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Why Cause Marketing isn't Long Term: Small Business Building Relationships to Combat Corporations' Marketing Manipulations

posted Mar 31, 2017, 8:12 AM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Mar 31, 2017, 8:14 AM ]

When making friends, how do you get people to like you? Consider for a moment how relationships are built: do you find out what their likes and dislikes are?  How might you set the tone of your relationship?


When lead to its logical conclusion the best marketers will invest hours to attract people, build brand recognition, and build a relationship with customers. In reality however, marketing is actually a list of manipulations.  In addition to not being a sustainable business  solution for companies, especially small businesses, this can be incredibly problematic when considering Cause Marketing.

Simon Snek's Golden Circle of How Leaders inspire others

The Golden Circle is a Venn Diagram of how leaders inspire others. Why, their mission, is the core of what they do.  "Why" is the mission, "How" is the process, and "What" is the action. 

Community Diary by Rahni S.

What is Cause Marketing?

Cause marketing is defined traditionally as a relationship where an organization or nonprofit will temporarily combine resources with a corporation for the furthering of their mission. One example includes Yoplait dedicating 5 cents of every sale to Susan Komen's foundation for breast cancer. People will buy the yogurt in support of the cause and money may go to research. 

However in many cause marketing relationships, once the promotion ends, nothing is reported as changed. They will continue to have these promotions, perhaps yearly but, in the example, the cause of breast cancer and it's complexities is never addressed. Further, one or both of the companies may do things in direct opposition to the cause. In this particular example, it went public in 2012 that the Susan Komen foundation refused to donate money to breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood because of conservative ideals  about women's sexual health.


The only goals met, then, had little to do with advancing the cause. More importantly, in the example this manipulation is usually to the detriment of people who bought the yogurt in good faith thinking that it would further the cause. This is absolutely a failure to the people effected by the cause. Further, they are exploited for their pain and suffering to coheres people into buying a product that claims it's purchase will eventually bring relief. 

Signs of Manipulation- How Marketing is Manipulative

According to Simon Sinek's "Start with Why" there are two ways to influence behavior: manipulation or inspiration.  Manipulation is often what is deployed when marketers do not dedicate the time to get the information they need to build proper relationships. Sinek specifically refers to these tactics as "carrots and sticks".


Tactics that specifically speak to Cause Marketing in particular are specifically:


This manipulation exploits people's own insecurities or inability to address the cause directly. They are encouraged to do something easier in exchange, like buy a product or give money; either of which may not ever address the cause. The only thing guaranteed is profit and good press for the companies involved.


Peer Pressure and Novelty & Faux innovation

These two manipulations are deployed by companies that do surface level campaigns to raise awareness about a cause. This can lead to many people, for example, buying clothes to wear that feature a cause, yet no real action is taken. These are deployed in combination in  'trendy' causes, like the (RED) global cause or the many apps created to raise "awareness".

Why this is a Problem for Long Term

Like many manipulative relationships, marketing purely serves the company as a means of bringing in funds. While this is sufficient for many companies, which is why this continues to happen, it is often at the detriment of the people. 

Acceptable marketing manipulations leads to a continued exploitative system, which defeats the purpose of cause marketing as a means to advance a cause.  This is especially problematic for causes such as child abuse, restrictive access to  women's health care, and a host of others that have real consequences on society as a whole.

Further, and as a consequence for companies, manipulations are never a sustainable procedure in the long term. In a society where people always have another choice in the products they buy, building brand loyalty in the information age is key. People will always have access to information for better and more informed choices. Many companies, especially small businesses who cannot afford large losses, have failed or are failing for these reasons.


Solution: Inspiration through the Golden Circle

Returning to Snek's book, the other way to influence people's behavior is to inspire them. How to inspire people lies in why companies supply a service. Snek describes the "Golden Circle", a Venn diagram that shows how leadership inspires others. Many companies know what they do and how they do it. They never consider why.


Figuratively it is like using the diagram as a dart board, tossing darts and hoping they stick, as supposed to it's an actual use as a diagram. Inspirational leaders always begin at the center with why, radiating outward. Martin Luther King, for example, had a mission to liberate people from the ugliness of racism. This manifested into conversations with communities affected by it, including churches where people had the space to organize. What came from it was action, specifically, activism: boycotts, marches, speeches, political involvement, even petitioning the highest office in the land.  

The Golden Circle is a visual representation of how mission statements drive companies, organizations, or even leaders to work.


A proposed Alternative to Cause Marketing: Expeditions

Beginning with why takes investigation. "How" something is done (behavior) and "What" comes from that something (action) is dependent upon  things discovered at the middle of the Golden Circle. Uncovering why, then, can be revealed in a series of campaigns called Expeditions. Unlike a jointly sponsored marketing campaign, interested entities (companies, non-profits, small business) can combine resources to directly sponsor and host those with the know how to do the Expedition.


For example, an online community like AC Pharos can host an Expedition sponsored by a nonprofit and a series of small businesses who want to combat child abuse. After a series of questions during the Expedition it may come out, for example, that the cause will be better served with more political community engagement. The small businesses then could co-host spaces where the community can discuss the issue, along with organize to directly lobby congressional leaders at the state and local levels. 

The [why] for the Expedition is a mission to address the problem of child abuse. The expedition reveals that there is a lack of representation and requires more political community engagement. The [how] is through the behaviors of organization, activism and the community becoming more politically engaged. The [what] then becomes providing space and resources for community organization.


In this example, the Expedition will reveal common experiences in the community and the behaviors needed to bring about action. It may or may not be political community engagement, it depends upon what the Expedition would unearth. These Expeditions would serve not only activists, journalists, researchers, community organizers and their causes; businesses become the space for organization. If they are truly mission aligned, beginning with why, the rest of the circle is filled with specific answers that eventually build loyal relationships. Small Businesses then have the tools to become a pillar within their communities without having to rely on short term manipulations.