Top 12 Takeaways from Cause Marketing Forum #CMF11

Jun 9, 2011 9:00 AM ET

Innovation Conversations

I’ve attended 5 Cause Marketing Forum annual conferences and I’m always incredibly impressed with the quality of presentations, speakers and attendees. As the prolific cause marketing influencer, Joe Waters points out, the conference had many benefits. For my colleagues and I that attended CMF, we took away some key trends and findings we wanted to share with you all.  Here is our top 12 list (because top 10 just couldn’t cut it!).

  1. Cause is social:  Nearly every single cause marketing campaign discussed at the conference had a digital channel to promote and amplify the effort. Many cause marketing campaigns live solely online. Given that cause marketing is a fantastic way to engage millennials and parents, campaigns need to go to where their audiences are spending time: online. It’s also essential to make the campaign shareable with friends and family. Another audience that can amplify cause marketing campaigns is employees. Enthusiastic employees can broaden message dissemination targeting key original nontraditional audiences such as family members and friends).

  2. Men Care!: All too often, cause marketing research focuses on engaging women and mothers. Research shows that men care nearly as equally as women care that companies engage in causes. Men are an untapped audience for cause marketing campaigns. Men’s Wearhouse did a fantastic campaign called “Suit off my Back” to help homeless men transition into the job market by conducting a suit drive. The marketing effort included male models literally taking to the streets in various cities, giving the suits off their backs to those in need and getting consumers to donate clothes.

  3. Students are motivated by scholarships – not free gadgets:  When engaging with students in contests, don’t just offer a free iPad or computer as a prize. Students will be more motivated to submit an essay, video or idea if the prize is a chance to improve their futures via a college scholarship.

  4. Timing is everything:  Even with an attractive scholarship offer, you will struggle to attract students to your contest if they are in the middle of final exams and prom planning, so stay away from the month of May.  To improve participation and media coverage, build a cause calendar into your plans that maps to existing events (i.e. Earth Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and avoids busy times for your target audience. Being appropriately responsive to disasters is also important.

  5. Celebrities are more than just pretty faces:  A celeb’s willingness to quarterback your campaign—request favors, engage other celebrities, or do anything to aggressively market your initiative—may have a greater impact than his Q-score.

  6. Think outside the check:  Complimentary business models are critical to a successful cause campaign.  Wal-Mart’s grocery distribution model includes many of the elements necessary for effective anti-hunger programs at a local level.  E-bay’s Giving Works balances the process of bringing buyers and sellers together to shop, sell and donate for a good cause. It’s an interesting platform for matching donors and non-profits. Another bonus for E-bay is that they see fewer unresolved complaints from buyers when sellers donate a portion of their profits to charitable organizations. As another example, Microsoft’s Bing Maps made DonorsChoose’s classrooms in need of supplies more accessible to people by finding teacher requests easily in their local communities.

  7. Be careful who you crowd-source:  Is the audience invested in your cause likely to become your customer?  If not, your campaign may increase your number of Facebook followers, but it will be less likely to increase your bottom line. Companies and non-profit groups alike have become obsessed with building massive social media followings but in this realm, size doesn’t matter. It’s ineffective to amass 5M Twitter followers if only a fraction of that number takes action on behalf of your product or brand.

  8. Measurement and listening are essential: A major concern and need companies face are how to create equity from cause marketing campaigns and show their C-suite the value of investing in these campaigns when the primary focus is usually on driving sales. Media impressions and number of followers on Facebook, for instance, are not enough to show the overall value of investing in cause marketing campaigns. Today’s C-suite is more apt to invest in cause marketing programs when the outcome of the program bolsters sales.  There is a great hunger among CSR executives to have measurement programs in place that can do this and WE feel this is still a missing priority in cause campaigns.

  9. Nonprofits know their cause best: More and more companies are creating their own campaigns and moving away from partnering with non-profits. Procter & Gamble is a recent example with their “Tide Loads of Hope” initiative. While successfully delivering 46,000 loads of laundry for families affected by the earthquake in Haiti, the campaign has received a lot of criticism for not having a local nonprofit partner and many, including Nancy Lublin, warn against companies trying to play the role of the NGO. Nonprofits have existing knowledge, resources and relationships that can be leveraged to create the most impactful cause marketing campaigns.

  10. The power of video: We heard a lot at CMF about leading with the issue and how to engage audiences with authentic content. Many companies are taking advantage of branded documentaries to leverage for social media engagement, influencer outreach and off-line publicity blitz. Video captured can also be repurposed for b-roll for rich content distribution.

  11. Mobile is the next cause frontier:  Some campaigns are dipping their toe in mobile waters to better understand the opportunity.  Mobile was widely recognized as a vast frontier of opportunity for cause marketers. Mobile is how most consumers are finding and engaging with the world they care about, and causes need to understand how their target audience uses mobile and deliver content and opportunities through platforms that make sense for them.

  12. Voting campaigns are losing appeal:  Plenary speaker Nancy Lublin, CEO of,  explained her organization’s reluctance to participate in online voting campaigns after an intern was able to improve’s rating in one such contest in a matter of two weeks.  In an informal snap poll, 60 percent of conference attendees said they “hate ‘em” in reference to consumer voting campaigns. These types of campaigns, Lublin says, are “impure.”

If you have any other key takeaways from #CMF11, please share them on our blog! We are excited for next year’s conference and in the interim look forward to cultivating more conversation on Twitter and this blog on the topic of cause marketing.  


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