Why Cause Marketing Applies to B2B, Too

Yesterday, I stumbled across an article on Fast Company about an app called Charity Miles. If you’ve never heard of it, Charity Miles leverages corporate sponsorships to donate money to causes based on how many miles its users run or bike. Besides suddenly feeling motivated to go exercise for a good cause, the article got me thinking: we see plenty of examples of great cause marketing in the B2C world, but not so much in B2B.

Step into a grocery store or a Target, and chances are high you’ll find an item in the store that includes a charity component, like donating a percent of purchase to disease prevention. In the case of Target, cause marketing is getting even more high-tech. Over the holidays, they released an in-store mobile experience called Bullseye’s Playground, which included mobile games that users could play and unlock in stores. For each game that was played, Target donated $1 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

This charity model can be difficult for B2B companies to mimic given the complexity of purchase cycles and the number of stakeholders involved in (even your simplest) business decisions. But there are a number of principles of cause marketing that can be employed by B2B companies with a similar effect. Let’s take a look:

Tackle the Real Issues…

The power behind cause marketing comes from a company’s willingness to address and tackle tough issues head on. While it was previously more common to see companies aligned behind issues involving children and animals, we’re seeing more and more companies partnering with causes that target specific diseases, domestic violence, and drug abuse.

For B2B companies, it’s easy to focus on your product. It’s harder to dive into specific pain points and mobilize all of your marketing efforts so that they revolve around those pain points. To really be successful as a B2B company, you not only need to understand the issues that your customers struggle with, you need to address them. Particularly with your content marketing, focusing on the tough issues can unify your messaging, infuse your content with passion, and give your brand a voice that resonates with customers — not just because they like your product, but because you’re providing them with a platform that they can get behind and support.

…Using Real People

You may have noticed that B2C companies often enlist the help of celebrities to promote their cause marketing campaigns. Take the well-known example of the ASPCA’s partnership with Sarah McLachlan (I’ll try not to tear up thinking about the commercials for that one), or Jennifer Anniston’s support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. By involving the names of people we know and trust (even if it’s on a superficial level), companies can strengthen their appeal and more easily prompt us to get involved and take action.

While I’m not suggesting that B2B companies start pursuing celebrity endorsements (unless that’s something that makes sense for your business), I do think there’s an element here that we can learn from. Instead of celebrities, why not rely on real people to evangelize your brand? I’m talking people just like you and me — people who are relatable, trustworthy, and already have experience with your product or brand. As we’ve written in previous articles, your customers will always carry far more credibility than the marketing messages your company develops, like it or not. This is why I would strongly encourage B2B companies to leverage customer testimonials, case studies, video testimonials, and anything else that gets your happy customers in front of your potential customers.

Get Involved!

Finally, I’d encourage all B2B companies to actually adopt the “cause” portion of cause marketing by getting involved with their communities, partnering with local charities, sponsoring charity events and races, and even promoting involvement at the individual employee level. At Salesforce, we’re lucky enough to have six days of volunteer time off to get involved with causes we care about, and many other companies are beginning to move toward similar models. Not only does this reflect well on your brand, but it also makes a positive impact on the community and employee satisfaction. Talk about a win-win.

What other cause marketing lessons do you think apply to B2B marketing? Let us know in the comments!