Just cause

If you’ve ever bought a pair of Toms shoes or a t-shirt with some form of the word “red” in parentheses from the Gap, you’ve participated in cause marketing.

Cause marketing has grown a lot in the last several years for one of the very reasons we at 1000WATT are in business: it helps to shape a killer brand story that fuels growth.

Think about it:

The Toms shoes product started out as a mediocre canvas shoe. Sure, some of them have rad designs and they’ve since branched out from the flat slip-on to include many other styles like boots, lace-ups and wedges (and even clothing, eyewear, bags and accessories). But this product may not have ever taken off without the cause marketing aspect of the business.

At the end of the day, Toms makes people feel good about spending money on their products. Every purchase sends a pair of shoes to a child in need. Who doesn’t feel good about that?

Warby Parker is another brand with a cause built in. Following Toms’ lead, they promote the “buy a pair, give a pair” practice that essentially takes part of the profit from every pair of eyeglasses sold and funds programs that provide glasses and eye exams to those in need.

About five years ago, real estate saw its first (that I know of) cause marketing-centric company, Do Good Real Estate. At the end of every transaction, Do Good promises to give back 5% of its commission to the local community – a local charity of the buyer or seller’s choice.

This may not seem like a novel idea given that real estate brokerages have long been strong community charity supporters. The list of examples here is long.

But what’s different about cause marketing today is more companies are baking it right into the brand story. It’s at the core of the business, not just a thing they do.

I realize these business models also come with criticism. Some say addressing the real underlying causes of poverty is more important than making people feel good about buying things. And they’re right in the grand scheme.

But you can’t deny that a social cause attached to a for-profit company is at the very least helping some people in some way, and spreading a little education in the process.

I am thinking about this because of something Joel wrote about recently: the intense focus our industry has placed of late on attracting millennials – err, I mean “snake people”.

When you stop and examine newer brands outside of real estate that have cause marketing baked in, they’re easily described as “millennial”.

Here’s a thought:

When you’re strategizing about building your offshoot millennial brand – as Joel suggests – why not toy with the idea of baking cause marketing right in from day one? Surely there’s plenty of ways shelter-related causes could play into your brand story.

Because here’s the thing about millennials: while they can seem self-absorbed (as all people in younger demographics historically have been), a lot of research out there shows that they care a lot about the broader world around them.

If it works for shoes, glasses and t-shirts, it can work for housing.