users would be deciding for themselves, and both Groupon and retailers could create a bias toward their strategically aligned charities (Tibet?) by making real time matching offers to featured charities or even charity portfolios created through the platform. Maybe they could even use CardStar as part of the delivery model.   The result: an ecosystem that enables retailers to deploy philanthropic or cause marketing spend more directly and intimately where it may positively impact metrics that matter to them, while creating greater emotive connection (if not switching costs) with consumers. And oh yeah, maybe millions of dollars being directed to charities that might otherwise be spent on iPods and toasters (or celebrity advertisements)…   We’re profoundly biased, but we would be all over this kind of program!   ­­­­­­­­­­­ About Benevity
Benevity is a software company that helps businesses realize a greater return on their (increasing) investments in social good programs, including corporate social responsibility, community investment, cause marketing and workplace giving initiatives.  Benevity has developed North America’s first embeddable micro-donation platform, enabling socially responsible businesses to engage their customers, employees and corporate partners in optional charitable giving in new ways on their terms. The Benevity platform helps companies build authentic and impactful cause marketing, workplace giving and other social responsibility initiatives that increase engagement, brand differentiation and return on social and community investment. To find out more, visit us at and view our short video at