Cause Marketing has been around for close to 50 years, however, the advent of social media has propelled it to a whole new level. Think the "Ice Bucket Challenge," a viral phenomenon that raised incredible funds and awareness like few other campaigns before. (Yes—our bank participated; YES—that ice was extremely cold!)

So, what exactly is Cause Marketing, and why should community banks care? 

Michael Organ of states, "Cause Marketing is defined as a type of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in which a company's promotional campaign has the dual purpose of increasing profitability while bettering society." Or informally: "Cause Marketing occurs when a company does well by doing good." Some might argue the "Ice Bucket Challenge" was strong on society betterment and less on profitability, however, there are numerous examples of banks successfully adopting the dual-purpose strategy.

Some interesting statistics to note:

  • Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at states, "Cause sponsorship was predicted to reach $2B in 2016, a 3.7 percent increase on 2015, according to an IEG report."
  • A 2015 Nielsen study found 66 percent of respondents stated they were willing to pay more for products and services that came from companies who were committed to positive social and environmental impact, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013.

Connecting with customers on an emotional and socially "doing good" level solidifies bonds of loyal relationships—the bread-and-butter of community banking.

What makes a successful Cause Marketing campaign?

To know what campaigns will resonate with our communities, we must first understand what our customers care most about. Farmers Bank & Trust, serving Arkansas and Texas, know that families support their schools and approach their yearly campaign by conducting a contest featuring school mascot debit cards with a voting process. The campaign provides financial awards to the winning schools, helping rally community enthusiasm while strengthening customer relationships with the bank.

As featured in the Harvard Business Review, Joe Panepinto, senior vice president/director of strategy at Genuine Interactive, pioneered a three-step approach to developing an effective Cause Campaign. 

  1. Analyze what's worked. His research shows that it isn't just the appeal of the campaign that makes it a success. He looked beyond what the campaigns said, focused on what they did, and came up with five key ingredients:
    • Convey a simple, inspiring message – Tide® "Loads of Hope" campaign for disaster relief.
    • Include strong, visual storytelling – text ads vs. bold images… Which do you pause on?
    • Incorporate a physical element – something customers interact with, i.e. voting.
    • Strong emphasis on social sharing – this helps participants "own" the campaign.
    • Big issue focus; small action request – do something small as a next step or sign of commitment. 
  2. Get input from your audience. Take a survey and find out what cause campaigns are most memorable. Funny or serious? Shocking or matter-of-fact in presentation? Surprisingly, Panepinto's study found that 69 percent remembered facts-based campaigns over ones that made them laugh or scared.
  3. Validate findings of the first two steps with research – What behavior changed?

The bottom line was to create engagement making sure the campaigns included the five ingredients and were built around the core idea that facts can be fascinating.

Enhance what you already do – Community Focus. 

Community banks do a great job meeting local needs through volunteerism and sponsorships. Chemical Bank of Michigan takes this to the next level by incorporating the five ingredients above in their Cause Marketing campaign, Chemical Cares Day

On Columbus Day, Chemical Bank closes their offices and allows staff throughout the state to volunteer in tangible ways within their communities. To help share the activities, they utilize social media highlighting the locations and hours served. Through this event, they help improve quality of life for their communities, expand brand awareness, as well as reinforce their commitment to Michigan and the important role that their financial institution plays.

For your next campaign, consider how your financial institution might incorporate a Cause Marketing strategy zeroing in on strengthening partnerships with non-profits, connecting with the community, building long-term relationships between clients and staff while "doing well by doing good."

Want to Learn More about Cause Marketing?
The WBA LEAD360 Conference has a panel dedicated to Cause Marketing and how to do it well! Join us in Wisconsin Dells, October 24-25 for marketing, sales, retail banking and financial education sessions! Visit for more information and to register.

Brooks is marketing director at McFarland State Bank and a member of the 2017-2018 WBA Marketing Committee. McFarland State Bank and Tracy Brooks are not affiliated in any way with the sources used to create this article.