In the early days of exploration, sea captains had no real way of knowing how close they were to land. They could measure latitude—their north-south position—but they had no reliable method of plotting the ship’s east-west position. Captains had to sail until they saw land, or until something else told them they were close. After months at sea, sailors would search the skies for seagulls. One seagull gave the sailors hope. Two may have meant the end of food and water rations aboard the ship. And three seagulls called for a round of “Huzzahs!”
As the Mayflower inched its way across the Atlantic, captain, sailor and passengers were all on the lookout for land. In his book The Mayflower & the Pilgrims’ New World, Dogukan Akbulut reports that the Pilgrims first knew they were close to land by smell. Then the seagulls appeared in the sky. Then the water changed from dark blue to pale green. The Pilgrims saw land for the first time since leaving England on November 9, 1620.
Your cause marketing program is not unlike a ship at sea. You, too, are bound for a better world, but like the sailors of old, you may be unsure of your progress. The key is to know the signs of success—your cause marketing longitude. If I was piloting your ship, I’d be looking for the following three signs of progress.
1. YOU ARE LEADING WITH YOUR STRONGEST EMOTIONAL APPEAL.
A successful cause marketing campaign doesn’t always have to reflect the full mission of your organization. For example, a hospital that serves a diverse population of lower-income city residents obviously serves every age, gender and minority group. But when it comes to cause marketing, they focus–depending on the program–on one of three emotional hot-buttons: sick children, poor women and cancer patients.
Going with your strongest pony isn’t something new or crazy. Al Ries, co-author of the classic marketing text 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, explained it best in an Ad Age article. Apple built its early empire on two things: the iPod and iTunes. The success of those two products trickled down to their entire product line.
“To cut through the clutter in today’s overcommunicated society, place your marketing dollars on your best horse. Then let that product or service serve as a halo effect for the rest of the line.” – Al Ries
A nonprofit brand that leads with its best horse is Boston’s Jimmy Fund, which raises money for the world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. While the goal of the Jimmy Fund is to raise money to fight cancer in children and adults, their emotional vanguard is children. Indeed, the enduring image of the Jimmy Fund is courageous bald-headed children stricken by cancer.
You could argue that the Jimmy Fund’s mission is not just about children, so its cause marketing should include the faces of the adults they help. But by focusing on children—the halo, the best horse—everyone is served, including adults.
2. YOU HAVE SHARPENED YOUR FLW.
Every successful cause marketing program has Famous Last Words (FLW). This is different from but connected to your strongest emotional appeal. Your FLW is the specific phrase you want a consumer to remember above all else. Despite what comes before or after it, these are the words they recall and respond to:
“Would you like to make a difference in the life of a sick child?”
“Can you help feed a hungry family this holiday season?”
“50 cents from the sale of this pet food will help find good homes for rescued puppies in Greater Atlanta.”
All of these cause marketing messages are concise, powerful, emotional and memorable. Consumers don’t have time for a long pitch, especially when their arms are full of diapers, milk and cotton swabs. Shoppers want you to get to the point. Connect with consumers emotionally and immediately. Tell them what you want, then let them go about their day. If you’ve done your job well, your Famous Last Words will be all they need to hear to want to give.
3. YOU ARE HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE.
Cause marketing isn’t easy. It requires hard work and a dedicated, talented staff. The prospecting and project work associated with cause marketing requires a lot of energy. You might have a current team member suited for this role, but because of the unique skills cause marketing requires, many organizations hire someone or contract out the role.
Remember, most cause marketers are made, not born. It’s rare to find someone with “cause marketer” on their resume. A cause marketer is not like a grant writer or major gifts officer, which you can find anywhere in the nonprofit world. If you plan to pick someone from your current team, consider someone that has an aptitude for marketing and sales. Better yet, choose the person from your team who has been talking your ear off about cause marketing. It’s a fast-changing field, and passion is a prerequisite for keeping up.
Good cause marketers can come from sales, marketing, promotions, retail, advertising, media and other lines of work. Take your time to find the right cause marketer, but accept that you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right person to lead your program. Hiring someone and then firing her isn’t fun for anyone. Don’t compound a poor hiring decision by letting the wrong person linger in the position. Move on and hire someone else!
With so much at stake you can’t afford to let your ship list dangerously for too long. There are many signs of cause marketing success. A program that’s floundering isn’t one of them.