Cause Marketing or Worthy Cause Marketing?


Help in ActionThe nation’s #1 wine brand was built without relying on commercial advertising. Instead, while building the Barefoot Wine brand, we used what we termed, “Worthy Cause Marketing.”

Every business faces the same problems. How do you get the word out about your product or services? How do you do this in an efficient, targeted manner? How do you gain a loyal following? Customer acquisition and retention can cost millions, with advertising generally the most costly. Many smaller businesses and start-ups, like us, simply don’t have a big advertising budget.

We discovered an alternative to conventional advertising that was, for us, more effective than conventional advertising.

Getting to know our customers was key to keeping our products relevant and providing excellent customer service. An examination of your customer’s needs beyond their need for your products or services can provide essential clues about what is important to them. Each of your customers has a cause that they hold dear, and many are members of non-profit organizations.

By supporting those non-profits, a company aligns itself and its products with that cause. But that’s where the similarity between Cause Marketing and Worthy Cause Marketing ends.

National non-profits have discovered the value of their logos to corporate sponsors. With their huge membership and social appeal, these non-profits know that the big boys will pay to identify with them, and today, many national non-profit organizations raise substantial funds by selling their sponsorships.

Large companies can show their customers that they care by providing those sponsorships. However, simply “buying” a sponsorship is out of reach for most start-ups. And, sponsorships are generally sold on an annual basis, so one company can be the sponsor this year and another the next, sometimes discouraging loyalty.

We discovered, however, that we could offer support beyond funding to causes that were worthy of our time and energy. These were causes that our company, our product, or we ourselves naturally resonated with. We made up for our lack of funds with passionate support in other areas that were just as, if not ultimately more, valuable to the non-profit.

We gave them our products, services, and labor. We used our access to the market to help them get their word out, and yes, even helped them raise funds. Instead of buying a sponsorship, which we couldn’t afford anyway, we set out to become active members, promoters, and participants in their cause. This approach also helped build positive company culture because our people knew they were making a difference when they helped at fundraisers.

We focused on small rather than large, local rather than national, and at the time, relatively unknown rather than well-known non-profits. We focused on marginalized groups that supported equal rights or conservation that were not yet mainstream and were considered radical. They were particularly grateful for our getting the word out about their cause to our market audience. As they grew, we grew, and became part of their community. By helping them when they most needed it and making a lasting commitment, we established enduring trust as true partners. Of course, it was risky at times, but the payoff was being on the right side of history when their causes became mainstream.

The return on involvement with Worthy Cause Marketing was slow but steady, and over time, it built a loyal customer base that had a social reason to buy our product. The difference is making a difference by supporting worthy causes that are important to you and your customers.


About Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey

Starting in a laundry room with no money or industry knowledge, they built the iconic Best-Selling Barefoot Wine Brand - without advertising. In 2005, they monetized their brand equity and now offer proven business principles and real world experience. Visit our YouTube Channel →

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