Alignment and Affinity in Cause Marketing

It's been my pleasure to receive great advice from many people who asked nothing in return other than that I 'pay it forward.'

So if you're visiting the Valley of the Great Salt Lake or live here and would like to talk about cause-related marketing specifically, or marketing in general, then take me to lunch or dinner.

I'll give you my best advice and when we're done I'll simply push the tab over to your side of the table.

What if you’re not in Salt Lake City and/or don’t like to ski the Greatest Snow on Earth but still want to talk cause marketing? Then send me your questions on the back of $50 gift card from Ruth's Chris and I'll contemplate them over a nice ribeye steak.

Recently someone took me up on the first part of this offer and asked about affinity and alignment in cause marketing.

Here’s how the conversation played out:

For years the best conventional wisdom in cause marketing has been that you choose a cause based on ‘strategic philanthropy.’ If you’re an oil company, you pick certain environmental causes. If you make ladies purses, you pick women’s causes. If you sell toys, you pick children’s causes. If you’re a restaurant, you pick hunger causes. If you sell organic foods, you support organic farmers. Etc.

And indeed, academic researchers have consistently demonstrated that a clear alignment between cause and sponsors yields the best results. But it’s more nuanced than that.

For instance, an auto body shop might naturally align with, say, a high school that teaches auto body repair. But it would be an unusual for that ‘cause’ to have much affinity.

On the other hand, if the owner of the body shop was a woman who had successfully fought breast cancer, then it might make sense for her shop to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is loaded with affinity.

In the real world you see a lot of successful cause marketing campaigns where the relationship between the cause and the sponsor isn’t exactly ‘strategic.’

For instance, Chili’s, the casual dining restaurant chain, does a very successful campaign each fall for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

In the traditional sense, there’s no strategic fit between Chili’s and St. Jude. But Chili’s does it because St. Jude offers so much affinity that customers and employees can easily understand and appreciate the relationship.

Plus, as I often say, children are the 'universal cause.'

“Is the CEO’s passion for a particular cause something you can build on,” my dinner companion asked? My response was that there’s no clear cut answer. If the CEO was passionate about… say… French opera that probably won’t carry over very well to a cause marketing campaign.

By the same token, there’s a small toy company in California called Munchkin Inc that did a successful campaign for Susan G. Komen because the wife of the company’s VP of marketing, a young mother of two, contracted breast cancer.

So CEO passion can be starting point.