#RIC16: 5 Tips To Maximize Cause Marketing Effectiveness

For many retailers, cause marketing has proven to enhance customer engagement and make an impact on the world at the same time. At the 2016 Retail Innovation Conference, held May 10-11 in New York City, retail executives from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Under The Canopy, Tom’s of Maine and Ace Hardware gathered to discuss how using retail for social good makes their companies stand out among their retail peers. The panelists included:

The panelists had unique stories of how their companies leverage cause marketing, as well as the strategies and benefits of such programs. They provided five key takeaways designed to help maximize the impact of cause marketing initiatives.

1. The cause should somehow tie into your company’s ethos.

Cause marketing initiatives have to be sincere in order to receive a positive response. Being a sporting goods retailer, DICK’s created a foundation called Sports Matter that ties in directly with the products the retailer sells. The foundation rewards schools for enabling sports participation. “Everything that we do from a brand perspective is because we believe that sports make people better,” said Holahan.

Through its partnership with, a crowdfunding platform, DICK’s matches up to $1.5 million in donations to public and charter school sports teams.


As an independently-owned retailer, Ace Hardware is all about giving back to the local communities. The main focus of the Ace Hardware Foundation is the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which are also locally operated. See the connection? 

“For us, that’s important, because our stores are independently owned and operated, and giving back to local communities is what our stores are all about,” said Calamari. “So we thought it was a natural connection for local hardware stores to connect with local hospitals.”

Since Ace Hardware began its partnership with Children’s Miracle Network in 1991, the retailer has raised more than $64 million for local hospitals.

2. Customer involvement boosts engagement.  

While all of the panelists agreed that measuring ROI is essential to validate a company’s cause-marketing initiatives, it’s not always about the numbers.

“There is a lot of intangible ROI when you look at customer loyalty or brand loyalty, and even employee engagement, because people feel like they’re sharing a vision to do something good,” said Under the Canopy’s Zaroff. This is especially true with Millennials. According to Zaroff, 60% of Millennials said they would choose one brand over another if it was tied to a charity.

Tom’s of Maine utilizes a range of social media engagement strategies to connect its customers with charities. “Recently we’ve really wanted to engage our consumers in helping us determine where the money goes,” said Burns. “We [started] a program called 50 States For Good, where we award money to a non-profit in every state. For the first time, we put the nominations in the hands of our consumers on social media. So by tweeting or putting up a Facebook or Instagram post with the hashtag #OneWayToHelp, they can let us know one way to help their community. Then, at random, we chose one non-profit from each state out of those nominated to receive $20,000.”

3. Share your social good story through unique content.

The more retailers promote cause marketing initiatives; the more impact they will have. Engaging customers through social media or visual content is a great way to get your story out there. Tom’s of Maine, for example, shares stories of the non-profits it supports through short videos.

“When you tell the story through their words, it’s so much more impactful,” said Burns. “We found much greater success in promoting that on social media than we have in years past.”

DICK’s also saw value in visual content. “Because we feel so passionately about billions of dollars being cut from school programs and sports [becoming] extinct, we launched a film at the Tribeca Film Festival called Keepers of the Game, which follows a high school girl’s lacrosse team in upstate New York,” said Holahan. “It was a really touching film, so we had the premiere at Tribeca and that [provided] advertising towards”

4. Keep an eye on how other retailers are leveraging cause marketing.  

When asked which of their retail peers they most admire in terms of giving back, many of the panelists highlighted TOMS Shoes. In fact, Tom’s of Maine talks about the shoe company’s strategies in meetings for inspiration.

“One thing that we really admire about [TOMS Shoes] is that it’s very single-messaged and easy to understand,” said Burns. “[Consumers] learn about it with [their] first purchase. We haven’t cracked that nut yet, but that’s something that we really admire about Tom’s Shoes.”

5. The right partnerships can go a long way.     

Getting a celebrity spokesperson to share your cause marketing story may be more affordable than you think. If you find a celebrity that shares the same values, they are more likely to support your initiatives for free.

“A lot of celebrities will support these efforts without even charging,” said Zaroff. “Because if you align with what they’re passionate about, they will want to leverage their celebrity for good.”

Even the right technology partner can support your social good strategies. Ace Hardware teamed up with its POS partner Epicor in 3,000 of its stores with a “change roundup” campaign, allowing customers to round up the cost of their purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the balance to charity.

“We’re still rolling out the technology,” said Calamari. “But 500 stores raised $400,000 in one month and the cashiers are really embracing it. Our technology partner has been incredibly helpful.”



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