Cause Related Marketing – An Easy Sell?

A big part of the social media discussion has been the effectiveness of cause related marketing.  Some say that if you link your product to a cause, the buzz will create itself and your products will sell.   But how well does that work for more complicated causes?

This past weekend I attended the Northwestern University Law School Small Business Opportunity Conference.  Their theme this year was the Socially Conscious Entrepreneur.  At this event, I had the pleasure of listening to Brenda Palms Barber, founder and CEO Sweet Beginnings, Inc. (nlen.org).   For those of you who don’t know this group (and I am guessing most of you don’t), they work with formerly incarcerated individuals (ie: people who served time in jail) to help them productively re-enter society.  They coach them and give them jobs at their company “Beeline” which makes honey and honey infused beauty care products (for sale at Whole Foods and online at beelinestore.com).

Brenda is an inspirational speaker and makes a great case for her organization.  I am a numbers person and I loved the data she gave.  52% of convicts return to prison within 3 years after being released (“US Prisons Overcrowded“).  People who come out of the Sweet Beginnings programs return at a rate of just 4%. That is an astounding testament to what they do.

But Brenda can’t be present at every store to inspire each purchase and her message is a complex one (when was the last time you heard a sales pitch for honey that included facts and figures?).    This is not a sexy or trendy charity. Inmate rehabilitation is not at the top of people’s lists.  So how do you sell a product like this with such a complicated message?

Brenda’s message: the bottom line is that you have to produce a high quality, attractively packaged product that people will want to use again and again.  The message and the charity will be secondary in the long run –  you get repeat purchasers when you make good stuff.

That is a great reminder for all marketers. After all this social media, word of mouth buzz stuff is said and done, if you don’t deliver a great product, you won’t get new or repeat customers.   Providing good products and services  is how you create long-term trust and loyalty with customers and get the word of mouth referrals you want.  In all this social media hysteria, I think we sometimes forget that.

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