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Cause marketing for retailers -- Part I

When done right, cause marketing can generate a number of benefits for retail businesses that extend far beyond the company's bottom line.

There's the satisfaction of helping a worthy charity or particular cause with both money and publicity. There's the stronger bond created with existing and new customers. There's the ability to contribute to a good cause without having to dig deep into your own pockets, which is often very difficult for a small business to do. And, there's the opportunity to show people that your business truly cares about the community.

When done poorly, there's the possibility of alienating customers, diffusing your company's marketing focus and even losing money.

That's why it's crucial to put some real thought into any cause you support through your retail business.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we've done some cause marketing, but we have some clear guidelines we follow. Your retail business should, too.

First, we support causes for which we have an affinity. The truth is, we're asked several times a day most days to support this or that charity. Your business probably is, too.

As much as we'd like to, we simply can't support every group that asks us. You have to be particular about the causes you choose. There has to be a logical connection for your business that ties into your marketing and products.

(Be sure, too, that your employees know what to say when charities come into your business to ask for donations because your customers are watching and listening. Our employees always politely take the information and let them know the owner will get back in touch with them.)

Second, any cause marketing must be part of your overall marketing strategy. I map out an annual marketing strategy and any cause marketing is included in that early planning and only with a great deal of thought.

Third, you want to make it fun for your business and employees to promote that cause.

Finally, make a budget for cause marketing and stick to it. In the end, it will not only give you the fortitude to decline the bulk of requests but it will also provide a clear focus for your efforts.

-Kelly Sharp, owner, Heart of Iowa Market Place

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