By Joe Waters
Lisa Lewis wasn’t trying to change the world. She was just brainstorming ideas to get her startup storage company noticed. And she didn’t have much of a marketing budget to work with.
“I remembered getting a goat for a present,” Lisa said. “I thought it was a cool gift because I didn’t need more stuff and the goat helped a needy family. But could a goat work for a tech company?”
When Lisa pitched the small management team at Formation Data Systems (FDS) on using goats and cause marketing to woo clients, they didn’t get it.
“What’s a goat have to do with a storage company?”
“I’ve never heard of another business like ours doing something like this.”
“Sure, people love animals. But we sell to businesses not to consumers.”
Despite their doubts, Lisa got approval to test a new cause marketing program: See a Demo, Get a Goat. Working with Oxfam America, FDS would donate a goat to a needy family every time a business agreed to watch a demonstration of their storage solution.
To date, FDS has donated over 100 goats.
For Lisa and her team, the goats have become more than about landing clients. The real story of See a Demo, Get a Goat is how a cause promotion evolved into a business mission.
Lisa and FDS have some great lessons for all of us on what cause marketing is and isn’t, and how you can grow a promotion into a purpose.
Cause marketing doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy
For most businesses, picking a cause marketing partner is like buying clothes: People want things to match. This means that if you run a restaurant, you should be feeding the hungry. Or, if you manage a bank you should be building homes for the homeless.
I call these carefully paired programs Garanimal Cause Marketing. You may have heard of or even worn Garanimals — children’s clothes that are easy to match because different animals show you what can be worn together.
But here’s the good news. Unlike a striped jacket with plaid pants, mismatched cause partners look fine together. That’s why fast food chain Wendy’s can focus on adoption services instead of feeding the needy. And why a tech company like FDS can give goats to the poor instead of committing to putting a computer in every classroom.
The key is passion. Wendy’s has a passion for helping children in foster care find their forever family because their founder, the late Dave Thomas, was himself adopted. While Lisa was an early supporter of the goats at FDS, her co-workers weren’t far behind.
“Our employees love the goats,” Lisa said. “Our millennial employees especially love supporting an animal cause.”
The lesson is clear. Go with your instincts and pick a cause you really care about — whatever it may be. Pattern isn’t important, purpose is.
Cause marketing is a campaign … and that’s okay
Cause-related programs are hot right now, and every business is scurrying to develop its signature cause platform. Everyone wants to plant their flag and champion a social issue.
For many, cause marketing seems ill-suited for this noble work. It’s promotional, transactional and campaign focused. They’re right. But it’s also a great place to start, especially for smaller companies.
“Our partnership with Oxfam began when we were brainstorming ideas for a trade show,” said Lisa. “We couldn’t afford a booth for the show but we still wanted to be part of it.”
Lisa hired people to stand outside the show with signs touting the virtues of goats. They asked attendees: “Do you want a goat?”
“It was an incredible ice-breaker,” Lisa said. “People from technology companies don’t expect you to talk to them about goats.”
“The goats became a metaphor for the problems companies have with storage issues and how FDS could solve them,” Lisa said. “The goats were so sticky,” she added. “People remembered them.”
The lesson is that it’s alright to start small with your cause initiatives and grow them organically. This especially makes sense for small companies and startups that can’t invest heavily in a program without seeing results.
Cause marketing is for every size and kind of company
Cause marketing also works with any type of marketing program, like trade shows.
“The last thing people need are another selfie stick or a mouse pad,” Lisa said. “Why not use your marketing dollars to support the greater good in a way that promotes your business in a positive and powerful way.”
Cause marketing isn’t just for large companies that raise millions of dollars. Nor is it for just consumer companies like retailers, restaurants and convenience stores. Cause marketing can work just as effectively for B2B (business-to-business) companies like FDS. But you need the right mindset.
“Our experience shows that even the tiniest company can use cause marketing to give back and market their business,” Lisa said. “But you need to be committed and creative.”
The takeaway for every business is that working with a cause is doable, effective and EASY. You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems with one campaign. Start small with one initiative and grow the program as experience and success follows.
The key is to begin. If a goat can climb a tree, your business can do well and good with cause marketing.
Image courtesy of Formation Data Systems (FDS)
Joe Waters helps nonprofits and businesses build win-win partnerships that raise money and change the world. Visit him at Selfishgiving.com.