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Small Business Cause Marketing That Actually Works for Small Businesses

Yesterday I took a call from a small business owner in Chicago… I’ll call her ‘Roberta’… who wanted to know how cause marketing really worked because it wasn’t working so far for her!

Roberta owns a picture framing business and what she meant was that she had made several inquiries at two breast cancer charities. One was smaller and local the other was larger and national. We’ll call the local one Athena Charity and the national one Artemis Charity. (All the names have been changed to protect everyone’s privacy).

What Roberta had in mind for Athena Charity was some kind of promotion on the organization’s Facebook page. But the people at Athena said that might jeopardize their 501(c)(3) status.

Two things: 1). Roberta has no desire to endanger Athena’s 501(c)(3) status. 2). Either the Athena staffers didn’t know what they were talking about or they were just trying to put Roberta off. Because you really have to work at it to make cause marketing illegal.

Meanwhile, Artemis Charity wanted $5,000 for a table at an event. For a small business $5,000 is a major commitment that might not return the investment, so Roberta was chary.

My advice to Roberta was that if she thought Athena was the best match for her business that she ought to first start by building trust. Take a staffer or board member to lunch and kick some ideas around. Instead of whatever she had proposed to them, as a first step offer an in-kind donation of matted picture frames for their offices or major donors.

Roberta’s problem was that they didn’t know her yet and thereby didn’t trust her intentions.

For Athena Charity and Artemis Charity the problem is simpler; they think more like television stations than like Google.

Television advertising works. But you gotta be patient with it. In local television you probably need to buy three to six months of ads before it starts paying off. The challenge is that three months of ads airing frequently on TV would set you back a small fortune in all but the smallest markets, never mind the cost of creating the ads themselves. No wonder small businesses like Roberta’s seldom have TV in their marketing mix.

But TV isn’t out to gouge small business. TV is an expensive media to put on the air. The fixed costs are very high and the variable costs are no picnic either. Local TV has little choice but to charge premium rates.

Regardless, just as Roberta couldn’t afford local TV, she can’t really afford Artemis’s $5,000 table either.

But Roberta could afford Google Adwords. Adwords are cheap (although caution is urged), easy to master and require no special expertise to create.

What both Athena Charity and Artemis Charity need to do is create cause marketing that is more like Google Adwords and less like TV.

I’ll expand on this idea in Monday’s post.


Paul Stevens said…
Paul, I am a small business marketing consultant operating in a largely small town/rural environment. I have been having some success putting on marketing workshops for local businesses, and my business, Bootstrap Local Marketing has been getting some play in the local papers. But I have wondered about combining my free workshops with some local causes.

My thinking is that if the local organization gets to charge and keep half or more of the money, they would do active promotion, and maybe local businesses would be happier to participate if it was helping a local cause. Or maybe the idea of my company retaining any of the revenue from ticket sales is a bad idea.

I wonder what you think of this idea? Does it fit into the broader concept of "Cause Marketing?"
Lonnie Lisa said…
I agree with the building trust part. If only she built a working relationship with some of the people from those organizations where she wanted to promote her business, they would’ve been most likely to give her a better deal.

Lonnie Lisa

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