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Cause Marketing…and why we’re not that

May 16, 2011
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Recently, IIC received an email from a prospective nonprofit (NGO) Partner. Before it would apply for Partnership, said nonprofit requested that IIC fill out its cause marketing form.

This left us a bit flummoxed because, well, IIC is not cause marketing. On one hand, we wanted to be cooperative and respect this organization’s prudence (tip of the hat to them, by the way, for applying a critical eye to cause marketing proposals). On the other hand, we didn’t want to send an incorrect message – that IIC was actually cause marketing.

At the end of the day, we filled out the form. But all of this got me thinking about cause marketing, its benefits and drawbacks, and why I had such a negative reaction to the suggestion that IIC was an example of it.

First let me clarify, this is not a condemnation of cause marketing. Companies are going to market to consumers until pigs sprout wings, so if reputable nonprofits can gain some value –financial or otherwise – then I imagine cause marketing represents a small win in the on-going battle for social awareness and responsibility. Now, whether the value that nonprofits reap is in anyway proportional to the value which accrues to the companies engaging in these campaigns is another matter entirely, and tends to be where skeptics of cause marketing take issue.

click here for related article on cause marketing

I’m not going to delve into that here, or ask whether compulsively buying packs of pink M&Ms really does make you write a smaller check to breast cancer charities at the end of the year. That’s a topic for another time.

Instead, I’ll consider what sets IIC apart from cause marketing.

1. IIC is not selling anything in the traditional sense. We are a nonprofit platform that enables socially conscious clients to connect with socially responsible real estate professionals, and support their preferred nonprofit/s as a result. We provide the space for real estate clients to make a socially conscious choice.

2. “The cause” is not predetermined by IIC. Philanthropy generated through IIC transactions is entirely client directed.*

And MOST importantly:

3. Philanthropy generated through IIC is not secondary to our business model, it is the driving element behind it. IIC Real Estate Members do not donate a portion of their commission to the client’s preferred NGO solely out of the goodness of their hearts – or to promote their brand generally – they donate because doing so enables them to earn 90% of a commission they would not otherwise have. Through IIC, philanthropy drives business – which in turn drives philanthropy.

Let’s use a more basic commercial transaction to illustrate the difference between cause marketing and the IIC model.

Take  Gap. Gap makes clothes. Occasionally Gap makes a (RED) t-shirt, and a portion of proceeds from the sale of this shirt goes to the Global Aids Foundation. Does Gap really want to support global AIDS relief? Of course, who doesn’t? But what’s the real goal here? – To improve consumer perception of Gap, so that customers buy more Gap clothing generally, beyond just (RED) t-shirts, and ergo boost Gap’s profits.

In comparison, consider a hypothetical company: C’s Social Tees. C’s Social Tees is a non-profit social enterprise t-shirt store. It sells the works of aspiring designers who don’t have the resources to establish their own retail presence. But, in exchange for carrying the designers, C’s Social Tees insists that 10% of the profit designers make from their sales in C’s goes to whatever charity the buyer chooses. The designers are happy to agree, because they retain 90% of profit, which they wouldn’t make in the first place without C’s. C’s goal is to break even, and promote the work of the designers it carries, because more shirt sales = more money going to important causes. C’s doesn’t have a second line of typical tee’s it’s trying to push on the side, so there’s no ulterior motive of brand boosting.

Basically, IIC is like C’s Social Tees – not the Gap. So there you have it. It’s understandable to draw a parallel between IIC and cause marketing, but I think at the end of the day IIC is building something fundamentally different. IIC is not a promotional gimmick, or one-time fundraising effort. It is striving for something far bigger.

It’s a self-sustaining engine of philanthropy that aligns the interests of real estate professionals, corporate and individual clients, and nonprofits in order to drive business growth and social benefit. IIC is pushing for a paradigm shift. Cause marketing guys are just doing  what they’ve always done – product marketing.

* In the event that the client has no preference regarding the NGO Partner recipient, or feels uncomfortable making a selection, the IIC Member may decide which NGO Partner/s will be the recipient/s of IIC funds from his/her transaction. Members may also elect to support only specific NGOs or focus areas through their transactions, and must make that information available to the client before commencing an IIC transaction. 

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