Jul 25, 2012

Social Media, Tight Budgets Turbo Charge Cause Marketing

The growth of fundraising at Outdoor Retailer (OR) reflects a broader embrace of cause marketing, which has become more prevalent in recent years as competition has grown and marketing budgets have shrunk amidst a sluggish economy.

In this environment, brands are learning that partnering with a non-profit can make them stand out, and social media is enabling them to leverage that relationship more effectively.

“With severely limited marketing budgets, non-profits are more likely to have grown their social followings slowly and organically, resulting in the kinds of close bonds with their audience that can be hard to achieve for some brands,” observes Sara Lingafelter, director of digital and social media marketing at Verde PR.

National and international non-profits can expose corporate sponsors to new fans and strengthen bonds with existing fans, says Lingafelter. Geographically specific non-profits, meanwhile, can help brands gain exposure at the local level in ways that can be challenging outside of in-market grassroots events.

The average non-profit had 6,376 Facebook and 1,822 Twitter followers, up 30 and 81 percent respectively in 2011, according to the 2012 edition of the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report. The report, which is based on a survey conducted earlier this year of 3,522 non-profit professionals, found that non-profits and corporations are partnering in new ways to engage donors and customers.

Outdoor Retailer serves as a great microcosm of this dynamic. With hundreds of exhibitors eager to get their products into retailers’ hands, brands are finding that they have to move beyond offering pro deals to engage retailers. So dozens of brands are partnering with non-profits to create booth promotions that combine fundraising, pro deals and visits by athletes and other industry luminaries.
Osprey, for instance, will offer 2013 versions of its Viper 9 hydration pack, which retail for $99, for $35 at ORSM. In case that’s not enough to draw traffic, Osprey has pledged all proceeds to The Conservation Alliance, which has raised millions for grassroots conservation organizations.
Social media has turbocharged these partnerships by making it easier for brands to measure the influence of non-profits. A handful of brands have even organized training workshops to help their non-profit partners become more effective social media partners.

“I think they are being more creative about how they can integrate their marketing with us,” said Heather Metivier, director of marketing and communications for Big City Mountaineers (BCM), which provides transformative outdoor experiences to under-resourced urban teens. “They are being more strategic about picking and choosing the right opportunities. They are a little bit more calculated than in the past.”

BCM has thrived in this environment by embedding outdoor brands into its fundraising. It’s currently promoting sales of specific products from Liberty Bottleworks, Sole, Columbia and Sorel on its website and social media channels in exchange for a percentage of sales from designated products. BCM’s annual Summit for Someone fundraiser entices participants in part by offering a free gear package from nine corporate sponsors to anyone who meets their pledge goal. When Polar Explorer Eric Larsen vowed to summit seven peaks to raise $7,000 for BCM, several companies — including Clif, Stanley, Optic Nerve, DeLorme, Highgear and Yaktrax — agreed to match all donations up to $2,000. Highgear will host a presentation by Larsen at its booth at OR next week, where it will also sell commemorative T-shirts to raise money for BCM. Gregory Packs, Liberty Bottleworks and Princeton Tec are also hosting BCM fundraisers at their booths during the show.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms give BCM and its sponsors plenty of opportunities to promote these brand-building events on short notice.

“The culture of social is that if you’re connected and engaging with each other regularly, it’s socially acceptable to occasionally ask for help spreading a particular message even without a formally coordinated campaign,” said Verde PR’s Lingafelter. “The extent of coordination really depends on the organizations involved and the goals of the partnership.”