Selling for the Cause

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted March 21, 2001
By Angela R. Garber

Businesses seeking higher earning can make revenues rise by giving a little back. "Cause marketing" ties a company and its products or services to a social issue with the goal of improving sales and corporate image while providing benefits to a worthy charity. According to a study by Cone Inc., a Boston marketing agency, a whopping 83 percent of consumers say they have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about, and approximately two-thirds say that if price and quality are equal, they are likely to switch to a brand or retailer associated with a good cause.

"Effective cause marketing and cause branding have a tremendous impact not only on consumer opinions, but also on employee morale, investor opinions, and even the opinion of the local zoning board," says Mike Lawrence, executive vice president of Cone Inc.

When Lucy.com, an online and now storefront retailer of women's sports apparel, opened its doors in 1999, the creators knew that they wanted to give back to the community. Specifically, they wanted to support initiatives that protected women's health and encouraged girls to get involved in sports.

Initially Lucy.com donated $5,000 every two months, then alerted consumers by e-mail. "I think our customers felt good about buying from a company that supported these organizations," says Deborah Pleva, Marketing Manager for Lucy.com, "but they didn't really feel connected to the process."

With Lucy.com's new project, they do. In October 2000, Lucy.com launched the the Buck-a-Bra and Boob Brigade programs. For every sports bra purchased in October and November, Lucy.com donated $1 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Lucy donated an additional dollar for every old sports bra either sent to the company or relinquished at a "Race for the Cure" event. "We had a 50 percent increase in sports bra sales during those two months," says Pleva, "and we got more comments from customers than we did for any other promotion."

"When a company decides to get involved in cause marketing, it first needs to think about who they are trying to connect with, the relevance to the company's mission, and they need to think about the resources they have to donate," says Lawrence, who points out that donating time or services can be as effective as donating money. "And then you have to have patience. It can take months or even years to see the effect of a sustained program, but in the end it's always good for business and morale."

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