By now you may have heard about Small Business Saturday, an American Express social-media marketing campaign that launched last week. OK, Amex calls it a "movement."

The company is offering $100 in Facebook advertising free to the first 10,000 small businesses when they sign on to the campaign. Any small business with $10 million or less in annual revenue can participate. Amex card holders can get a $25 statement credit when they use Amex to shop at participating companies on the Saturday following "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional holiday-shopping season kickoff. It's off to a roaring start, amassing more than 271,000 fans.

Who wouldn't want to support the little guy?

It's not just a marketing campaign, it's a cause.

Mobilizing customers around a social purpose was a hot topic at the recent New York Entrepreneurship Week conference.

"Make the cause the engine of your brand," keynoter Jeremy Heinmans, chief executive of Purpose, a cause-marketing company, told an audience at the meeting.
Companies that are doing cause marketing well include:

  • Recycle Bank -- a program that rewards people for recycling and other environmentally friendly actions
  • Vestas Wind Systems -- a wind-turbine company whose slogan is: "It means the world to us."
  • 1BOG -- a company offering group discounts for solar panels whose name is an acronym for "One Block Off the Grid"
  • Patagonia -- an outdoor clothing-and-gear company and an early pioneer of environmentally friendly policies
  • Tom's Shoes -- a shoe company that gives a pair of shoes to someone in Africa for each shoe purchase
Many folks are eager to affiliate themselves with these causes. Becoming fans of these companies on Facebook helps them build their "display identity" online, according to Heinmans.

Your company doesn't serve a larger purpose? Adopt one, says Heinmans. Dove soap, the brand from the conglomerate Unilever, is one example of successfully adopting a cause with its "campaign for real beauty."  

Another is Amex, whose Small Business Saturday builds on its OPEN Forum community and advice site for its small-business customers.

Recognizing the strategy, and finding a way to make it work for you, might be the campaign's biggest benefit to your company. And it may help you win over a few extra loyal customers Nov. 27.

Related: Three Tips for Cause Marketing